Updated: Lionsgate Claims Craig Gillespie Still Directing ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

By  · Published on August 30th, 2011

Updated with correction: We posted this rumor earlier, but according to a representative at Lionsgate that we asked for comment, Gillespie is still on board the project. Regarding the rumor, the representative said, “This is not true. [Gillespie] is still set to direct.” We apologize for the error, but the situation doesn’t at all change Kate’s feelings on the project that can be found below:

News from our pals at Twitch reports that director Craig Gillespie has left the troubled film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, that reimagines the Jane Austen classic as a story not just about the emotional battles of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, but those battles as set against a countryside overrun with zombies.

If Gillespie is off the project, he joins two other directors who previously jumped ship on the film ‐ David O. Russell and Mike White. Besides not having a director, the film is also sorely lacking for a leading lady, with Mila Kunis, Emma Stone, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde all reportedly considered for the role or straight out offered it in the past, with none of them ever signing on. Buzz continues to turn back to Natalie Portman, however, as Portman’s production company is co-producing the project and the actress has an open schedule after the recent birth of her son. As of now, Dominic Cooper is apparently set to play Mr. Darcy, making him the only person with a firm commitment at this point. But, considering the revolving door of behind-the-camera talent on this film, nothing looks set in stone.

Grahame-Smith’s book reworked Austen’s novel in a style that’s somewhat taken off since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hit shelves back in 2009 (see Ben H. Winter’s Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters). But despite the fact that Grahame-Smith’s novel was a New York Times Bestseller, the film adaptation just can’t get off the ground. Which might be due to the fact that, as I continue to maintain, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is, at best, just plain silly and, at worst, just horrifically dumb.

Grahame-Smith’s novel grates because it’s oddly tone-deaf when it comes to its very source material. Austen’s classic is about a battle of human manners ‐ that’s human manners, not dead brutality. On a large scale, the novel doesn’t quite work ‐ Grahame-Smith squeezes in small bits about the zombie influx, before shoe-horning in giant swaths of new material about the undead who prowl the countryside. Ridiculous? Certainly.

But beyond a wacky idea, Grahame-Smith’s book doesn’t even understand the smaller mechanics of Austen’s novel, making it impossible for his new school villains to fit into the original story. A small scale example? Grahame-Smith imagines the Bennett sisters as the most fearsome zombie hunters in all the land, killers who’ve learned their skills both home and abroad, having trained in China under Shaolin monks (nevermind that they also have their own Japanese dojo to train in at home, we’ll just ignore that other bit of wonky, culturally incorrect writing). One of the central issues of Pride and Prejudice is that the Bennetts are strapped for cash, adding pressure to their daughters to marry (even as the girls feel personal pressure to marry a man they love). I can’t quite see how a family without liquid assets would be able to send multiple children to train in China. And that’s just a small beef with Grahame-Smith’s book. If you are going to attempt what the author attempted with his spoof? parody? remake? reimagining?, please at least exhibit some familiarity and affection with the original material.

But despite my obvious disdain for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I am looking forward to the first Grahame-Smith novel to get the big screen treatment ‐ the Timur Bekmambetov-directed adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That film benefits from a large, talented cast and what may be the key to making Grahame-Smith’s work interesting and bearable ‐ original material that doesn’t just riff on an existing masterwork.

At the very least, if Grahame-Smith’s books inspire readers to check out Austen’s original or to read up on Honest Abe, all is not totally lost. It’s just much stupider than it needs to be.