I don’t know what it is with Lionsgate’s attempts to get Pride and Prejudice and Zombies into production but it’s just not working out for them. It’s weird because a few years back Seth Grahame-Smith’s rom-zom-com adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved 19th century novel had so much momentum that it looked like nothing would stop it devouring the box office like it was a helpless victim in one of George A. Romero’s movies. Sales were strong, it had a media blitz of publicity in the publishing world like no other (and spawned a million rip-offs of the idea, and a follow-up from Smith with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that weirdly had no trouble getting to the screen and comes out in June) and had notable talents in director David O.Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) and star Natalie Portman toplining.
Then Portman won an Oscar and got preggers and the whole thing collapsed and there’s been a revolving door of talent attached or courted to the project only for them not to stay interested for long. Today, inevitably, Deadline is delivering nothing but bad news with another sucker punch to the project.
Presumably sick of being rejected by a dozen actresses’ he wanted to star in the picture (most recently Blake Lively) director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night) has bailed on the project and will no longer direct. So if you are counting that’s O.Russell, Year of the Dog’s Mike White and now Gillespie who have agreed to direct and then dropped out when they couldn’t find the person they wanted to star.
The problem seems to be the budget. As The Playlist points out, O. Russell said earlier this year;
“I thought at $40 to $50 million was a bargain price to make a ‘Sherlock Holmes’-style period action romance that happened to have zombies in it,” Russell said. “The studio budgeted it as a genre zombie movie and gave me $25 to $28 million. I was like, that’s not cool. We have crazy big action sequences in it. It’s very commercial; we have a major romance. It’s a period film. And we’re doing it on the budget that we did ‘The Fighter?’ It made no sense to me. That, I found, was frustrating.”
So can we presume the likes of Portman, Anne Hathaway, Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone and Mia Wasikowska who we heard were all interested, in the end wouldn’t do the picture on the cheap that Lionsgate were offering?
In any event the project is now in dire straits. They’ve had three different directors through the door, all of them who wanted their own voice projected onto the script with Gillespie’s most recently re-written by his Fright Night writer Marti Noxon that it feels like fourth hand damaged goods at this point. How does anyone make that screenplay work now?
My advice to Lionsgate would be just to start over from Grahame-Smith’s original text and throw everything else out of the window as a bad job. Maybe up the budget a little and let’s get Pride and Prejudice and Zombies moving because if you find the right director for this (Sam Raimi), audiences would go nuts for it.