M: As you may or may not know, my sisters are both HUGE Jane Austen fans. Me? Let’s just say there are a few authors ahead of her on my list. However, today we came across some news about a movie project based on a book… based on a book by Jane Austen. That’s right, Seth Grahame-Smith’s send up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What follows is the quibbling discussion that ensued.
M: So, I saw on IMDb today that Mr Tumnus himself, James McAvoy, is set to star in the movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I can’t even begin to imagine you two not being excited about this.
E: Well, you would think so, but a) Zombies, and b) Scarlett Johansson as Elizabeth Bennet? Dear God! Lurv James McAvoy. Can’t see him as Darcy, particularly.
M: Maybe if you picture him without the horns, ears and the legs of a goat, maybe that will help?
E: I was more thinking of his role in Becoming Jane as a potential Darcy proto-type, actually. The goat legs aren’t so much my thing.
C: James McAvoy as Darcy is no problem for me. Especially as ACTION DARCY!, the male lead of P&P&Zombies. As you say, E, it’s the zombies that are the problem.
M: Whereas for me, even though I’m not a zombie fan, they are a draw in comparison.
C: Ignoring that… WTF is up with Scarlett Johansson, though? I swear they officially announced several months ago that they’d cast Natalie Portman. Talk about trading down.
E: Well, she’s got the arch and amusing thing down, anyway. And ScarJo did some pretty nice acting earlier in her career; she’s just veered away from that to make schlockier movies lately.
And wait. You think McAvoy is good for the role because he’s an ACTION guy? Ugh, C. Seriously? I got about 15 minutes into Wanted before I had to rinse out my eyes. And ears. And the foul taste in my mouth. What a complete piece of pond scum that movie was.
M: Seriously, you tried to watch that? Why on earth would you do that? As for Scarlett, who is also in the news for separating with short time hubby Ryan Reynolds, I have no particular affinity for her, but thought she was decent in Home Alone 3.
As for comparing her more recent choices to those of someone like Natalie Portman, um, they were just in a movie together a year or two ago, weren’t they?
E: Well, let’s see, she was in Ghost World and Lost in Translation and The Girl With the Pearl Earring and The Man Who Wasn’t There, and those were all good, and she was good in them. But the most recent of those is from 2003.
M: E, I’m assuming you passed over the fact that you tried to watch Wanted because you realize that that’s indefensible. Right?
E: Yeah, there really is no defense except it has a good cast, and sort of a decent idea behind it. However, it was unutterably vile.
M: And again to Scarlett, she was in that Woody Allen movie that I didn’t see… wait, that doesn’t narrow it down, Woody Allen movies all suck so I don’t see any of them. Anyway, that was supposed to be well-received, as was in the movie with Natalie Portman and Eric Bana (looked it up, it was The Other Boleyn Girl), which also was well-received. The Island, while it sucked, was Michael Bay and Ewen McGregor, which at least SOUNDS like a good choice. She was in Iron Man 2, and will be in The Avengers. There are definitely some stinkers, but more of them look like The Island, things flopped but had potential, rather than things that had no chance from the start, like the choices Vin Deisel has made in the same time period…
E: She was in Match Point, which was pretty good (Allen in serious mode), and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Allen comedic), which I liked less. BTW, the best thing about her resume, now that I’ve been reviewing it on IMDb? She played a character called Silken Floss in the movie The Spirit. Awesome.
M: Oh, that’s a great name.
C: Natalie Portman’s got that men-want-to-be-with-her, women-want-to-be-friends-with-her thing going on. Scarlett Johansson has been perfectly fine in movies where she gets to play a sexy bombshell, like Iron Man 2. I could see her fighting zombies in period dress. She just wouldn’t bear the slightest resemblance to the character of Elizabeth Bennet, whose most notable feature is her brain, not her bust.
M: Which, like zombies, is also a draw.
C: You know, brother, there are times when even you make me weep for the male gender. But back to McAvoy. I didn’t mean that I think of him as an action star (didn’t see Wanted, don’t intend to). I just meant that this Darcy isn’t going to require a lot of heavy-duty acting (which, for the record, I think McAvoy is up for), but more heavy-duty looking surly and cutting off zombie heads - which would hardly be a stretch for most actors.
M: So, wait, the role that previously consisted of being a prick and looking like he’s “smoldering” is being sullied by the added ability to save humanity from the undead?
E: Talk smack when you’ve read the book, hot shot.
M: I have suffered through long sections of the movies and especially the not-so-mini-series that you claim is faithful to the book, so I feel like like I do not need to subject myself to that sleep inducing experience, thank you very much.
M: Shoot, I am stymied by your brilliant and logical rebuttal. I will immediately go purchase the book!
C: Anyone who makes the argument “I saw part of the movie, therefore I don’t need to read the book to make snap judgments about the characters” hasn’t actually earned a logical rebuttal, bro.
M: Ahh, but as I said, it is not a snap judgment, it is based on hours of viewing. I may not be completely informed, but I am hardly uninformed. And you are now both avoiding making the case logically.
C: Well, for the record, I didn’t say anything about “sullying,” I merely suggested that taking the lead in an action story requires less range, acting-wise, than taking on a complex character with a transformation arc. That doesn’t mean an action star’s performance can’t be enjoyable.
M: You said it wouldn’t “require a lot of heavy-duty acting” and “would hardly be a stretch for most actors.” Last time I checked, saying, in essence, “anyone could do it” isn’t exactly a sign of great respect. Both action and comedic characters are incredibly disparaged, disregarded and slighted by “dramatic” acting fans, critics and those who determine awards. I will constantly defend the performances of many of them. For example, I think it is far easier to pretend that you are emotionally hurt, as most people have far more personal experience to base that performance on, than it is to pretend that you have a three inch piece of shrapnel embedded in your leg, or that you are mustering your last ounce of strength to carry another hobbit up the side of Mount Doom.
E: Now, you know we’re with you on the hobbit-carrying. And I would agree with you that critics habitually undervalue comedic roles especially. I’ll play Mr. Bingley in this scenario and ask you for specifics when you want to argue the point about action stars deserving more recognition. Are you talking about Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, or Arnold in Predator? As with all genres, there are good performances and bad ones. Perhaps C’s point is that it’s easier to fire a gun than it is – not merely to convey emotional distress, say, but to do it believably.
M: I will agree, as I believe I said above, that there are good and bad performances in all genres. I am thinking of performances that get automatically thrown out or discounted because of genre, like Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: First Contact, where he was absolutely brilliant, or Christian Bale in Batman Begins, heck, even Stallone in First Blood (the first Rambo movie, NOT any of the rest). Just because something has zombies in it doesn’t mean the acting is automatically worse, or easier.
E: As far as a logical argument to convert you to a costume drama enthusiast, I don’t have one. I can articulate what I like about the genre, and why I love the miniseries (and the recent theatrical version, and primarily the book – but not the Olivier version, or the miniseries from the 80s). But no one had to convince me that I liked them. That’s not how it works. If you can watch that movie and not enjoy it, not understand the story or find it moving or romantic, then I don’t see what use it would be to construct a perfect, logical argument about it’s superiority. We like it. You don’t. Taste is subjective.
Which is to say, you have a right to be a cretin, and sadly we can’t change you.
M: And, conversely, you have the right to be snooty, and sadly I can’t change you.
C: My point was that you can’t judge a character in a book by their portrayal in a particular film adaptation (and they are pretty different from each other).
M: And my response was that you both claim the not-so-mini-series, which is what I have been most subjected to, is very faithful, so I would assume you can at least make and intelligent guess as to the character. But again, this is another area where you have to judge things on a movie-by-movie basis. The characters in the book of Jurassic Park were entirely different than they were in the book, so you would not even get no indication from the movie of what the book characters were like, you would get the completely wrong idea. And if you tried to understand Hamlet from the Mel Gibson version you’d be hosed, but if you tried to based on the Kenneth Branaugh version, which is line for line, you would understand him perfectly.
C: This isn’t a point I should have to convince you of – you already know this. Wouldn’t one call Lord of the Rings a faithful adaptation on the whole? Yet if you judged, say, Faramir by the movies…
M: …fair enough…
C: …and even Branagh’s Hamlet is an interpretation of Hamlet. The same lines can be read in very different ways. But the point about Darcy goes even further – you haven’t see the whole movie, so you think of him as stiff and snooty, but the whole point of the story (the “prejudice” part anyway) is that Elizabeth discovers another side to his character.
M: I concede that, as I have not stuck out the numerous hours of pretentious stuffiness that it takes to get to that point.
C: And to clarify, I am not supporting the idea that action or comedy takes less talent than drama. I do think, however, that it takes more talent to do multiple things than just one. A character who exhibits range is a better opportunity for an actor to show his range.
M: I agree completely, and you just made my point in the end. A character that can do both “smoldering” and kill zombies is better than a character that can only smolder. Done and done.
C: Alas. What point is there in my continuing to argue against such implacable prejudice?
E: Maybe just do it as a matter of pride? ;)
M: Or maybe because you’re a zombie!
E and C: BOO!