By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 28, 2011 at 3:20AM
If "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" doesn't get rolling soon, it'll officially start to attract the label "troubled project." Based on the best-selling genre-blender from Seth Grahame-Smith (who's clearly found his niche, also penning both the source material and the script for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"), it melds Jane Austen's classic romantic comedy with the undead, and was swiftly snapped up by Richard Kelly's Darko Entertainment, Lionsgate and Natalie Portman, who was set to star, produce, and even write a draft of the script.
David O. Russell was swiftly appointed director, but then talent around the film started to jump ship one after another. Portman was the first to drop out, followed swiftly by Russell, who revealed yesterday that he fell out with Lionsgate over budgetary issues: the director wanted to make a bigger period actioner like "Sherlock Holmes," while the studio were happier with a lower budget genre picture. "Year of the Dog" helmer Mike White beat out filmmakers such as Neil Marshall, Jonathan Demme and Mike Newell to replace Russell, but he too dropped out last week.
Overnight, another name emerged from the pack; Quiet Earth reported news from a "Lionsgate insider" that British helmer Christopher Smith was the current frontrunner to take over. Smith's spent the last few years as a sort of thinking-man's Neil Marshall, turning out decent, if never exceptional, genre fare like the Franka Potente vehicle "Creep," the horror comedy "Severance," the mind-bending thriller "Triangle" (probably his best film) and the upcoming, better-than-you'd-imagine medieval horror "Black Death," with Sean Bean.
He's a dependable pair of hands, with experience in horror and comedy, he's able to get solid production value out of less than massive budgets, and, perhaps most importantly, he's cheap, which, if Lionsgate want to make the kind of low-overhead horror fare that they're more familiar with, as Russell suggested, is probably important. He's an entirely plausible pick, for sure, but we contacted Smith's U.K. representatives, who told us that it was the first that they'd heard of the story. This doesn't necessarily mean that he won't end up in contention for the film, only that Quiet Earth's story was premature -- his name could have been brought up in internal discussions, but no overtures of any kind seem to have been made yet. Keep an eye on this one though.
Once a director is hired, which we imagine will be soon, things will have to get rolling on the project fairly soon: actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Mia Wasikowska were rumored to play the lead, Elizabeth Bennett (although, with the latter officially signing on to "Stoker," we imagine she's out of the running by now), while names like James McAvoy, Bradley Cooper, Tilda Swinton and Catherine O'Hara were others mentioned at various points. However, don't be surprised -- with Russell and Portman out of the mix -- when some of these A-list names being thrown around all of a sudden disappear and are replaced with slightly lesser-known, or lesser-celebrated actors. "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" should shuffle into theaters some time in 2012.