Sunday, October 6, 2013

World War Z

31 Days of Horror: Day 6
If you are a big fan of Max Brooks' sweeping zombie novel, World War Z, you should prepare yourself before watching World War Z.  The film has absolutely nothing in common with the book, aside from a multi-national scope and the presence of zombies.  If you watch zombie movies for creative and excessive amounts of gore, then you might want to slow your proverbial roll.  These aren't your classic, slow-moving, flesh-falling-off-the-bone zombies and there is no channeling of Tom Savini with these special effects.  So, that is what World War Z is not.  What is it like?

Gerry () is just a normal guy, hanging out in a traffic jam with his wife () and kids, when the zombie apocalypse happens.  That's not a euphemism for being stuck in traffic with small children.  All of a sudden, the streets are filled with a raging mob that is becoming more and more undead with every passing moment.
You know, your basic zombie movie opening scene
Gerry survives Z-Day through a combination of cleverness and knowing somebody with a helicopter.  I won't spoil the movie and tell you which is a better trait to have.  The reason Gerry is valuable enough to save via airlift is because he is a retired UN investigator and one of his old work chums () needs someone to discover the origin of the outbreak.  
"Oh.  That's all you need?  Great."
And that's the premise.  Gerry does some globetrotting, sees how different areas are handling the end of the world, and works his way towards a cure.  If there is one.

The quality of the acting in World War Z boils down to how much you like .  That's not a knock on the other actors; Pitt is simply the only one with an emotional arc and more than ten minutes onscreen.  As far as that goes, Pitt is solid.  You can make an argument that he's a little bland here, but this isn't a character piece.  It's a zombie movie, and he serves his purpose by giving the audience something to care about.  was okay as his worried wife, but her expectations for a husband in the post-apocalypse were a little unreasonable.  If one of them had to work for a living in the real world, why wouldn't one of them have to work to keep them from un-living?  was better as Gerry's unwilling surgical patient, but her part was pretty basic.
It looks like Pitt is going to throw her at someone here, right?
Everyone else in the cast basically amounted to cameos.  was charismatic as a bad-ass soldier, but his part was super-brief.  might not have even had a line in the ten seconds I remember of him.  managed a few lines before Gerry globe trotted elsewhere.  had a bit more screen time than the others, but his character was just a boring bureaucrat.

directed World War Z, and he succeeded in one of the most important aspects of this film: the scope.  The movie looks and feels big, as a global zombie epidemic movie should.  Most zombie movies have a small scope --- a mall or a house, or the like --- because the costs associated with a large-scale apocalyptic film are so high.  Forster did a good job upping the ante and making this feel appropriately large.
There are more zombies in this shot than in every Romero movie combined
Forster also did a good job making this movie look good in a variety of ways.  The World Health Organization looked distinctly different from Jerusalem, which was significantly different than New York, etc.  I thought the action looked pretty good, although there were no truly great action pieces.  The special effects, which looked wretched in the trailer, actually worked well in the context of the film.
Surprise!  This didn't look like crap in the movie!
My only real problem with Forster's direction is the huge change of tone and pacing in the film's final third.  There has been a lot of press about that; apparently, the original ending was awful and this ending was the result of extensive rewrites and reshoots.  I actually like this ending, but there is no denying that the difference is jarring.  This was a tough project that was notoriously difficult to bring to the screen, and I think Forster delivered a movie that successfully avoided being a monstrous disappointment.

Speaking of disappointments, let's address how well World War Z fares as a zombie film.  In short, not well.  I don't have a problem with the fact that the zombies here are the fast variety, as opposed to the classic slow creatures from the book.  These zombies like to run.
...and stage dive.  Unsuccessfully.
Here's the thing, though.  These zombies don't feel much like zombies.  For starters, there aren't any outstanding examples of gore in this movie.  The coolest bit of gore came from Brad Pitt chopping off a hand.  That's fairly unusual in a zombie movie (the lack of gore, not the hand-chopping), but I'm sure there is a precedent for it.  Not a good precedent, but a precedent.  These zombies don't act like any movie zombies I have seen, either.  Instead, they were clearly inspired by swarming insects.
Big insects, though.  The kind you need a hatchet for.
That's actually a pretty clever idea.  The overall effect was threatening and unsettling.  They didn't feel like zombies, though.  That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but in a movie based on the highest-profile zombie novel ever (maybe?) and has a title that implies zombies...?  These choices don't really make sense.  I wouldn't mind so much if the movie worked around the Z-word --- 28 Days Later got away with a "rage virus," after all --- but the term "zombie" is front and center, even if the zombies in question are pretty uncommon.
Example: this is a buffet for "real" zombies

The most frustrating and rewarding parts of World War Z stem from the same ultimate cause: the script.  Having read the book, I can assure you that the process of creating a screenplay from that source material would be very difficult.  That this film has a coherent story is an accomplishment in and of itself.  However, to get this much of a narrative, a lot of sacrifices had to be made.  When you couple that with budget constraints, you end up with a finished product that bears almost nothing in common with World War Z.  To be perfectly honest, the money spent securing the film rights to the book was a complete waste, as the finished product is unrecognizable from the source material.

And yet...World War Z manages to do zombies on a scale that we haven't seen before (at least, not done well).  This is a flawed movie, no doubt, and a few well-placed and gory zombie kills would have gone a long way toward making this more fun to watch, but it's not bad.  It wasn't the zombie epic I was hoping for, but it brought some new elements to the table that I thought worked out pretty well.  Since the film grossed over half a billion dollars, we will probably (eventually) see a sequel pop up, and that wouldn't be a bad thing.  It should probably add some gore, though.

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