Monday, December 30, 2013

The Cleanest Looking Zombies You Ever Did See

Max Brooks' epic World War Z is one of the most unique reads I've had in recent years. Part horror novel, part modern social studies lesson, it could be argued to be the very apex of the undead movement of art. Like so many of us who grew up fantasizing about life in the Monroeville Mall, Brooks saw the concept of a Romero zombie invasion as something well worth exploring, in his case, on a global scale. His novel (a collection of 'interviews' conducted with those who survived an international zombie attack) is simply brilliant.

Cue the angry mob of (somewhat justified) torch-bearing bookworms who therefore considered Marc Forster's loose film adaptation to be a blight on mankind.

The cinematic journey of World War Z is a complicated one. When the first script leaked several years ago, the Internet rejoiced like a band of victorious Ewoks over how it apparently captured the spirit and scope of Brooks' novel in a way that could, sources said, redefine screenwriting as we knew it. Fast forward several drafts later to word of the troubled production, now being produced by (and starring) Brad Pitt with a constantly ballooning budget and pushed-back release date.

Eventually, World War Z debuted to admirable box office numbers, decent critical reviews, and a whole lot of anger from its initial fanbase. Brooks casually disowned the film as having nothing to do with his book. Horror fans growled at the PG13 rating. Readers were disgusted by what was a complicated, global narrative being reduced to 'Hot Brad Pitt Fights Zombies To Save His Family.'

I go through this somewhat long preamble to try to explain where I come from in watching and reviewing World War Z. The novel was one of my absolute favorite reading experiences, and something I was eager to share and push on friends who mostly responded the same. A part of me was crushed to learn about the film's dilution of Brooks' worldwide elements. As someone who thinks The Walking Dead would be a better place without the Grimes' father/son dull spot, the idea that such a fascinating and incredibly developed examination of modern society would be boiled down to 'hot dad saves kids' made me angry.

But as I've said about so many films adapted from beloved works of fiction, a movie is its own thing. There can be nothing wrong with using a book simply as a springboard for inspiration rather than blueprint for cinematic translation. For every No Country For Old Men that adapts its source nearly verbatim and works beautifully, there are just as many The Shinings that take the initial story and spin it into something of its own. With great humility, I swallowed a good deal of emotion and tried my hardest to watch Marc Forster's World War Z as something original with no attachment to the novel whose name it shares.

Here's me trying.

Quick Plot: People Magazine's Sexiest Ex-UN Field Officer Alive is enjoying a regular road trip with his wife and two daughters when chaos breaks out on the streets of Philadelphia. Before you can say cheese steak, people are sprinting for their lives as the occasional twitchy infected lurches on their tail to take a bite.

Well, 'lurch' is such a lugubrious word. It's more like they're being set up in the kind of children's toy catapult contraption every kid wanted for Christmas (be it a pirate ship or wresting ring) and instantly SHOT into the still-living's path.

It's almost cool. I'll give you that.

One Mist-y trip to a grocery store later and Gerry is able to get into contact with his former employers who decide to send him on an international journey to help identify a solution to the now world-wide epidemic of fast running zombieism. In return for his risky work, Gerry's family is to be kept safe on a military ocean rig. The military is awesome and completely trustworthy like that.

What follows are a few episodes of Gerry traveling to a few far reaches of the world: South Korea, Israel, and Wales. If you can divorce yourself from the far more global spread of the novel, you can appreciate a mainstream big budget horror (well, action with touches of horror) studio film integrating different nations into its narrative. Yes, it's ultimately the blond haired, blue eyed, apple pie in his beard Brad Pitt who (SPOILER ALERTISHNESS) is the hunk the seven continents need to save the world, but least he gets a cute female Israeli sidekick!

I don't know I don't know I don't know, I moan with exasperation. It's probably impossible for me to fully disarm my devotion to Brooks' novel, making the film 'adaptation' such a disappointment. There are strong elements at play: the film LOOKS and SOUNDS quite good, with some incredibly effective fast-paced attacks in its first and second act. For general audiences whose familiarity with the zombie genre ends at The Walking Dead, World War Z is certainly an exciting way to kill two hours of time. For most of us, this is that film that your coworkers and extended family will ask you about, because after all, you're a HORROR FAN!

In most cases, that means you won't like it. World War Z is to the zombie genre what The Big Bang Theory is to geekdom. It's more than appealing to the mainstream, but those with a deeper identity to the subject matter will just find it empty. There have been plenty of PG13 horror films that have surpassed their youth-friendly rating to still provide scares, but for a movie about a mass zombie invasion destroying the entire planet, it just seems like we all deserve better than a hot American saving the world without seeing a drop of actual blood.

High Points
Self slingshot-flinging zombieism is neat enough in being something completely new

Low Points
Wow, what a climax

I don't mean to insult the asthmatic population, but can we please agree that children with severe breathing conditions in need of holy grail-esque inhalers are a tad forced in cinema?

Lessons Learned
Those annoying children's toys that make battery operated sounds can be surprisingly useful when identifying key features of a zombie virus

Apparently, we are in no way past the point of 'please turn off your cell phone' courtesy announcements before launching super dangerous missions involving the undead

Cardio, cardio, and cardio

Well, considering my below freezing temperature expectations, World War Z was certainly better than it could have been. On the other hand, considering its source material, World War Z was nowhere near as good as it should have been. Brooks loyalists should stay away, but those who enjoy action horror will certainly find this to be a decently made, and for a good 2/3rds of its running time, well paced little mainstream hit. 


  1. I remember the trailer for this movie. The distributors were so paranoid about releasing a *scoff**gasp* horror movie (*Oh my stars, well I say! A HORROR movie?! Most filthy!*) that they only showed the zombies from ridiculous birds eye view shots!

    1. It's the same for theatrical musicals. Sweeney Todd was sold as a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp thriller, and used the ONLY line of spoken dialogue in the trailer, never showing anybody singing...despite the fact that 99% of the film was pure singing. It's ridiculous.

  2. By the way, is it just me, or is there a depressing lack of musicals as of late. Minus annoying Disney teen flicks like the high School Musical ripoffs that were abundant a while back, or the long-since terrible Glee, Sweeney Todd and Les Miserables are probably among the only musicals in the last decade.

    1. There's a big budgeted, big name cast adaptation of Into the Woods coming out next December and I believe Anna Kendrick is currently filming The Last Five Years. I was surprised that there wasn't an avalanche of production after Les Miz did so well, but I guess studios are still scared to touch what is usually expensive and risky material.

    2. At least I own plenty of musicals, so I can be satisfied for now. I've been on a bit of a kick lately, to the point, that I've started writing a musical series.

    3. Ooooh I see that! I need to catch up!

  3. Imho, the producer's decision to not market this as a horror movie was the right choice. This just isn't horror.
    It's a typical big summer blockbuster action movie which happens to have zombies in it.
    Actually, I enjoyed it for what it is (haven't read the novel yet). It has great production values, never really slows down (only in those unnecessary family-on-the-boat bits) and that Jerusalem bit was just awesome, followed by the euqally great airplane set piece...and than came the finale. It sucked all the energy out of the movie and it ended on a whimper instead of a bang.
    Still, WWZ was better than expected.

    Btw, you should check out the extended cut. It adds a splash of red to the happenings:
    We get several bloody headshots, a smashed-in face (on-screen!), other bloody shot(wounds) and a chopped-off hand (still no gut-munching though). Far from a gorefest but also not so clean anymore.

    That cute Israeli soldier chick (which [spoiler] suprisingly made it to the end) reminded me a lot of Cecile de France in High Tension.

    1. Very good point on the marketing. I don't think they mis-sold it at all. It was just difficult for those who had read the novel to separate it from the adaptation that went with SUCH a different tone.

      I'd be curious to see the extended cut, especially if I could track down one that included the original ending.

      Good for the cute Israeli soldier chick! And yes, that pixie shave suited her and Cecile quite nicely.

    2. The 'Extended Action Cut' (that's what it is called over here) I'm referring to is simply sold as 'Unrated Cut' in the USA and that's pretty much all it is. It just adds bits of action and violence (7 mins in total), the rest (including the ending, sadly) is the same as the PG13 theatrical version.

    3. Hm. I wonder which was the Netflix disc. I might not even have noticed!

  4. We just watched this last night and really enjoyed it. I loved the book and followed all the controversy over the film with queasy unease, but in the end, I think they did the best conversion to a 2 hour movie that could be managed. The book just wasn't built to be a movie. The only way it could have been properly rendered was to have done a 8-10 part HBO series or something, giving each episode over to telling each individual story. Which would have been awesome, mind... But, I mainly looked at the movie as a separate thing unto itself. It kept me more on edge than most of the other horror movies I've seen lately, and the mass zombie attacks were wonderfully apocalyptic. The antlike behavior was something I'd never seen in a zombie film before, so for that alone, I give it props.

    1. It's a very good way of looking at it Trever. I couldn't fully disconnect myself from the source material, but I do agree that they tried a few new things that hadn't been done in a zombie film before. Better than a lot of its peers, but just not the masterpiece I had dreamed of while reading.

    2. Now go watch "Dance of the Dead" for some low budget indie-zombie fun!

    3. That's a good one. It has such a warm heart!