Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “World War Z”


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Okay, I get it — fans of Max Brooks’ best-selling “zombie apocalypse” novel World War Z are pissed off about director Marc (Monster’s BallQuantum Of Solace) Forster’s big-budget, big-screen “adaptation” of it because the finished product bears essentially no recognizable similarity to its printed-page predecessor. Heck, some are even going so far as to say that they actually like the film, they just feel that it should be called something else.

On the other hand, it seems that more or less everyone who hasn’t read the book loves the movie.

Much as I’d enjoy picking a side in this, the latest great “genre geek debate,”  I honestly can’t, simply because I don’t really fit into either of the “warring” camps, seeing as how I neither read the novel nor loved the film with the kind of awestruck wonder its most fervent partisans seem to be brimming over with.

Oh, sure, it was pleasantly entertaining enough — United Nations bad-ass-for-hire Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt — who, let’s face it, is probably contractually obligated to always play somebody at least a little bit cooler than the Average Joe) races against the clock, and around the globe, to keep his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos of TV’s The Killing) and their kids safe from a massive viral plague that essentially mashes together elements of the scenarios George Romero laid out in both The Crazies and his seminal “Living Dead” flicks, only with a much larger budget that enables the filmmakers to give us a more international perspective on the goings-on. Governments are strained to breaking point and/or collapse entirely, WHO and the world’s various military forces struggle to get a handle on things, no area is left unaffected, no one is safe —you get the picture.

The script went through four sets of hands — Babylon 5 creator and frequent comics scribe J. Michael Straczynski gave way to former Lost head honcho and occasional comics scribe Damon Lindelof who in turn gave way to Drew Goddard who in turn gave way to Matthew Michael Carnahan — and, as you can imagine, is something of a mess as a result. Fortunately, it never slows down long enough for you to fully realize that fact, and instead keeps you on the edge of your seat with its PG-13-level action and semi-violence (notice I don’t say anything about gore — sorry, die-hard zombie-holics) from the time it clocks in to the time it knocks off and heads for the bar around the corner.

The end result is something of a hustle — it’ll slowly dawn on you as you make your way home from the theater that what you just saw really wasn’t anything too special, but what the hell — you were too busy having fun to notice.

And that was probably the whole point, really. I don’t think Forster and his literal army of screenwriters set out to reinvent the wheel here or overturn the sacred “Romero Rules” permanently. They were just the guys brought in to make something of a damn popular book that Paramount bid a fortune to obtain the rights to and if, at the end of the day, all that survived of World War Z as most folks knew it was the title, well — that’s pretty much all they were paying for, anyway. Beyond that the only edicts from the studio “suits” were probably to land a huge star, load up on the CGI, and deliver a product that the average summertime movie-goer would find to be a reasonable enough investment of ten bucks and (roughly) two hours.

Judging it on that scorecard, you’d have to say they can all pat themselves on the back, say “mission accomplished,” and go home. Those hoping for a movie that would revolutionize the genre on celluloid the same way the book did in print are bound to be left feeling a bit disappointed, as is anyone who bothers to actually think about what they’re seeing while they’re seeing it, but for anyone and everyone else, hey — it’s a decent enough little thrill ride. Grab some popcorn, sit back, and please don’t struggle against your inner 12-year-old.

Now, as to the other raging debate splitting the internet about whether or not this is actually a horror movie or just a “thriller” with some genre trappings —

Forget it. I’m sooooo not going there. One nerd-controversy per review is my limit.

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45 responses to “Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “World War Z”

  1. Now that you’ve seen the film, I recommend the book. :)

    As for the final part of the review I’m in the camp that it’s not a horror (though the epic, global scenes of the cities being overwhelmed does lend itself to certain type of existential horror) but a disaster thriller. Even the more subdued and intimate setting of the third act is more thriller than horror.

    I think the film has been a surprise to many considering how many people were predicting it to be one of the biggest bombs and flops in cinematic history. While this might have lowered many film-goers’ expectation it still doesn’t change the fact that it was a fun film that did keep one occupied enough not to dwell on the flaws.

    It didn’t try to slow things down with exposition the way Man of Steel did which is why the flaws of that film were more pronounced and people were more critical of it afterwards.

    For me, World War Z is a prime example of why one must see a film before judging it. Any idiot can judge a film before they see it by basing it on their own preconceived bias towards a particular type of film, an actor, filmmaker or even studio.

    This also works vice versa towards those who will judge a film they’ve never seen as an instant classic or best ever because it tugs at what they like in a film.

    Which of the big sequences did you like best?

    • You know, I think the first “big” sequence still worked the best — they got trapped in kind of trying to up the ante with each successive one and they lost their impact for me after awhile.

  2. How does the book “revolutionise” the zombie genre?

    (This is a legitimate question, as I’ve not read the book).

    In the Richard Matheson interview posted shortly after his passing, the author mentioned similar sentiments to those noted in the first paragraph of the above review. Specifically, Matheson wondered why Hollywood, instead of making a film called “I Am Legend” (the third film version of his novel of the same title), just didn’t give it some other name, as he felt that none of the adaptations really reflected his book.

    That’s probably what Hollywood should consider doing: stop “adapting” things, or better still, stop remaking things. Come up with an original idea, instead of butchering old ideas and churning out inferior copies of classic movies.

    • Hollywood? Original ideas? I don’t think the former has even heard of the latter.

      • Perhaps “original” is not the right term, but at least a road less travelled. You know, Hollywood is wearing out the pavement, venturing down the same old path of zombie flicks, teen vampire movies, comic book confections, etc.

        • They’ll keep doing all that until something new starts making money. Then they’ll jump on that next new bandwagon — whatever it is — and ride it to death.

          • The funny thing is that the zombie genre is so very anti-Hollywood. It’s only the last could years that the major studios have realized that zombies are a moneymaker.

            Outside of the Resident Evil series, Land of the Dead, World War Z and Warm Bodies, pretty much zombie cinema has been very much the child of the independent cinema scene.

          • Very true — oh, but you left “Zombieland” off your list, which was one of the most commercially successful of the bunch, even if it was a comedy.

    • I’m not sure if the novel revolutionized the genre in print literature, but it did treat the subgenre in a manner much different from how other writers and filmmakers have tried to in the past. Prior to Brook’s two novels about zombies there was never any attempt to try an treat the subject in a serious and scientific method. To treat the genre as an exercise in scientific study.

      Most zombie fiction has always been about the individual or a small group trying to survive. The novel treats the genre as a sort of speculative look into an event that has come to past and now being remembered for study. After Brook’s novel was published we’ve seen a spike in novels and university papers that looks to treat the zombie genre in accordance to one’s scope of learning. I know one such book I’ve just finished reading is titled “The Theories of International Politics and Zombies” by Daniel W. Drezner who also happens to be a professor of international politics from Tufts University (formerly of the University of Chicago and Colorado). This book pretty much reads like your typical poli-sci textbook but with the additional factor of zombies.

      So, in a way the book did revolutionize the zombie in print literature. I think this was one reason why the subgenre has continued to see a rise in its popularity as more and more people who were never into it in the beginning have seen it’s value as both entertainment and as a tool for learning.

      • Just take a look at the number of zombie novels in the Amazon/CreateSpace print-on-demand area. Everyone, it seems ,has dreams of being the next Max Brooks these days.

        • I remember reading a novel where one chapter is suppose to be someone’s twitter account and their timeline’s activity as a zombie outbreak turns into an apocalypse. It was an interesting way of changing up your typical zombie story.

          • Sounds like an interesting take on things, maybe a “diary Of The Dead”-type thing. Of course, everyone but me seemed to hate that movie —

          • They all got pretty annoying! But they also all got killed (or shut in a panic room). So it all evens out in my book.

      • George A. Romero was in the audience when I saw “Diary of the Dead”. A big rent-a-crowd of zombies turned up for the show.

        As Romero himself described it, the film was meant to be about the madness of the information superhighway, all these different opinions coming from so many different sources, all getting muddled up and falling over one another. Romero comes from another time, so one can imagine how the internet must look to him.

        • In addition to that, Romero has also called it the zombie film that points out just how much this current generation has become a society of wannabe auteurs whose easy access to all information has given them the false sense of expertise that was never earned but just recycled to make them sound important. I know many like to point out that the old film professor was an aanalogue for Romero himself, but I always thought that the lead girl was more like the traditional Romero protagonist. Someone who understands the danger of the crisis, could be blinded by old-school thinking to make a point, but in the end willing to adjust to new paradigm in order to remain relevant.

          Romero has been all those, though lately he has had trouble making the third part come across as quality work. I point to his last zombie film, Survival of the Dead, as a great example.

          • I thought “Survival” was a lot of fun, personally, and hope that George still has at least one more zombie movie in him.

          • Same here. Even though Survival was the weakest of his zombie films it still managed to add something to the canon that didn’t look like a rehash.

            Hell, I forgive its many faults for that awesome night silhouette shot with the warring clan patriarchs and a huge full moon as backdrop.

          • I would agree that it’s probably his weakest effort, but most people who hated “Diary” actually seemed to like “Survival.” I think time will tell a different story — when “Day” came out, a lot of people hated that one, and now look — it’s rightly perceived as the classic it is.

        • That sounds like a good time, wish I’d been there. Romero is a smart guy — all his films use zombies to reflect contemporary issues and previaling social mores. They’re more about “us” than they are about “them.” There aren’t enough filmmakers who realize the inherent ability that the zombie genre has to do this sort of thing.

          • I think Edgar Wright is one such filmmaker. I know people call me crazy with a capital C but I always hoped that Spielberg could’ve tried his hand in a straight out zombie film.

          • I’m not as big a “Shaun Of The Dead” fan as a lot of people, actually. Sure, it’s fun and all, but it pretty much devolved into soap opera territory at about the halfway point and never fully recovered, in my opinion.

  3. Worst. Zombie movie. Ever!

    Ok, so probably a big problem for me is that I’ve read the book, and I can’t really pretend I’ve never read the book. But I think even if it had never been linked to World War Z, I probably still would have been disappointed in it. I didn’t like the solution to fighting the zombies that they came up with, and as usual I don’t like movies with running zombies. Do what you want with zombies, but making them run just ruins it for me. That said, it wasn’t completely unwatchable, and I can see how it would appeal to the mass market. It just didn’t really appeal to me.

    • I prefer the slow, shambling Romero zombies myself — speed doesn’t make these things any scarier in my book.

      • I prefer the Romero-style zombies as well, but when put in a good story I don’t mind the sprinters. Though I think the sprinters were made that way to try and explain why zombies could spread so quickly. I think too many writers nowadays forget the one major rule that Romero established in his films: someone dying — doesn’t matter whether by zombie, other violent act or through natural causes — will come back as a zombie. It’s the whole thing about how even the act of any sort of death will create more zombies.

        The sprinters always tend to be of the viral or some sort of biological weapon type zombie hence the rapid spread.

        • I think the idea that the sprinters are somehow intrinsically more “threatening,” as Danny Boyle, Zack Snyder, etc., tried to demonstrate in the early 2000s has pretty well been thoroughly debunked these days — “The Walking Dead” and “Zombieland” have been the two most wildly successful zombie-themed properties in recent years — well, until “World War Z,” at any rate — and they both feature slow shamblers that do the job just fine.

          • Yeah, slow and steady always wins the race and, in regards to the zombie apocalypse, push humans to the brink of extinction. Zombies are the tortoise of the monster world!

    • One must then assume that you have no time for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956 or 1978, take your pick). Best zombie films ever, destined to never be topped, although not traditionally considered part of the genre.

      You know what I really love about the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”? The survivors don’t have guns. It really adds something to the film when the humans can’t just lay waste to everything in sight. When one looks at the trailers for these zombie flicks these days, it looks like just a bunch of people blowing up a bunch of zombies. It just doesn’t look very interesting at all.

      • Well, in terms of how we define the zombie subgenre then Invasion of the Body Snatchers doesn’t count, just as how I don’t count 28 Days Later or 29 Weeks Later as zombie films. They’re not dead as how Romero laid down the basic rules with Night of the Living Dead and, prior to that, Matheson with I Am Legend with his slow-moving vampires.

        As for the guns angle. That’s one of the interesting aspects about the zombie subgenre. It doesn’t matter whether the protagonist or everyone on the screen has gins or even extreme firepower. In the face of the zombie problem they’re barely a stopgap solution. They only delay the inevitable and actually serves to become part of the problem in one way or another. They’re too loud and can attract more zombies to the point they overwhelm and/or they’re a finite source of defense that requires it’s operator to be able to shoot a small moving target expertly in the face of extreme stress. One thing I’ve learn learning to shoot firearms is that they’re difficult enough in ideal conditions when the target is not moving and trying to eat me, but to add that would just make it near impossible for the random Joe shmoe to do the same without training whatsoever.

        It’s the reason why in almost every zombie film or story (both film and written lit) those who end up surviving learn to husband and rarely use them unless necessary. Even with World War Z there’s a line that pretty much calls firearms as nothing but a temporary solution that doesn’t solve the problem. It’s almost a throwaway line, but for those who know their zombie canon it’s something very recognizable and understandable.

        • Uh-oh, I sense a debate about what does or doesn’t consititute a “legit” zombie movie on the horizon —

          • Well, have to set limits on what can be called a true zombie (living dead) film or one can call any film that has mindless, drone-like antagonists a zombie film.

            For me, at least, these are the basics that a film needs to have to make it a true zombie film.

            1. The monsters being called zombies have to be reanimated corpses. Doesn’t matter what causes the reanimation the common denominator is that the body has to a corpse to be reanimated.

            2. The zombies will attack living people (animals as well for a varied diet). The feeding on living beings not necessarily a condition. The attack itself is the primary goal. This is why WWZ barely makes it in as a zombie film. They don’t feed but they have the new primal need to attack and spread the contagion.

            3. Finally, and most important, zombies can only be completely put down by destroying the brain of the reanimated corpse.

            See, three simple rules. :)

          • I’m pretty much in agreement with all your points, particularly the first one. Sorry, but a viral outbreak a la “28 Days Later” doesn’t count as a true “zombie” in my book. The living dead have to be — well, living dead.

      • I like either of the “invasion Of The Body Snatchers” movies just fine, I’m not sure how many folks would label them the “best” the genre has ever produced — heck, some might not even consider them “proper” zombies movies at all — but they’re both certainly very good flicks.

    • Yeah, it does and even the follow-up drafts made by JMS were just as good. I think if it had been just Pitt’s production company the JMS script probably would’ve been used in one for or another, but when you have Universal as the main backer in terms of money the script was DOA.

      I think that’s the danger of trying to make a big-budget zombie film. The more money gets pumped into the production the more the money people get a say in how the film should be done.

      There’re exceptions but usually its directors who have a lot of influence and power in the industry. I think if WWZ was given only half the budget (80-100 million) we probably could’ve seen the JMS script made, but the producers and studios involved were so disorganized that so much money was used before a single frame of film was shot that the budget ballooned too fast, too soon.

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