World War Z: Off Book, On Target

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I’ve been in San Francisco the last few weeks, and I finally got a chance to see World War Z (imdb.com) when we came back to Chicago. Since they first announced a film version of Max Brooks’ zombie novel, World War Z, I’ve been tossing over whether or not I was excited for it. I’m a big fan of the book, and of Max Brooks in general. And all while I was reading the book I thought, “this would make a great movie.” Then when I started seeing previews and hearing about the production, I started getting weary.

Before I get too far into dissecting the film, let me just state that I really enjoyed World War Z. It’s hands down one of the best zombie movies I’ve seen come out in quite a while.

Brad-Pitt-in-World-War-Z-2013-Movie-Image-2The film stars Brad Pitt (imdb.com) as a former UN investigator thrust into the zombie outbreak and charged with finding the source of the infection. When you break the story down, it’s a lot like most zombie films; with one exception: it’s actually about zombies! While most films focus on the emotional and familial aspect of the apocalypse, World War Z really focuses on the zombies themselves. I’ll get into that a bit later.

This is normally where I’d tell you about the casting, and whether or not the actors performed. But, the only real casting they did was with Brad Pitt. It’s all about him. But, honestly, they could’ve casted any middle-aged action star in this role and it wouldn’t have changed the story a whole lot.

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wwz1First, I want to talk about why I say it’s “off book, but on target.” For anyone who has read the book, it’s pretty obvious how this is NOTHING LIKE THE BOOK! But that’s not a bad thing. And that’s why it’s still on target. It has everything a great zombie flick needs: a studly main character, a young kid, an evil “higher power”, and, most importantly, zombies. The story is compelling and had me on the edge of my seat. (There was one point where I was consuming Mike n’ Ikes so fast that I almost got a stomach ache.) And while it doesn’t follow the book at all, it still has glimmers of Max Brooks spread throughout. The way Brooks depicts actions feel very similar to the way they were portrayed on-screen. 

1578_53249_lThe other way the film incorporates the book is by really showing the zombie outbreak as a worldwide pandemic. In other zombie films, they may talk about how the virus has “spread to other countries,” they may even show those countries on a map and have it shaded in a deep red. But, World War Z is the first zombie film (at least that I’ve seen) that follows the affection across the globe. Brooks’ original book is basically comprised of survival stories from around the world. The film takes that idea and centers it around Brad Pitt.

Now let’s come back to the perspective and focus of the film. It is ALL about Brad Pitt… and the zombies. Name any number of zombie media and you’ll find a trend: individual and small group survival, and how those groups form bonds that make it difficult to see your new loved ones die. World War Z takes this factor out by separating the main character away from his family completely. So when we see people getting pounced on by zombies, we don’t care as much. With the focus being on Brad Pitt’s mission, the film is, in effect, telling us that this mass pandemic is what you need to pay attention to.

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This both helps, and hinders the film. It helps it to be unique in a genre that is drowning in stagnation and stereotypes. But, also detaches the audience from the heart of the film. When we detach from the true emotion, we see the plot holes. And there are plot holes. Every zombie movie has plot holes. It’s ok. Enjoy the flesh-eating and move on with your life.

warz26f-4-webBut, the plot holes aren’t the only thing that detract from the film. From a distance, the zombies are awesome. They strike fear in the hearts of the population, and they turn in 12 seconds flat. But, up close, they’re flawed. They look great, but the acting is awful. I’m specifically talking about the zombies in the W.H.O. facility. They seem more like baby dinosaurs trying to hatch than they do flesh-eating zombie. Any zombie that we ever saw up close just came off campy, cartoony, and completely false. A big portion of the audience laughed, and not because the scene was funny. But, when you have a zombie stare into the camera and growl, people are going to find that funny.

science-vs-fiction-world-war-z-who-lab-130620-670x440The structure of the film, and the way it ended, left World War Z prime for a sequel, or even a trilogy. I haven’t heard any news that this is happening. But, Max Brooks’ novel is told as a documentary of individual survival stories. And a second movie, in mockumentary form, that follows the stories from the book, would be a great follow-up to Brad Pitt saving the world.

Plot holes and bad acting aside, World War Z is definitely worth checking out. And, it’s definitely worth seeing in theatres. I give it a solid 7/10 for entertainment value and having a unique perspective. If you can overlook the dinosaur effect of the zombies, they are depicted well. The tension of the film will make your heart race. And they manage to pump out a lot of exposition in ways that don’t leave you bored with dialogue.

 

And of course, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, move out of the barn and watch the trailer here:

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