World War Z

Posted: June 26, 2013 in Film reviews
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Directed by Marc Forster. Starring Brad Pitt.

Often cited as un-filmable due to its structure, Max Brooks’ novel detailing the history of a zombie outbreak finally makes it to the big screen, and ends up being probably the biggest budget zombie film ever made.

Pitt is Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator who left his job following a disagreement with his bosses. Now living in Philadelphia he and his family find themselves in the middle of a zombie outbreak within the city. After struggling to survive Gerry is contacted by his former boss who offers to rescue him and his family, and after holing up in an apartment building overnight they’re rescued from the clutches of a zombie horde by a helicopter that takes them out to a carrier out at sea, where Gerry is pressganged into helping lead a team to investigate the outbreak, to see if patient zero can be identified in hopes of finding a cure. Gerry doesn’t want to leave his family but is categorically told that if he doesn’t help, they’ll all be sent back to the mainland.

Initially the team fly into South Korea to visit the remains of a US military base, and whilst there are few clues there, an imprisoned CIA officer suggests Gerry might want to look into why Israel walled in their cities a week before the zombie outbreak…so Gerry, with what’s left of the team, heads for Israel. But can he find the source of the plague, can he help locate a cure, and will he ever get a haircut?

The first thing to say about World War Z is that it’s better than I was expecting it to be. I’ve read Brooks’ original book but I knew enough going in not to expect a literal page to screen version given that the book is an oral history of the Zombie war told through interviews with various characters across the globe(although apparently J. Michael Straczynski’s original screenplay was very faithful to the book). The film jettisons this interesting (but perhaps not multiplex friendly) structure for a more straightforward quest whereby Gerry has to go from point A to point B to point C, picking up clues and figuring out the solution along the way. I can see why the decision was made, and actually it works pretty well, but it would be nice to see someone do something along the lines of Brooks’ original concept someday. As with many book to film scenarios, you can’t help but think the main thing they wanted was the title.

The studio apparently made major changes to the film, involving extensive reshoots and this does affect the film’s structure. We start off with huge action scenes in Philadelphia, South Korea and Israel, but then the film shifts to… Cardiff! In tone the first two thirds of the film play like Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, but the final third actually feels closer to something like The Andromeda Strain, it’s a curious shift in tone, although having read something about the original ending I think that would have been a major tonal shift as well. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the finale in a Welsh lab is actually more tense/action packed than it sounds, but you can definitely see where the join is.

Zombie wise the film is a curious mix of old school shambling zombies (when they’re at rest) and modern fast running undead (when they’re roused), and though the former rely more on makeup and the latter on cgi oddly I thought the computer generated zombies were more effective. Seeing them swarm like ants, piling themselves up to scale a wall, is quite a sight, meanwhile lone zombies shuffling around at times look somewhat comical. But then this isn’t really a horror film, it’s closer to a sci-fi thriller, and even though it’s a 15 certificate it’s quite a sanitised affair, with much of the violence occurring off screen, which is fair enough given the studio obviously wanted to maximise their audience, but does make the final product somewhat tame, and frankly the TV version of The Walking Dead has somewhat spoilt us when it comes to zombie action. It is an odd state of affairs when I can watch Andrew Lincoln bash zombies’ heads in on TV, yet can’t see Brad Pitt do the same in the cinema watching a 15 certificate film!

Cast wise you can only really count Pitt. His character isn’t exactly multifaceted but he comes across more three dimensional than everyone else. Pitt is solid, and whilst some people have moaned that it’s hard to see what’s so special about his character I think he shows enough to demonstrate that he is very good at what he does. Right from the off he’s calculating how long it takes people to turn, and this attention to detail continues throughout. The film is populated by other characters, some who die quickly, some who stick around, but precious few make much of an impact, and that includes Gerry’s family who are just there to give him a reason to go on the mission, and a reason to come back from it, but who serve very little further purpose. You’ll recognise some of the people in the credits, but like I say most aren’t around for long.

Yet despite the poor characterisation, despite the sanitised nature of the zombies and the curiously low key ending, it’s actually quite an enjoyable film. It gallops along at a good pace and if nothing else is never boring, and even in the final third there’s still plenty going on. The friend I went with said afterwards that if it’d been a B movie it would have been very good, but for the budget it should have been better, and I think that’s a fair assessment. In all probability it might have been better as World War Z-lister than World War A-lister, but at the very least it’s no World War ZZZzzzz

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