I’ll be honest. It’s taken me a few days to collect my thoughts on this. World War Z is the highly praised, well respected follow up to The Zombie Survival Guide by author Max Brooks. The novel was inspired by The Good War, an oral history of World War II by Studs Terkel.
The novel is set a decade after the conclusion of the zombie global crisis or ‘World War Z’. Brooks features as a United Nations representative who travels around the world conducting interviews with a litany of people who were involved in the global struggle, hearing many varied accounts. The book is highly regarded because it covered the idea of a zombie apocalypse in an unprecedented level of detail. Not only had Brooks provided sound scientific reasoning behind the virus, he also managed to accurately depict the imagined global effects of such an event in a startlingly bleak, yet intelligent manner. The novel also served as a biting and hard hitting social satire, criticizing government ineptitude, American Isolationism, corporate corruption and other social issues.
Naturally, this extremely renowned property has been sought after by many different people, not only because zombies are all the rage right now. While there is a large outcry from the fan contingent that World War Z should be adapted into a Tv series i.e. a more intelligent and expansive version of AMC‘s The Walking Dead. Instead, World War Z found itself being picked up by Brad Pitt at his Plan B production company to be made into a new starring vehicle for the high profile actor. The production is in partnership with Paramount and the trailer has been unveiled. Watch it if you dare.
Perhaps you may now understand why I’ve struggled to put my thoughts into words. Many of you will realize by now that I prefer to offer insight along with news, rather than just stating facts regurgitated across the entire blogosphere. It should be relatively apparent that Brad Pitt and co. have decided that perhaps World War Z was a little too deep and that it would be much easier to make a bland action movie. What boggles my mind is why they even bothered using the name. Sure, it’s a cool and memorable name, but I haven’t tried to hijack the “Transformers” name for my story about shapeshifting mutants.
Essentially what we have here is World War Z with everything interesting stripped away from it and replaced with Brad Pitt‘s golden locks, Glasgow (they’re not fooling us), a boring family dilemma and CGI. Seriously? Do we really need to strip away all of the scientific, geo-political and social content in exchange for one family? This is meant to be an apocalyptic global crisis and instead we’re swapping all of the complexity for ham fisted emotional contrivance and the story of one man? Did they even read the source material? Did anyone pick up a book?
Other things to mention: Zombies don’t run. They walk. This isn’t a discussion, or a debate, just like vampires don’t sparkle, zombies do not run. It’s the exact same point. It’s a feature added to try and update an age old monster for a modern audience, but it ultimately betrays the foundation and nature that the monster is built upon. Simon Pegg wrote a fantastic article on this very subject back in 2008 for British broadsheet, The Guardian, which I encourage all of you to read before engaging me on this topic.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Visual effects supervisor John Nelson had this to say about the zombies in World War Z:
“There are a lot of things in nature we’re mining as references. They move like birds or school of fish, too, in reactive formations, and it’s not because they have a higher level of [shared] thinking or communication – it’s about their nature and the fact that their instinct to infect is so basic, efficient, and overpowering. They will go through anything. If they lose both legs, they will walk on their hands. They lock in and they’re like salmon going upstream or sperm swimming to be the first to egg.”
“Everyone has seen everything in this genre, so of course we looked to try to find something new. And we have some.”
That’s all well and good, but World War Z does have something that other entries in the genre don’t have – an unprecedented level of depth and intelligence, but of course that doesn’t manifest itself as an exciting, easily digestible visual treat, so it had to go and be replaced with this bus tumbling malarky.
I should clarify: I have nothing against Brad Pitt. I think he’s a very talented actor and a supremely respectable human being. I have no problem with him starring in an adaptation of World War Z. I just have a problem with EVERYTHING ELSE.
The film has spent some time languishing in development hell since 2008. The original treatment for the movie was penned by writer extraordinaire J. Michael Straczynski (famous for his long run on The Amazing Spider-Man comics, his BAFTA screenplay nomination for Changeling and writing most of Babylon 5). Brooks at the time remarked that while he had no control of the film project he wholeheartedly supported this choice and read the treatment stating it was “amazing”. At the time, the script also leaked online and various reputable sources went on to say that it was a “genre defining masterpiece” and would “make a zombie film Best Picture material”. Judging from the trailer you’re forgiven for thinking there’s something amiss.
Naturally, in true Hollywood style, that script was too good (read: original/risky) so they binned it and handed it over to Matthew Michael Carnahan; the writer of The Kingdom (average Middle-Eastern thriller) and Lions For Lambs (lacklustre Robert Redford political feature). He’s the brother of writer/director Joe Carnahan who has given us such bona-fide classics like Smokin’ Aces and The A- Team remake. What makes this even more infuriating is they brought on everyone’s favourite writer; Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) to fix the third act. Really? You have an amazing script written by a living legend which you bin in favour for a guy who can only write two-thirds of a screenplay and then ask a guy who isn’t exactly renowned for his great endings to come in and finish it? Disjointed springs to mind, let alone other, far ruder words. Reportedly, the script tweaks didn’t end there with Drew Goddard (a safe pair of hands/regular collaborator with Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams) to give it a final once over.
Not the guy you want to write your eulogy
You may think this all sounds crazy, and believe me, it does, but Hollywood has a winning track record of throwing away great scripts in favour of generic ones. You would be amazed at how many terribly written films initially had brilliantly sharp scripts before a producer got cold feet and tore them down.
Continuing to compound my dread for this production is the fact that Marc Forster is at the reigns. Forster made an indelible impression in 2001 with his independent masterpiece Monster’s Ball (starring Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry (she won the Oscar for this role) and Heath Ledger), however he has been a filmmaker in decline ever since, with his two most recent mainstream efforts; Quantum Of Solace and Machine Gun Preacher, being frankly, abysmal (Read my controversial review of Machine Gun Preacher here, the comments are particularly amusing). Forster has proven that he can’t handle big budget action sequences by consistently falling victim to his own brand of virus: Greengrassitis, the deadly condition of forgetting how to hold a camera or how to edit a cohesive sequence as soon as someone draws a weapon and that “exciting” music starts. Judging from the large amount of stupid action present in the trailer… this does not bode well.
This brings me finally, back to commenting on the infected. They look ridiculous. While a lot of trailers do use unfinished CGI; this production clearly has a long way to go. It’s not just because of the overall quality of the CGI, it’s the choice of how the zombies move. I understand the thinking behind a swarm or surge, what makes it problematic is that they are animated incredibly unrealistically, to the point where they merely look like an amorphous blob that someone has gone in later and made it look like there’s a lot of humanoids. They move so fast that it’s hard to even see if their appendages even touch a surface. At the moment it looks like a surge of perfect looking people of all the same dimensions are just floating in a giant rabble, ignoring the basic principles of physics. Due to the PG13 nature of this film, we’re also going to see a bloodless zombie apocalypse. Now, I’m not a bloodthirsty horror fanatic by any means, but does that honestly make any fucking sense… to anyone?!
While I’m not a large advocate of the show, The Walking Dead ‘s largest strength is how it has made great economic use of its limited budget to show us what make-up and physical effects can create. Now we’re faced with a film budgeted at $125 million, that’s zombies are defined by black contact lenses, surprisingly immaculate looking clothing (bit of dirt, but nothing torn or bloodied) and the propensity to ignore the laws of fundamental science.
Overall this just culminates into what will surely be a wasted opportunity. The film could well be an entertaining blockbuster of great scope, but it will NOT be an adaptation of the World War Z material, which means that it’s a license officially squandered. What a pity.
Wake me up when it’s over.
World War Z was originally going to be released on December 21st 2012, but has since been pushed back to June 21st 2013. In December, Paramount will be releasing the Tom Cruise action vehicle – Jack Reacher instead.