“Hey Mr. Brooks, your book was alright but I LOVED the title…”
Director: Marc Forster; Cast: Brad Pitt, James Badge Dale, Mirellie Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena, Matthew Fox; Running time: 116 minutes; Certification: 15
Well, where to begin. World War Z has me torn. The zombie nut in me wants to love it because there’s nothing like a good, thrilling Z-flick, but the fastidious zombie nut in me wants to hate it because it’s absolutely nothing like Max Brooks’ fantastic book, on which it’s based, right down to the most important element: the actual depiction of the zombie.
What Pitt and co. have basically done is obtain the rights to a really cool title for a zombie flick but disregarded pretty much everything else in the source material. One of the very first things Brooks makes clear in his book The Zombie Survival Guide (the predecessor to World War Z) is what his interpretation of a zombie is. To paraphrase, it’s basically along the lines of “a slow, shuffling, moaning corpse that doesn’t think, feel pain, require oxygen or nourishment, and will never, ever stop.”. The zombie you’ll see in George A. Romero’s masterpieces or TV’s The Walking Dead, for example. Yet, despite these clear outlines (and let’s face it, that is the definitive definition of a “zombie”), the team behind World War Z have ignored them in favour of creating super-fast, ant-like, CGI-laden rage beasts that never carry an individual threat or do any kind of shuffling. That’s not to say this particular interpretation of a zombie doesn’t have any cinematic merit – just look at 28 Days Later – but I just can’t figure out why they would take such a brilliant piece of literature to adapt and then just ignore it completely.
Furthermore, if this can actually be deemed an adaptation, it only just skims the surface of Brooks’ intricate prose. It could have been explored in so much depth, which is why I think it could have worked as a TV series, with perhaps each episode focusing on a different story from a survivor that Lane is interviewing. World War Z takes this idea of a man travelling the world searching for answers and strips it down to the bone, leaving us with very threadbare narrative that begins to feel more like a hindrance on the plot than a device that moves it forwards. They manage to fit four countries into just under two hours, which feels like both not enough and too much at the same time.
That being said, the film has its qualities. If you’re less of a zombie pedant than I, you’ll get over the look and style of these particular zombies fairly easily. It moves along at some pace, and the action sequences, of which there are plenty, are handled quite well. The sequences on a South Korean airstrip and the sneaking through a zombie-infested medical lab are tense cranked up to 10, and the Jerusalem sequence (above), while involving all of the stupidest zombie moments (bus-tipping, helicopter-pulling, wall-climbing), does have an air of epic menace to it. One of the opening sequences, too, with Lane and his family in Philadelphia, has a real sense of danger and impending doom about it, and is effective in introducing the danger of these vicious beasts.
Surprisingly, for a zombie movie – a 15 certificated one mind you – it’s rather tame on the blood and guts. Every time a weapon plows through a zombie’s face or a zombie bites someone, the camera moves back or cuts away entirely. In one instance a zombie charges at Lane as he attempts to retrieve his weapon from his last kill’s skull, but we never actually see it lodged in the head. It’s nothing to do with being sadistic or morbid, it’s just not what you would expect in a zombie movie, and it’s just a strangely handled sequence. We all know his weapon is lodged in the zombie, but why don’t we see it to know for sure? It’s just Brad Pitt struggling with something off-screen. Do they think an audience who goes to see a zombie movie will be averse to a bit of blood? Who knows.
Despite everything I have against it, I can’t deny I quite enjoyed myself. I hate this kind of zombie and I don’t forgive it for ignoring the book, but if you can see through the CGI mist, as a stand-alone zombie flick, it kind of works. Generally gripping and often tense, this isn’t a film to write home about, but it’s Citizen Kane coming off the back of my expectations going in.