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Movie Review: “World War Z”

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“Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one is better.”

Turn on the red light [zombie] ROXANNE!!

Turn on the red light [zombie] ROXANNE!!

 This prophetic piece of pessimistic, fortune cookie dialogue represents the underlying theme behind what could (and should) go down in the books as Hollywood’s first attempt at a blockbuster zombie film, “World War Z.”

 

Speaking of books, the film is loosely based on the 2006 quasi-novel of the same name (although, the book did have the subtitle “An Oral History of the Zombie War”) by Max Brooks (son of legendary funnyman Mel), which was essentially a collection of journal entries and official government memos regarding the inevitable, undead-filled end of times.

The book featured slow-moving, deliberate “Romero-style” zombies (named for the creatures from the series of “Dead” films by heralded director George Romero) called “shamblers” and dealt with such storylines as finding the origin of the disease (aka – “patient zero”) and the process in which to deal with coming face-to-[decaying] face with one of the shamblers (basically wait until wintertime, when the zombies literally freeze).

Brooks’ book had a gritty, gonzo journalistic feel to it, so when the first trailer for the film adaptation of “World War Z” hit theaters and the net… let’s just say; fans of the book were none-too-happy…including yours truly. I mean, for one, the trailer had FAST MOVING zombies in it – horribly-fake, CGI zombies. Also, the focus of the film, UN employee Gerry Lane ( Brad Pitt) was depicted as having to take care of a family, which basically made the film look like I might be a “quest movie,” in which the struggle of one particular family was told in uber-dramatic fashion.

If one were to add the problems with the look and feel that the trailers presented (trailer 2 didn’t fare much better – although, with trailer 3, hope began to peek through) to the rumored issues involving multiple rewrites and reshoots, it looked as if the film version of “World War Z” was not going to be… well… let’s face it.  It looked like it was going to suck – wait, my bad (it is a zombie film, after all), bite.

REAL QUICK SIDE NOTE: The fact that I’m a proud resident of Philadelphia  and – due to some tax issues – the opening scene of the film was supposed to take place in Philly, but ended up being shot in Glasgow, Scotland… GLASGOW, SCOTLAND, PEOPLE! Since when did some city in the UK resemble the “City of Brotherly Love?” Never – that’s when. So, there you go… another reason that I, personally, thought that “World War Z” was going to bite the big one. Although, it happens to be a petty reason, it is a reason nonetheless. In the end though, it doesn’t look all that bad. Who knew? Glasgow is the Philly of the UK.

Well, my fellow Philadelphians, as well as all you fellow summer moviegoers out there – whether zombie movie enthusiast or horror film hater. I am here to let you in on the following piece of exclusive information…

“World War Z” (the movie) did not bite. In fact, with all things considered, it’s actually quite a fantastic film.  And could it be… the best zombie film ever made?

Sure, there are going to be a bunch of fans of the genre that’ll still be pissed that the undead monsters in the film are not “official” zombies, due to their fast-moving nature. Plus, there will be some fans of the book (including the dude who was sitting next to me in the theater) that might be upset with the film’s decision to use a more linear style of storytelling, done with a more traditional camera setup – instead of (what the dude next to me suggested) the done-to-death, found-footage variety of storytelling.

Having both read the book (although, it was a while ago) and now having seen the film, I must admit that the changes that were made did not bother me one bit (pun intended). In fact, I thought it made for a more exciting and coherent cinematic experience. The book, which was an entertaining and thrilling experience – don’t get me wrong, was really, kind of, all over the place. It introduced multiple characters and devoted a slew of pages to each of these character’s arcs. It made for an exhausting read, in which I was literally flipping back-and-forth, from chapter-to-chapter and back again, simply attempting to keep track of each who each person is and why I should care that they’re suddenly now in mortal danger.

You have to give it up to the filmmakers – director Marc Forster (“Quantum of Solace” and “Monster’s Ball”) and three screenwriters: Matthew Michael Carnahan (brother of “The Grey” director/writer , Joe), Damon Lindelof (Lost creator/ writer and “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Prometheus” writer) and Drew Goddard (writer/director of the supremely bad-ass “The Cabin in the Woods”) – for taking these controversial chances, which basically told the fans to sit down, shut up and trust us, and actually making them work.

There’s another line in the film (which I think, now, rings appropriate) that comes from the same cleverly written scene I

Uhhh... I'm not 100% positive, but I think this scene was CGI.

Uhhh… I’m not 100% positive, but I think this scene was CGI.

quoted in the beginning of the review. It occurs during a rare moment of calm in the story, in which Pitt’s character of Lane (who basically represents the role of the “everyman” – that is, if every man was devoid of fear and had gigantic cojones) strikes up a strangely non-motivating “be ready for anything” speech with the young Andrew Fassbach; a wet-behind-the-ears scientist – albeit a brilliant one, mind you – and possible savior of mankind (played by smiley-faced relative newcomer Elyes Gabel) , while they sit in a Korea-bound military plane. The two of them, plus a boatload (or in this case, a jet load) of shoot-to-kill Navy Seals, are en route to track down the details behind a distress message sent 10 days prior to the outbreak that contained the “zed-word” in it. Plus, they’re looking for the ultimate prize – so they can originate some kind of cure for this “rage virus” – the whereabouts of “patient zero.”

I refuse to spoil the fun, as far as the action is concerned, regarding what happens once the plane touches down in Korea. That would be super-dickish of me. I will let you in on a smidgeon of dialogue during the scene directly before they land. Like I said before, as pertaining to the following quote, as well as the aforementioned “Mother nature…” quote, they sum up the film’s meaning quite accurately.

It takes place at the tail end of Fassbach’s “I got it all figured out” speech, when he tells Lane that “Sometimes, the most brutal aspects of a seemingly unstoppable virus (like the zombie outbreak, for instance) are more often-than-not a great place to discover a chink in the virus’ armor” – or something to that effect.

This theory not only works in terms of the undead, but also works when trying to climb into the film makers heads and attempting to explain all of the changes that they made when adapting the book into a film…

As far as the film version of “World War Z” is concerned: all of those huge controversial alterations in the book’s architecture that everybody seemed to hate (i.e. – the running undead, the sweeping changes in terms of all of the characters and their agendas, etc.), actually, what would ultimately come to save it.

What I’m actually trying to say is this…

If you go back and watch that early trailer featuring all those sprinting, leftover zombies from “28 Days Later” – first, chasing Gerry Lane and his family on a smaller, yet uber-tense scale, then, in that CGI-laden scene where the undead are literally crawling all over each other like zombie ants, in order to breach the Jerusalem wall – what initially seemed like awful special effects combined cheesy, run-of-the-mill action scenes, actually turned out to be part of two of the more riveting sections of the film.

Also, the exclusion of a vast number of interesting characters and set-pieces from the book initially seemed like it might be a mistake. Some of the better characters that went AWOL from the novel include: Paul Redeker (South African politician who created the controversial “Redeker Plan”), “The Big Guy” and “The Whacko” (USA President and Vice-President in post-zombie America) and General Raj-Singh (aka “Tiger of Delhi” – ass-kicking Sikh general). Also, the narrator/UN interviewer in the book is none other than Max Brooks, himself. This character is eventually changed to Gerry Lane instead. 

This also included the decision for the movie to focus on the first days/weeks after the primary outbreak (which, in the book, is referred to as “The Great Panic”) and not the book’s main timeline and premise, which occurred 10 years after the zombie outbreak was first reported. Of course, this means that some truly awesome battles and (what would have been) unforgettable situations that happened in the book are left out of the film.

Taking all of these omissions, alterations, and rearrangement of people, places and things into consideration, the film is probably the best zombie film I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. And that’s saying a hell of a lot, since I’ve seen every awful and unwatchable movie starring your average flesh-chomping ghouls – from some of the newer and disheartening attempts by Romero to get some of that ole’ z-word magic back and failing  miserably (“Diary…,” “Survival…’” and even “Land of the Dead” were far from his best work) to some of those “SyFy Originals” that feature the undead in some compromising positions.

QUICK SIDE NOTE:  Speaking of Romero, I kind of feel bad for the guy, considering that “World War Z” is actually along the same epic, grand scale that Romero seemed to be going for in 2006’s “Land of the Dead.” Romero received his largest budget and biggest marketing push to date with that film, which is most likely pocket change when compared to what “World War Z” received. It wasn’t totally horrible, but it didn’t hit the mark either. Poor Georgie.

Being a self-proclaimed zombie fanatic, “World War Z” is everything and anything I ever wanted in a film which features the

Brad Pitt as UN representative and all-around bad -ass Gerry Lane

Even during the zombie apocalypse… Brad Pitt manages to rock a hipster scarf.

 fight against the walking dead. It’s much more along the lines of “28 Days/Weeks Later” than the Romero brand flicks. Although, the zombies in this film are very similar to the ones from “Man of Steel” director Zach Snyder’s first feature, the 2004 remake of [Romero’s… again] “Dawn of the Dead.”

It’s not only a perfect zombie flick, but it’s a near-perfect action film. The sound design is fantastic. There’s a signature moment about 5 or 10 minutes in, where the combination of the playful audio from a child’s Speak and Spell-type toy mixed with a violent and frightening zombie transformation is nothing short of brilliant filmmaking.  I  double dare you not to grip the edge of your seat during another anxious scene, in which Lane, his wife Karin (played by Mireille Enos of AMC’s “The Killing”) and his 2 girls (Sterling Jerens and Abigail Hargrove) have the unenviable task of running through Camden in the middle of the night… oh… and zombies are chasing them too. The creaking and moaning of agitated zombies, that can be heard echoing and reverberating through the hallways and stairwells of an apartment complex that the family chose in order to attempt a rooftop helicopter rescue, is horror moviemaking at its finest.

The film is filled with these harrowing, claustrophobic types of moments and the best part is… they just don’t let up, which is exactly how a horror film should be and exactly what I’ve always wanted zombie films, in general, to strive for and emulate. Like I stated earlier, it’s like “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later” had a gnashing baby zombie – and it grew up to be this film. Not a HUGE fan of the end, however, but hey, no film is perfect – well… “Jaws” is pretty close though.

I think a fellow moviegoer of mine managed to hit the zed right in the head when she turned to me after the movie had ended and said, “Man, I shoulda taken a Xanax before I watched that film.”

If that’s not a glowing endorsement for an anxiety-inducing horror flick, I don’t know what is.

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