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World War Z (2013)

July 16, 2013

VERDICT:
6/10 Zournalists

Just another zombie movie. Le sigh.

World War Z is about a former investigator for the UN who quit his job a while back to spend some quality time with his wife and kids. Life is pretty good for this former UN investigator, he’s even got the pancake thing down to a science. Then, on one terribly unfortunate day, the zombie apocalypse goes down while he’s driving the fam through the streets of Philadelphia. Thanks to some aggressive driving and friends in high places, he and his family escape unharmed and get choppered to a UN aircraft carrier that’s sitting pretty in the Atlantic. From there, he gets pulled back into action to find out where this epidemic originated in the hopes of finding a cure. So they fly him off to South Korea and wish him the best while the world as we know it succumbs to the Zeds.

Get it? Zournalists? Eh, not my best work.

So being that it’s regarded as a bible of sorts for all of us who know exactly what we’ll be doing when the zombies finally arrive, I prepared myself by reading World War Z a few months ago. Wasn’t the kind of thing that would usually take precedence on my reading list, but I dug the hype, it certainly had its merits. Going in, I guess I was expecting something hokey, something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Lo and behold, it wasn’t hokey in the slightest.

For those who haven’t read it, Max Brooks was not effing around when he wrote his follow-up to The Zombie Survival Guide. Not only it is insanely well-researched for a novel about something that hasn’t even happened, but it treats the zombie apocalypse with an utmost seriousness that it is well-deserved given, you know, it’s the apocalypse and all. In a sense, it’s like Contagion with zombies, and also like Contagion, it’s as much about the survivors as it is about the walkers.

So I was kind of surprised when I saw the trailer for this movie.

Suddenly, we’ve gone from a refreshingly realistic, character-driven story to one where zombies run track and are King of the Hill champs. This was not the World War Z I remembered. Someone had read the CliffsNotes.

As a result, it was hard for me to watch this without thinking of the approach that, in a perfect world, I would have taken. Now, if I was a fat cat Hollywood producer who’d just bought the rights to this movie, the last person I would have called was the guy who did Quantum of Solace. Never would have occurred to me, why would that possibly occur to me? Instead, I would call up my friends at PBS and tell them to get Ken Burns on the phone. With formalities out of the way, I’d tell him my plan and work my magic. When all was said and done, we’d have a game-changer on our hands, because that’s just how Aiden the fat cat rolls.

In a nutshell, the plan goes as such: have Ken Burns do for World War Z what he did for the Civil War and World War II. Being that the source material is a on oral history of the zombie war from the mouths of those who survived it, an approach like this would be money in the bag. Hire some no-name actors to recount the events from infection to salvation, splice in footage and stills of the events themselves and let Ken tell this story like it was meant to be told. And make no mistake, we’ll be sticking with the O.G. slow zombies. Had a hard enough time dealing with those jerks as it was.

It’s a no-brainer, folks, and I hate to believe I’m the only one who thought of this. Sure, it’s not gonna turn the same kind of profit as something starring Brad Pitt, but, man, what a lost opportunity. This could have been something special, something that really could have elevated the genre in ways that even The Walking Dead hasn’t. But alas, it’s a little too late for “could haves.”

Still, maybe I shouldn’t be so frustrated by it all, and there is part of me that wants to just lighten up and let bygones be bygones. But it’s hard. It’s hard when you’ve got a show like The Walking Dead that, in the span of a pilot, humanized and legitimized the zombie sub-genre in ways I never thought possible. It’s even harder when I hear that all of my co-worker’s friends watch it solely for the blood and gore, character development be damned. That shit is beyond me, that shit numbs the mind. So when the film makers here decided to slash and burn “the human factor” from Brook’s novel in order to make way for super zombies, it’s hard to ignore that sting of defeat, that realization that the gorehounds are winning.

If the book didn’t have so much going for it, that’d be one thing, but since it does, this feels like devolution in a sense. After all, why take a risk on something original when you can just remake 2012 with zombies? Serenity now, guys. Serenity now.

But as the Verdict clearly shows, it’s not all bad and it really could have been worse.

Taken for what it is, World War Z kept me watching. The two best things I can say about it is that it’s often intense and there are a handful of times when it actually starts to feel like the source material. Most of the time it’s rushing the plot along so we can get to the next zombie flood already, but on the rare occasions where Brad Pitt’s character starts gathering intel and connecting the dots, those glimpses of Contagion just shine on through. The downside is that each of these scenes are preceded and followed-up by one zombie attack after another, almost all of which you’ve already seen in the trailer and serve as constant reminders of what a dumbed-down product we’re dealing with.

If only there had been some characters I could connect with and invest in. If only everyone in this movie wasn’t such a fucking idiot, everything would have been so much better. That last point in particular, that one can’t be stressed enough. It is truly amazing how stupid these characters are from beginning to end, even the great Brad Pitt and his beautiful locks of gold. See, there are only two ways that the zombies in this movie can detect a non-zombified person: sight and sound. Therefore, there are two bang-up ways not to get zombified in the process: don’t let them see you and shut the eff up. Simple enough, right? Well you won’t believe what a hard time they have following rule No. 2. It is the leading cause of zombie invasions in this world and an outrageously preventable one at that.

Granted, I’m not the one with the zombies after me, but I don’t think common sense should be this hard to come by. Turn off your cell phone. Don’t leave your weapon for no good reason. Don’t bang into every goddamn thing in your path. If you’re about to step on glass in a quiet room, DON’T STEP ON THE GLASS. I don’t know what to tell you, guys. These people are hopeless. Hell, there’s even a dude who gets killed when he trips on nothing and (whoops!) shoots himself in the head. I kid you not, that’s how it happens. Not the kind of move you can pull of twice.

But like I said, it could have been worse. They did go ahead and spend oodles of money to reshoot the final Act, and given what the original ending was supposed to look like, I’m really freaking glad they did. I don’t know how the masses feel about it, but I thought those last 30 minutes were the best part of the whole picture. Toned things down, fleshed out what was far and away the most compelling aspect of the plot and, for once, went for substance over spectacle. The effort does not go unnoticed.

I know this probably reads as a pretty harsh review, but as it is, World War Z is an entertaining summer blockbuster. Then again, it’s also damn shame given what could have been. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m nuts about the book or anything because it’s more of a matter of not appreciating what it did well until I saw it done like this. Who knows, maybe there’s still a chance that Ken Burns will read this and it’ll light a fire under his ass, but until that day comes, I guess this’ll suffice. It is what it is, boys and girls. It is what it is.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2013 7:18 am

    That’s a shame, quite a few of my friends were extras for this when they filmed in Cornwall.

    • July 16, 2013 8:13 am

      A shame indeed. Then again, it seems like other folks weren’t so critical of it as I was. Not sure how much that has to do with reading the book beforehand. Keep me posted if you check it out though, would love to compare notes. And thanks for stopping by!

  2. July 16, 2013 8:46 am

    For calling yerself a fat cat, you win today’s prize: utmost respect.

  3. July 16, 2013 9:17 am

    Yeah, this movie is a big miss – why even share the same name as the book. When I do see this movie, I will just lower my expectations because I’ve read the book and loved it. Maybe the book was just too ambitious for a studio to take on? Maybe it would have been worth the investment to follow the book and produce it as a trilogy. Well, never know.

    Nice review.

    • July 16, 2013 2:05 pm

      Thanks! Good point about why they even bothered associating this with the book, probably would have been better off if they hadn’t. You’re right, it’s an ambitious book, but by no means is it unfilmable. Just the wrong treatment is all. The sequels are inevitable, but it’s a rough start all the same. Keep me posted once you give it a look, interested to hear what you think.

  4. July 16, 2013 7:16 pm

    Holy shite, you sir are a genius. This movie would have been 10 times more interesting if Ken Burns had directed it.

    • July 17, 2013 8:21 am

      Haha. Oh you’re far too kind. But right? What the hell, Hollywood!?

      • July 23, 2013 8:12 am

        I would just love to see Ken Burns in charge of any Hollywood blockbuster really. He would be an inspired choice.

      • July 23, 2013 8:25 am

        Likewise. It would be a welcome reprieve from the noise we’re used to getting, but to Ken’s credit, I’d be surprised if he ever took the bait.

  5. July 17, 2013 6:20 am

    I also bought and read the book when I heard that they’re turning it into a film. I thought the book was brilliant, because it’s told from different point-of-views and I couldn’t wait to see how they would turn it into a movie.

    I haven’t seen it yet and I don’t think I will, since it seems to be so different from the book, and probably doesn’t add anything new to the zombie genre.

    Great review! Such a shame, because they movie could’ve been brilliant.

    • July 17, 2013 8:22 am

      Your second paragraph says it all, Aini. Had tons of potential to be something great, but alas, the opportunity was lost. What a bummer.

      Thanks for the kind words and don’t be a stranger!

  6. July 20, 2013 9:06 am

    I was pretty disappointed with the direction they took this movie. I wrote an entry in my blog about it (http://alturl.com/k3dyc). If you go to watch a zombie movie, it’s not bad…if you go to watch World War Z, you’re gonna be pissed.

    Movie Theater Snack Bar
    http://movietheatersnackbar.wordpress.com

    • July 22, 2013 9:01 am

      Likewise. I don’t think we’re alone. Thanks for the heads up, will give that post a looksee.

  7. Tickateeboo permalink
    August 25, 2013 4:11 pm

    (note spoilers in comment, don’t look down if you haven’t seen it)

    I liked this movie, I’m a big fan of the zombie genre and thought it was a good addition – I liked that it was kind of split up into a series of clearly different style ‘acts’ – mad Philadelphia scenes (filmed near me in Glasgow – I was 5 miles away from Brad Pritt at one point! – then the dark South Korea tenseness – madness of Israel – MF ZOMBIES ON A PLANE – then the calm Resident Evil of the last act in – er – Wales.

    I never read the book, so don’t have that prejudice. I never see why people continually compare ‘the books’ to ‘the films’ – a book is a book and a film is a film. I get the impression that to do the book justice would have meant a 6 hour film or a mini-series. Check out the Walking Dead for character development in the zombiverse.

    Liked it generally. A few flaws (why didn’t the Israelis wee what that the zombies were climbing the walls or put razor wire at the top of it?) and a few of the characters came and went in the blink of an eye. But I liked it.

    • August 26, 2013 1:57 pm

      Glad to hear you liked it! I hear on the way things change from one Act to the next, but I thought the last one in Wales was the best by far (even though it’s beyond me why he’d leave his crowbar outside the door like that when he’s searching the room for meds).

      As for the “book vs. film” argument, I think there’s something to be said for both sides of the coin. I don’t consider it a prerequisite by any means, nor would I say that I had a prejudice going into this. I just do it because I appreciate the base of comparison, it gives me a better idea of what a movie does well or how it could have been improved. Personally, I would have LOVED if they had approached this adaptation as a six-part mini series rather than going the predictable big-budget Hollywood route. Not to say that the finished product is a bad movie, but realizing the potential that was present in the novel, it’s disappointing to see it turn out as something decent rather than something special, which it very well could have been.

      I hear ya’, I really do, I just don’t think books and films are apples and oranges when both share the same title, story lines and characters.

      And that’s a good point about Israel getting overtaken like that. That was all rather ridiculous given all the planning that had gone into that thing.

      • Tickateeboo permalink
        August 27, 2013 1:44 am

        Yes! Take your crow bar (although of course this was deliberate so he wouldn’t have anything to fight the zombie with on the other side of the glass) and making him go to the UK meant there wouldn’t be any guns, although you’d think they may have one or two rifles in a cabinet given the high security of the site.

        I’ve heard good things about the book, so may give it a try – the I Am Legend book was way better than the film, but so different, so have treated them separately really.

      • August 27, 2013 12:33 pm

        Never read I Am Legend, but I imagine I’d agree with you on that one. Definitely give World War Z a read though. If zombies are your thing, that’s required reading right there.

  8. September 20, 2013 12:27 pm

    I’m still watching it, and though I loved the book and know that the movie will disappoint intellectually, I’m not watching it to fire brain cells. Nope, it’s Friday, and I’m watching it to see Pitt and his ‘locks of gold’ stumble around like a pretty Scooby-Doo and try to solve the mystery of those pesky zombies. I wish I could say my intellectual integrity was stronger, but I just want a pretty face and some zombies. Typical Friday night for me.

    BTW, I love the writing style of these reviews. You give me new things to aspire towards.

    • September 24, 2013 2:31 pm

      Haha. Thanks! Much appreciate that and you keep on doing your thang.

      As for the movie, it definitely delivers on the mindless entertainment/Pitt eye candy. Anything more than that is unfortunately up for debate. Hope you dug it more than I did and thanks for stopping by!

  9. chad palmer permalink
    November 24, 2013 10:29 pm

    This movie was complete and utter crap, made by people who completely missed the point of the marvelous book, as well as what makes zombies ACTUALLY scary. What makes them scary is not the fact that they can run the 40 in 3.6 flat(funny how a million zombies suddenly become supermen(women)) instead of dead ones.The fact that for all that they shamble and crawl and amble along with missing limbs, they NEVER stop coming.

    The battle of Yonkers in the book is one of the key moments that represented this so well. I agree with the author of this article up to a point. This would have been better served as either a weekly episodic show, or perhaps a mini series or whatever. I’m glad i didn’t waste the money to see it at the theater. If what i heard(though i haven’t found it) is true, it’s no wonder Mr. Brooks was so angry with how his material was treated.

  10. January 16, 2014 2:10 pm

    Reblogged this on amaia lopez.

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