Max Brook’s muscular, world weary “oral history of the zombie war”, a thinly veiled geo-political mouthpiece on the world at large seen through the eyes of an agent working for the UN, has taken shape and form through a movie of the same name — World War Z. But make no mistake about both being made from the same mold.
Rather than pander to the novel’s ambitious fictional output of global perspectives [survivors from virtually every continent on Earth were interviewed by the novel’s narrator] — this summer flick directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction) is sensibly scaled down on politicking and military machismo. With a tried and tested sci-fi disaster formula, the result works fairly well on its own terms.
Vastly different from Brook’s scathing, testosterone driven bestseller and the archetypal zombie gore fest; this End-of-World extravaganza is less verbose and less tired. By virtue of that, translates to a more engaging experience.
After decades of living in risky, high-stakes existence as a UN investigator; Gerry Lane (Pitt) is now comfortably retired to a cozy, domestic life in Philadelphia with loving wife, Karen (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters. Problem is that a mysterious virus has spiraled out of control and gone global, resulting in a win-win proposition from former colleague Thierry (Fana Mokoena) — the state guarantees refuge and protection for Gerry’s family in exchange for his unrivaled field expertise.
Thus we are immediately whisked to the main exposition — Gerry, accompanied by the Navy SEAL and a virologist (developing the vaccine) traverse international borders in search of patient zero — the journey spans South Korea and Israel, to the WHO in Wales and eventually Canada.
[Trivia: The novel places origin of the zombie outbreak in Dachang, Hebei. Incidentally, the film hypothesizes with narratives about the spread of SARS as a deadly epidemic. It can therefore be understood, that the virus in World War Z is implied to have begun in Northern China.]
It is no controversy that World War Z is plagued with production troubles and the screenplay has undergone a few re-writes, but manifestations of this in film authorship isn’t grave or jarring. To the contrary; Forster’s version has softened Brook’s high-minded hyperbole in exchange for a modest, grounded and back-to-basics approach — this makes for undeniable commercial appeal.
Visually, after a cumbersome and erratically edited zombie rampage sequence in the first act, DP Ben Seresin (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and special effects rebound with impressive large scale photography. The outbreak of zombie hordes in Jerusalem’s disaster sequence deserve mention — it is here that the narrative’s kinesthetic urgency receives a healthy dose of adrenaline. Action aficionados will be pleased. Seresin’s apocalyptic world overrun by herds of running undeads is also given counterweight by a quiet, noble dimension found in Gerry’s measured and cool-in-crisis stoicity. Brad Pitt’s iconic persona as a humanitarian in real life, may very well have influenced his portrayal of Gerry, infusing the kind of personality and screen image that transforms naturally in a Hollywood performance.
But the cleverest stroke in characterization, is that of Israeli soldier Segen (Daniella Kertesz). A sound approach in keeping characters fresh and creative is that material be produced with caveats in mind. Flat, boilerplate stereotypes of women being one example of many. For this reason, I was surprised to discover that much of the film’s feistier, more relevant survivalist moments originate from her flair for timing and intuition.
All being said, preconceived notions about what zombie films should and ought to be have divided zombie lovers into two main groups. Fans of Romero’s classics may prefer depictions of slow-moving zombies (Night of the Living Dead, The Walking Dead), while others embrace the idea of super sprinters (28 Days & Weeks Later). The good news is that this debate, when filtered through the lens of a global disaster flick, becomes irrelevant (or less so). I guess my point is the EOW genre is constantly evolving, there is no reason why this film should be limited in terms of narrative scope.
The only real complaint is an excessively dramatized, prolonged exchange between an infected doctor and Gerry in the film’s final act. You get less awkward, more authentic moments between Rick Grimes and the bicycle zombie girl back in Atlanta. But that’s another apocalypse.
- MARC FORSTER — WORLD WAR Z PRODUCTION ISSUES WERE OVERBLOWN
- BRAD PITT OPENS UP ON ‘ATROCIOUS’ WORLD WAR Z FIRST CUT