Getting Up To Speed On World War Z
It will be the zombie epic ten years in the making – the biggest budgeted undead film ever launched, shot in locations all over the world, starring a Hollywood A-lister and helmed by a director with a Bond film under his belt. When the trailer for next year’s World War Z was finally released this week, it signalled the pinnacle of the zombie movie resurgence of the past dozen years. A decade ago, if someone told you that Brad Pitt would be starring in a $200 million dollar zombie movie, you would’ve thought the news was as likely as an actual undead outbreak. Yet, not only is Pitt starring in it, his company, Plan B Entertainment, bought the rights to the source material (for what’s been quoted as “a high six figures”) after winning a bidding war with Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company.
that the movie is a reality, let’s get up to speed on World War Z and take a closer look at the trailer...
The man behind it all it all is Max Brooks, son of legendary actor/filmmaker Mel Brooks, a exceptionally smart, observant and witty guy, who I got to know a little bit when I hosted a panel with him on it a few years ago at the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear. In 2003, Max’s book The Zombie Survival Guide was released, which is part practical manual on how to survive a rotterocalypse, and part series of accounts of “real” historical instances of zombie uprisings, going as far back as ancient Egypt. The book was a hit and led him to pen World War Z: The Oral History of the Zombie War in 2006, a novel (inspired by the Studs Terkel novel The Good War) in which a U.N. inspector gathers accounts of the outbreak, from its beginning in rural China, beneath the water in a lake created by dam; through its rapid global spread, resulting in billions dead from both the infection and "The Great Panic," nuclear devastation in the Middle East, millions starved or frozen to death after escaping into Northern Canada; to Cuba ironically becoming a safe haven for Americans; and climaxing with the remaining world governments formulating a plan to fight back. Brooks exhaustively researched the book for maximum realism, including details of military tactics, the effectiveness of specific weaponry, the path of the viral spread and the likely political responses of scores of nations. It’s absolutely riveting, with each chapter reading like a treatment for its own movie.
And that’s the challenge. The scope of the book is so large and contains stories from so many different voices that containing it could be difficult as containing the fictional plague itself. The first person charged with the task of wrangling it into script form was J. Michael Straczynski, whose extensive writing credits include everything from The Amazing Spider-Man comic book, to creating the sci-fi show Babylon 5, to working on screenplays for movies such as Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling and Thor. Despite favourable reviews of the script, after it was leaked online, it was rewritten by Matthew Michael Carnahan and then underwent additional rewrites by Drew Goddard, who most recently directed the fantastic Joss Whedon-penned horror movie The Cabin in the Woods and also has writing credits on Cloverfield and the TV show Lost.
Helming the project in the director's seat is Marc Forster, whose feature credits include Monster’s Ball, Stranger than Fiction and the Kite Runner, but is best known for directing the 2008 Bond entry Quantum of Solace. Back in 2008, Straczynski compared World War Z to the Bourne movies and you can see that in the trailer in terms of the global scope, military/conspiracy content and manic action, making Forster a good choice, as those are also elements one finds in a Bond movie, minus the apocalypse and monsters, of course.
I watched the WWZ trailer half a dozen times to see what I could glean from it. Obviously it couldn’t follow the episodic style of the book, so instead we’re firmly embedded with Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, beginning with him and his family in the streets of New York. We get flashes of the conflict around the globe, including a sense of realism and urgency via video news clips that recall the opening of the Dawn of the Dead remake. And like Zack Snyder’s 2004 film, World War Z has abandoned the traditional George A. Romero-style of slow zombies in favour of running rotters. The trailer for WWZ gives us a look at something we’re never seen in the subgenre before: a zombie tsunami. We see hundreds and hundreds of the undead pile on top of each other and flow through the streets en masse like a tidal wave of bitey death.
This goes against how Brooks envisioned them, which is in the classic Romero style. He’s even spoken out against fast zombies, saying that it makes them “silly and campy” so clearly there’s a major departure here.
There are two ways to look at this. A lot of zombie fans will lament the change as heresy – THOU SHALT NOT RUN! – or you can see it as the filmmaker bringing something new to the genre by equating the undead as a virus that grows and ravages everything in its path. Personally, I find this idea a breath of fresh fetid air: a new way to the view a zombie outbreak as a faceless, biological mass. Some of the scenes of the zom-balls moving through the streets are terrifying in the trailer. Of course, they may work in snippets but look ridiculous in long takes, which might render them silly CGI blobs. Time will tell...
Another key change to the story that seems apparent in the trailer – and isn’t unexpected given the blockbuster nature of it – is that the film version of WWZ will have a much more pro-American military viewpoint than the book. Brooks, writing in the tradition of Romero, fills his zombie tale with cutting political and social commentary, including examining the damage done by bureaucratic red tape, govermental failure to adapt to a new threat, and the effect of foreign policy that favours an isolationist stance towards the rest of the world. At the core of any Romero-style zombie story is that the harm done by humans to each other is as bad or worse than that inflicted by the undead. The trailer is slanted more to the might of the American military as it takes charge, however. Judging by the footage, the film may be more Tom Clancy than George A. Romero.
Regardless, the sheer scope of the movie, and the fact that it takes itself seriously, is more than enough to ressurect my waning interest in zombie movies. Most undead films are contained to a group of people in a handful of locations – a concept that works better with a small budget. World War Z on the other hand, which is already being touted as the first part of a trilogy, could just be The Lord of the Rings for zombie lovers. Trigger fingers crossed.