Jul 1, 2013

[Movies] World War Z (2013)

This is definitely a case of a movie where I had read the book that it was based on beforehand. In fact, I loved the book. But that shouldn't matter in this review.

As I've stated before, my goal when writing such reviews for adaptations is to keep the different versions separate from one another. This is to ensure that each instance of the (more or less) same story gets its fair chance in terms of a review. That sounds reasonable, right?

Admittedly it was a bit tricky for me to keep that separation in mind when I started thinking about this review given how strongly I feel about the book and the amazing liberties taken with the movie's version of the story. And by "liberties" I refer to how the book and the movie essentially only have the title in common and not much else.

Thus while it's a shame that they diverged from the source material so much, at the same time my principles as a review require me to try to remain more or less "impartial" in discussing this movie and not going back to the book too much.

Synopsis: World War Z is a 2013 apocalyptic horror movie directed by Marc Forster as produced by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment. The screenplay was written a number of writers including Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof as very, very loosely based on the book with the same name written by Max Brooks.

We are first introduced to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a retired UN investigator and his family that includes his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and his two daughters Rachel and Constance (Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jerins). There's discussion on the news about a dangerous outbreak of rabies but not much else. Later on the Lanes are stuck in a major traffic jam and eventually they hear screams as various people run away in fear. The cause is eventually revealed to be a horde of fast-moving zombies that manage to turn people within 12 seconds of being bitten.

The Lanes then try to survive the zombies roaming the city and find a way to safety. At the same time, Jerry is contacted by Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena), who is the UN Deputy Secretary-General. He's trying to get Jerry to report back in given their need for his unique talents as an investigator to help resolve this crisis. Thus the challenge that the Lanes face is now more than just a need to keep safe but also to connect with remaining government or UN forces in order to get Jerry to where he needs to be and see how he can help despite his reluctance to get involved again.

Now the one thing I will cite about the book in this review is the fact that its original narrative structure did not lend itself well to your classic movie flow. The original book was a series of interviews of key personalities around the world who would share what had happened at various  phases of the outbreak. It did not have a central protagonist per se, and thus clearly mission one for the movie's writers was to create such a role for Brad Pitt. Thus the Lanes were born that provided not just our protagonist Jerry but also his primary motivation - his family. There's a lot of emotional blackmail that ends up going around in this movie as things progress.

It's not entirely clear to me what Jerry's magical investigator skills are in terms of figuring out a solution to the zombie threat. At least he's not an action hero this time around - you won't be subjected to scenes of him gunning down hordes of zombies single-handedly or something. Beyond their initial escape from the zombies, Gerry and the Lanes are typically protected by other professional soldiers in later parts of the movie.

Now as for the zombies themselves, the final concept that they came up with is a little weird to me. Not only do we have fast-moving zombies, we seem to have zombies with superhuman speed once they turn. Plus they have a crazy thirst for blood - one that leads them to scramble over one another and start stacking onto each other like super-charged army ants or something. And while this does present some fairly interesting visuals in the movie, I don't feel that it made a whole lot of sense from a narrative perspective. In short - it just didn't make sense to me, period. What kind of zombies are these? How can they be insanely primal in how they horde and pile-up on one another and yet also find the time to avoid particular humans entirely from time to time, as often stressed by prolonged shots and repeat flashbacks of such moments?

The movie was somewhat interesting in how it depicted how folks have survived the zombies after the initial outbreak. Thus we get the extensive uses of boats and other ships as the primary base for many of humanity's survivors and later on extreme tactics like the 40-foot wall surrounding Israel. But at the same time it seems Gerry Lane has become a storm crow character who travels from place to place and eventually the zombies seem fated to come charging after him. It's a pattern that is repeated far too many times in this movie making for a rather droll pattern that is repeated over and over again. Can't we do better than this?

And to give Brad Pitt's hero character something to do, his final goal is to find a cure to this epidemic, thus relying on the concept that this is more of a medical problem and not a strictly supernatural zombie problem. And while it's good to have a goal (one that was not in the book), I'm not sure if the goal ultimately made sense. And I say this specifically in the context of what happens in earlier scenes when seemingly random humans are avoided by the zombies. I'll not go further into this particular discussion since it will involve spoilers, but once you get here you're going to better understand the lack of internal consistency.

On the whole, World War Z is your basic disaster movie and not so much a horror movie. It's a summer blockbuster popcorn flick that is light on science and light on truly significant characters other than Brad Pitt and Brad Pitt and Brad Pitt. It's not an entirely bad movie, but it's not particularly amazing either. And thus I can only rate the movie as 3 chattering zombies out of a possible 5.

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