World War Z Review – July 2013

Originally published on the now defunct Newcastle Free Press website. Link unavailable.

 

Length: 116 mins

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof

Director: Mark Forster

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Lane, Daniella Kertesz

Release date: 21st June 2013

 

I realise that this review is a bit late, but in my defence; I started reading the book that this film was based on after I saw it. I’m totally engrossed by the source material and I can now understand fans’ problems with the movie.

The book, ‘World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War’ by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks, as it happens) is a collection of accounts spread over the course of an apocalyptic zombie outbreak that decimates mankind. It follows, via first-hand accounts of survivors, the stages of the outbreak from the beginning. The survivors are from all over the globe, each with their different backgrounds and experiences and stories. It is, frankly, brilliant.

So… yeah, I can see why people don’t like the film. The material (and you get a real feel for this when you’re reading it) would lend itself more to a documentary style production. I mean a TV series rather than a District 9 kind of film. The movie… completely misses this point, but this is not to say that the film is bad. It’s just ordinary.

The film comes to us after a very troubled production process, from Brad Pitt’s production company ‘Plan B’ (I was going to make a joke about the ‘B’ standing for Brad, but in fairness the majority of films produced don’t actually star Pitt).

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator and currently full time house husband who gets caught in the middle of the outbreak. After securing his family’s safety aboard one of the floating havens of humanity, he gets coaxed back into the line of duty in order to discover the source of the outbreak. His journey takes him to South Korea, to Jerusalem to Cardiff of all places. All the while, he learns more about the virus and eventually arrives upon a solution.

I originally enjoyed the film for what it was; a generic zombie movie (if you can call the ‘infected’ zombies, more on that in a minute). Having now read the majority of the book, I am less certain about how good an adaptation it is. It’s completely different to the book, but this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad film. It’s just… bland. A bog-standard, derivative action/zombie film, whereas the book is so much more. There really isn’t anything that makes the film exceptional other than the performances of the actors, which are brilliant across the board.

I can imagine that there has been some debate in the fandom over whether or not this film can be counted as a true ‘zombie film’. In the strictest sense, it very definitely isn’t. Zombies are Romero-style monsters; I think Simon Pegg summarised it best, something along the lines of ‘If they are unimpeded by the fact that they are dead, then they are not zombies’. This isn’t really as important a point as purists would have you believe. Fast not-zombies make for a faster paced film, and they allow for some spectacular set pieces. The only problem with the big action set pieces, particularly the amazing one at Jerusalem which is used a lot in the trailer, is that they are achieved with sub-standard CGI. Gets a bit ‘I Am Legend’, if you catch my drift. That’s just a minor point but it was still pretty annoying.

Pitt (surprise surprise) is great in the leading role, and the character of Gerry is well rounded and interesting. Whilst he can certainly look after himself, he is never played as an unrealistic action hero. The supporting cast are also all top notch. The only thing that really lets the film down as a film (rather than an adaptation) is its story. Despite all the changes of location, it’s a bit too simple and clichéd; there was that old familiar groan from the audience during a particular scene where Gerry’s phone goes off and alerts all the not-zombies in the area to their presence.

Further, the weakness of the not-zombies is too obviously signposted; there are little scenes where Gerry looks into the middle distance for two minutes and notices something. It really breaks up the action and they are just a little too obvious. I was expecting the climax of the film to be something else entirely, but it was effective and captures the mood of the book quite well. It also leaves the story open for a sequel… which I am not sure is a good thing. Then again, the story could benefit from more fleshing out and development and shifting the focus away from Gerry would be a great way of doing so.

All in all, it’s an alright film. You’ll enjoy it a lot more if you haven’t read the book, but there is still something here for Max Brooks fans. It’s enjoyable, at times exciting but seldom scary. Just a basic action film at the end of the day, which is disappointing because it could have been so much more.

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