World War Z

After hearing everything from “it’s the best zombie movie I’ve ever seen” to “it’s so bad it’s like they told three sophomore creative writing students to adapt the book into a movie… and two left,” I finally got around to watching World War Z— and I must say, I disagree with pretty much every single thing others have said about it.

Of course, I’ll elaborate.

It was very difficult for me to have any sort of expectation set in advance for the movie.  Thankfully I was informed that it was an adaptation of the book in only the loosest sense, which definitely helped me be able to enjoy it.  Typically it’s good to know if one has to mentally separate the two pieces– for example, had I known it was so very different from the book in pretty much every plot element, I may have enjoyed The Bourne Identity film, but having read the book and expecting it to be roughly the same, I hated it.  A lot.  Having now stated that yes, the book and the film are very different from each other in almost every way, I’d just like to note that I did very much enjoy Max Brooks’ delightfully told novel chronicling a wide variety of tales that encompass different locales and phases of a zombie apocalypse.  You should read it, and also laugh and be surprised by how well-thought out his other book is, The Zombie Survival Handbook.  Both are sitting on my bookshelf.

I want to note that there are some very critical elements of the novel that the film does capture.  No, the virus doesn’t really work the same way, the resolution is not at all similar, and the action of the film doesn’t really follow anything that happens in the film.  The zombies World_War_Z_posteronly have a handful of similarities, notably how the hordes work in some very frighteningly effective ways, such as climbing over each other to get over walls.  But, the film does do good with some of the parts that made Brooks’ WWZ a fairly unique piece of the zombie subgenre, specifically how much it relies on military actions in dealing with the masses of the undead (because, let’s face it, that’s who we would rely on to keep us safe from the monsters until we had no other choice) and how there is a prominent international presence in the film.  I really liked how boundaries disappeared and it became human against zombie, but that the fight was approached in different ways all over the globe.  The film had to build a character who would have a reason to go all over the planet  to capture that element of the book, and I felt like they did a good job of that.  I will state that I am sad that the filmmakers didn’t find a way to really capture what is the most distinctive feature of the novel– that it was told from many perspectives in different locations and at different points of time in the struggle against the undead.  It really felt like a full world war in the book, when in the film it seemed like a couple of brief battles and things were just resolved– maybe resolved is the wrong word, but rather, things are definitely improved— for the world quite quickly.

Okay, that’s enough about the book in relation to the movie, because, simply, many people who are going to see the film have not read the book.  Now, as to how the film does as its own piece of art.

I probably have already given the impression that I wasn’t that fond of the film, but that is not actually how I feel.  I enjoyed the film a great deal.

I want to note that , as with most of zombie films, I anticipated a strong horror element, which was not really present.  There are plenty of undead, hordes and hordes of them, but unless you are inherently frightened of them, the film relies on only a little of the scary.  Instead of the typical terror of being hunted, of totally insurmountable odds, one person versus the endless masses, we have a different approach, in which we see almost as many of the living as we see of the dead.  The creatures aren’t particularly gruesome or frightening in appearance as compared to many other contemporary zombie shows (such as The Walking Dead).  Rather than a horror film, it is much more a solid action film– a war film, actually, as the title (in an admittedly fairly cheesy fashion) suggests.  Of course it was over-the-top in the way that any action film is, but I honestly felt like the film was not in the same boat as many other films filled with explosions and violence.  It wouldn’t be fair to say that this is a film that only has enough plot to justify the number of bullets fired as I would say of a goodly number of other films.  Instead, with World War Z there is a refreshingly human element to the story.  The protagonist, Gerry, had some very real motivations that really drove the story very well.  He brought both unique experience to the conflict– having been in dangerous conflicts for his previous job– and was a strong, believable family man whose motivations and desires are all centered on keeping his family safe and happy.  One can see that he is often split, trying to balance his own survival and that of his family, and in bringing the same things for others he comes in contact with.

The acting was good.  Brad Pitt, as usual, brings a strong performance, and the remaining cast all felt pretty solid in their roles.  Even though the children in the film were only really featured for part of the film, they were also good and contributed to the believability of the film.

I do take some issue with the special effects.  Yeah, the explosions and computer-generated distant visuals of the masses were quite good, but I was not impressed with the zombies themselves.  Most looked like chalky, extra-veiny versions of people, much like Dark Willow in season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, not like convincing animated corpses.  As I noted before, they really failed to bring any of the scares necessary for some of the more intense moments of the film to have as strong of an impact as was warranted.  Additionally, even though I mentioned I was pleased with the acting before, that applied only to the humans.  Most of the zombies were making noises not logical for zombies (I’m going to explain my thoughts on this in an upcoming post), and their movements were all inconsistent with each other.  Most of the time, zombies were full-on sprinters (which can be scary, in its own way) but near the end of Please heaven, make it stop!the film, we’re mostly dealing with the “dormant” zombies, which really showed the filmmakers’ flaws in dealing with the monsters.  The zombie with the most screen time (by far) just annoyed my wife and I while we watched the movie.  The thing about it that was intended to be the most frightening part of it– an overly-regular loud clicking of its teeth– elicited annoyed shouts from us at the TV.  “Really?” we yelled, “Again?”

I have heard some complaint about the film’s conclusion.  I agree it did move things toward resolution a little to easily and quickly, but it did make sense to me.  I liked that a zombie story took a route other than bullets to solve things.

So, in conclusion, this was neither the best zombie movie I’ve ever seen (as a note, that would be [REC], which I’ll soon be defending as being a zombie movie in the same post in which I talk about the zombie noises), nor was it bad.  It was a unique take on zombies, and one that is giving me hope that one of my favorite monsters isn’t approaching stagnation in modern media.  Definitely worth a watch.  Plus, I hear they are going to make a sequel, which (hopefully) may give the film adaptation of the book a more rounded-out feel, possibly capturing more perspectives on the war, rather than just sticking to Gerry.


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Definitely two separate entities. Both enjoyable for what you listed, but I want to see if the sequel will help validate the first movie’s ending.

    • I would very much like that. The ending really felt so rushed that it unfortunately only served to weaken the film. I didn’t really think about the fact that a sequel could serve to give that ending a more solid purpose than the “happily ever after” feel it gave.

  2. I feel like yeah, you CAN’T make a comparison with the book. I prefer the book to the movie, but it was fun. Like an amusement park ride.

    • Definitely a thrill ride, while the book was a great compendium of different perspectives that was intellectually a lot more rewarding.

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