Movie Review: World War ZPosted: June 22, 2013
It’s always hard when a book you love is adapted for the screen, you’re kind of excited to see how it’ll all look on the big screen but at the same time you’re nervous that they may have messed it up and what made the book great will be lost in translation. I’ve been looking forward to this film for ages, as the trailers were impressive and I’m a big Brad Pitt fan, but at the same time I love Max Brooks’ book so much I was worried they’d cock it up.
The book’s view of a global zombie apocalypse told through interviews with survivors was a terrifying, epic novel with a great scope. Luckily, the filmmakers have realized that they have no hope of capturing this scale and scope effectively and have made some big changes, choosing to focus on one central character instead.
You have to understand as a fan that certain things have to change with the switch in medium, which is why I’ve never understood why some people cling to the source religiously and complain about the slight changes. What works in print won’t always work on screen, that being said, the tone and chaos of Brooks’ book are present here and there are lots of little touches that reference things from the book.
The story here revolves around Gerry Lane (Pitt) an ex-UN investigator who’s retired to the quiet life with his family. He and his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos) are in Philadelphia with their two young daughters Rachel and Constance (Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jeris respectively) when all hell breaks loose and incredibly vicious zombies decimate the population.
Gerry leads his family to safety and is airlifted out thanks to his old friend Thierry (Fana Mokoena), and they find a new home aboard the fleet of ships that provide some safety for the lucky few who managed to escape. Gerry is asked to help investigate the cause of the outbreak, and reluctantly agrees to safeguard his family, because him being useful will ensure they keep their place aboard the ship.
Gerry is assigned to protect and assist Professor Fassbach (Elyes Gabel) an expert who is the best hope of finding a cure, and so they go to South Korea, where a gang of Special Forces soldiers are holed up and where the earliest known case was recorded. They hope to find patient zero and work out how to stop the spread.
Gerry’s quest to find the origin and potential cure takes him on to Israel and then my neck of the woods, Wales, constantly fighting and fleeing the growing hordes.
One of the big changes from the book are the zombies, which are different from the shuffling, Romero style undead of the book and more similar to the fast zombies of 28 Days Later or the 2004 Dawn of the Dead. They’re slightly different though, because as well as running they also have this extremely vicious, purely instinctive way of attacking which sees them hurling themselves about in pursuit of their prey. This, coupled with the extreme rapidity of the turning process fully explains why the outbreak spreads so quickly and why attempts to stop it fail so disastrously.
This speed and viciousness makes the zombies a terrifying prospect, as does their way of swarming everywhere like ants, crashing through obstacles and scaling barriers. The early, chaotic scene in Philadelphia with the zombies taking down people in the middle of a terrified stampede is handled well, with us getting glimpses of the infected before finally seeing one or two up close and in full attack mode.
It’s the zombie sequences which are the main draw, and director Marc Foster shoots them well, beautifully crafting tension in claustrophobic or darkened settings, a scene where Gerry and friends have to sneak past zombies who have gone “dormant” is an edge-of-your-seat-chewing-your-nails-off masterpiece, and one of the standouts.
This “dormant” stage is a nice touch, with the zombies reverting to the more traditional stumbling ghoul without any food or stimulus in the area, but able to turn into ferocious killers at the slightest sound or provocation. It enables a brief lull and also builds tension, in the screening I was in there were a few giggles at the twitching, shuffling zombies, but it had the air of nervous laughter and also, there’s always been something grotesquely and darkly comic about zombies.
Pitt is on fine form as the heroic lead, a tough and resourceful guy who manages to keep his head as the world around him goes to hell and dedicated to safeguarding his family. Pitt’s easy charm means he interacts well with everyone he encounters and seems like a regular Joe at the start, but as soon as things kick off (and they do within minutes of the film’s opening) his old skills come to the fore. His background means that when he starts picking up clues and noticing things it feels natural, he’s a professional investigator who’s worked in tough conditions before, so it’s natural that he’d be more aware of his surroundings than most.
The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, and there’s a sense of camaraderie among most of the survivors, although tensions do appear on the ship where his family shelter, with the “non-essential” personnel being regarded with displeasure and irritation due to the strain they put on supplies.
As I mentioned there are nods to the book, and the film also has some great ideas of it’s own, especially with the new plot developments they’ve added. The devil is in the details as well, little moments in the fall of mankind and, best of all a grim, shocking reference to how North Korea deals with the outbreak, which is a truly astonishing idea. Also, the plot develops in some interesting ways and there are quite a few nice little flourishes throughout.
There’s a minimum of build up before the zombies show up and from then on out it’s a thoroughly gripping horror thriller, with a constant sense of danger throughout and some nerve jangling moments. It’s not the best zombie movie ever, with far too much of it relying on CGI and rather too much of the film set in dark surroundings, but it’s still a solid addition to the genre and a gripping movie.
Also, and this is a personal gripe- if you’re going to have some of the film set in Wales the very least you could do is get some Welsh actors/characters in the mix.
A word on the 3D- don’t bother, aside from a couple of moments when it’s warranted most of the film doesn’t really need it and it only succeeds in making other sections of the film seem darker than they should, and makes some of the action a bit blurry.
Verdict: A solid zombie movie with Pitt on fine form as usual. The story is simple and engaging and Foster does well in capturing the chaos, tension and horror of the zombie apocalypse. Incredibly tense, it keeps you on the edge of your seat and the zombies are brilliantly terrifying. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.