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World War Z Review: A Fair Zombie Disaster Flick, A Poor Novel Adaptation
World War Z is shares the title of a much beloved novel by Max Brooks, and not much else. I’m not one of those readers who demands slavish adherence to the book when adapting for film. I don’t generally rage when things change onscreen, and sometimes I even like the changes better–Lafayette surviving in True Blood for example.
That the World War Z movie isn’t like the book isn’t a new story in Hollywood; it happens all the time. In this case, it’s particularly upsetting because the original material would’ve worked well on screen.
So instead of talking a whole lot more about the movie audiences deserved or wanted to see, we’ll turn our attention to the movie that we got.
The world is suffering a major disruption, as hordes of undead attack every major population center the world over, and pretty much every place in between. Brad Pitt plays Gerry, a retired UN worker who ends up back in the mix of things because he has skills the world needs. That doesn’t really convince him at first, until he realizes that his family is only able to stay safe on a military ship while he’s ‘essential personnel.’ So to keep them safe from being kicked off, he starts a journey around the world with a doctor who’s considered mankind’s “last best hope” and a few disposable military soldiers. Of course, things go wrong, and soon Gerry’s fighting the undead and trying to find Patient Zero all by himself.
The zombies of World War Z are dangerous on their own, but truly present a threat when found in a horde. They’re almost like insects in the way they swarm and attack relentlessly, breaking down every barrier in their attempts to get at the living. While I liked that aspect, it was also a weakness, as there are only one or two individual ‘Zeeks’ that stand out. The horde ends up being a faceless CGI menace that could’ve come directly from Will Smith’s I Am Legend.
The makeup effects work well up close, and the few zombies that get singled out in some way all look great and have their own ways of making the audience fear them. They’re twitchier than most other undead on the screen. Their erratic movements emphasize that something’s wrong in their brains.
Most of the zombie killing violence takes place offscreen or below screen, which cuts down on the gore. That’s alright, but it also robs the audience of seeing up close the horror of having to smash a former human beings’ brains out onto the pavement to prevent them from killing you. On the one hand, doing that dulls the violence and makes it okay somehow, because you don’t see what happens. The other side of this is that when you do see something horrific happen on the screen, it has more impact because the audience isn’t numb from too much gore.
World War Z is more of a virus thriller than a true zombie movie, despite the fast-moving hordes of undead in the film. It’s interesting to see how different countries deal with the zombie plague, and in that the movie somewhat captures the spirit of the books, but there’s so much left behind.
World War Z the movie is pretty much just another summer popcorn flick. It’ll most likely make a lot of money and be considered a success despite all the production issues and problems the film had before getting to screen. The saddest part is that we’ll probably never get a true attempt at making a World War Z novel adaptation, and that’s really too bad.