Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Of Films: World War Zzzzz (2013)

Why did they make World War Z? I’m thinking it was meant as a sleep aid. On the other hand, maybe there really is a need for Brad Pitt to appear in a generic zombie movie? Most likely, they heard people talking about how the book should be made into a movie, so some Hollywood smart-ass bought the right to use the characters and the title of the book, though not the contents of the book, and slapped those onto a standard zombie film? Oy.

The Plot

If you heard that this was going to be a smarter zombie film, then you’ve been misled. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. Some dude wrote a book called World War Z. This book involved a UN scientist who roams the world tracing the beginnings of a zombie outbreak. As the infection slowly spreads, this scientist and others struggle to find a cure. After some time, the outbreak finally gets out of hand and a bigger struggle begins between the uninfected humans and the infected. Along the way, the book deals very intelligently with the idea of a zombie infection. Remember that? Well, forget it.

The film starts with Pitt and his family driving through New York City. Within seconds, the zombies attack. Within seconds more, New York City is lost to the zombies. Fortunately, Brad and family flee on traffic free roads in an RV they just happen to find to Newark, where they go a lootin’ and then break into an apartment building looking for safety from the roving bands of zombies. It’s possible this is just a normal night in Newark, but I suspect we’re meant to see this as zombie-related.
Anyway, the US is destroyed before the night is over, but Brad and family get saved and taken to live on a warship off the coast, provided that he agrees to investigate the zombie plague. He agrees and they ship him to Korea because someone in Korea wrote the word “zombies” in an e-mail... no, I'm not kidding. From there he goes to Israel and then Britain to meet Dr. Who.

With the exception of Israel, everything is destroyed, and Israel gets destroyed in a ridiculous way while Brad is there. In fact, throughout, the film does a very poor job of handling how this would really happen. For example, Israel builds a huge wall to keep out the zombies, which works until Brad arrives, at which point the zombies suddenly decide to climb the wall and the Israelis prove helpless. Huh? Why now? As Brad flees Israel, he jumps on board a commercial airliners... which was going exactly where? There's nowhere for it to go, so it takes him to where he needs to go, but it crashes, but he survives it because he's the star. All of this feels like it only happens to help move the plot.
Ultimately, Brad finds a partial solution and tells us there will be many sequels.

Why? Just why?

So why did they make this film? I don’t know. This film adds nothing to the zombie genre, something which even the crappiest of knock-off zombies films on Chiller tries to do. This film doesn’t try to be definitive either, like the one BIG film you should see to understand the state of the genre. To the contrary, it feels narrow and shallow. It doesn’t try to be the best of a tired genre either. In fact, it feels very bland and typical, and it's packed with clichés. There isn’t even that moment that grabs you, where you know the director was telling everyone: “This will be my signature moment which everyone will remember from this film!” So why make a film that adds nothing, does nothing special, doesn’t seem to have any special goal or voice, and doesn’t even have the one moment you know the director had been dying to jam into one of their films.

Money. Brad Pitt sells and "World War Z" was a milkable property. That’s all I can say.

Let’s compare this to what could have been. Most zombie movies are most interesting in the beginning, when the chaos is fresh. But almost all of them rush through this. A film that took its time and really showed you how this virus appears, how it spreads, and how it eventually overtakes the human ability to contain it would be excellent. This is something The Stand does well, as does Lifeforce, but few others. Even Contagion ended up doing a poor job with this aspect, which was sadly the very purpose of that film.
And to make this work in an interesting way, this time, people need to know these are zombies. If this stuff starts small, there is time for people to learn what they are up against, and still show them being overwhelmed by sheer numbers. This film doesn’t do that. It just says “commercial airlines were the perfect way to spread the disease,” and then it presents a scenario under which that can’t work – infection spreading in 12 seconds. Even worse, when the zombies strike in New York, no one except Pitt seems to have the slightest idea what is going on or even that they are facing something dangerous even though the world outside the US has already been destroyed. I guess New Yorkers live sheltered lives. And then, somehow, the city falls within seconds. Nonsense. Above all, zombie films need patience to present realistic time frames. This film had none... it needed it desperately.

This film also needed some other plot to maintain interest. Inject a love story. Have the main character save an orphanage or a zoo. Invent some counter-zombie. Do something other than run around gathering MacGuffins as you try to avoid zombies. Again, this film falls flat in that department. After making a big deal of Brad Pitt as some top investigator who can solve the zombie riddle, he gets sent to Korea for no valid reason. From that point forward, this film is just an action film without any logic to it.
Finally, give us a powerful ending. Either give us reason to believe the humans have won or give us something truly deep and dark. Give us something more than we already know: make the zombies conscious of who and what they are and what they have done – so far, no one has dared do that. Give us the idea of soul death as well as body death. Tell us this world isn’t actually our world, but it’s Hell, and we all face it. Those are endings that take bland zombie films to new levels. Alternatively, find a cure. Find the anti-zombie. Give us some moral or religious conduct that can save us all... give us a lesson to take away. Heck, give the zombies a hive brain, that would be new and interesting and more menacing. Don't just give us Brad Pitt in the lead.
These are the things any big budget modern zombie movie needs to do, but none of this happened here. All we got were a handful of hints at clever ideas from the book that were ignored in the film (in fact, there are websites dedicated to all the ideas in the book that got ignored here), then we got a pointless action film, and finally we got an ending that was sort of original but still underwhelmed.

This is sad, Brad. From a guy whose movies usually stand out as being smarter than everything else in the genre (e.g. Twelve Monkeys, Seven, Fight Club), this was a real disappointment.



Kit said...

I read the book in my college dorm-room and I loved it. Very good read.

I had some dim feelings about the movie when I saw the trailers so I skipped it. Seems like I was right.

Trivia: Did you know the book was written by Max Brooks and Anne Bancroft, the son of Mel Brooks.

PDBronco said...

I haven't read the book, or seen the movie (avoided it based on the trailers). But this sounds like a story that would have been best handled as a TV mini-series, like The Last Ship.

tryanmax said...

I didn't know that Anne Bancroft was Mel Brooks' son! (Sorry, I had to riff on your grammar, Kit.)

I may have to read the book just to understand how much potential was wasted. Fortunately, I didn't even rent this one. I let someone else do the Redboxing for me.

If you want a zombie movie with a difference, check out Warm Bodies. It's no giant blockbuster like Zzzzz, but it's different. I would describe it as the cutest zombie movie ever made. That's a trick, earning an adjective no one would think to put on a genre.

KRS said...

I think the director was just fascinated by the "fast zombie" that I first remember seeing in Dead Snow (2009), but which has been so overused that it's already a full fledged trope. So he cranks up his CGI budget to make a zombie horde into an impossibly fast organism of individual zombies working together as a whole - the Blob with afterburners. WWZ is just a title to put on his little fantasy.

The zombie genre is overworked and I'm bored with it. I couldn't get through the first season of Walking Dead because it's just a worn down version of All My Children where the resurrected characters are no longer pretty.

There are a few bright spots like Warm Bodies and shorts like Cargo, but I think this genre has jumped the shark.

Here's a link to Cargo. It's seven minutes and well worth it.

Btw, last year the Brits did a short series in which the zombies realize who they are and remember what they did after they're "cured" - it's called, In The Flesh. Haven't seen it.

Tohokari-Steel said...

My favorite comment on this movie comes from the Honest Trailer of it:
"Prepare for this big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel that's got everything you love...about the title. And nothing else."

...Y'know, a thought just occurred to me. The zombie genre has, ironically, become a zombie. It's functionally dead at this point, but still continuing to move.

Kit said...

"I didn't know that Anne Bancroft was Mel Brooks' son! (Sorry, I had to riff on your grammar, Kit.) "

(Annoyed grunt!) It was late at night and I was tired. My only defense.

"I may have to read the book just to understand how much potential was wasted."
The book is great. Tohokari-Steel mentioned the "Honest Trailers", it seems to sum it up.

Kit said...

"...Y'know, a thought just occurred to me. The zombie genre has, ironically, become a zombie. It's functionally dead at this point, but still continuing to move."

Yup. Frankly, I'm getting sick of the genre. Its now basically just blood, gore, and despair.

PikeBishop said...

The book is an excellent read Andrew, and almost all of it got left out. The book is a collection of vignettes, from a reporter travelling the world, ten years after the war ended, and most of the individual stories are quite compelling. I can see changing the protagonist to Pitt's UN official, to proved a more active framing story, rather than just taping people's after the fact recollections. But when they changed it to "Brad Pitt saves the world" a lot of the spirit of the original source material was lost. I'm still hoping World War Z would get made by Showtime or HBO as a ten episode mini series, faithful to the book. Once again Andrew, the book is worth a read.

Tennessee Jed said...

expensive Zombie movies is why I tend to spend my viewing time on British mystery and drama with the occasional small indie film thrown in for flavor. This never even made it to my radar.

Anonymous said...

It's actually a miracle the movie turned out watchable considering the escalating budget and the ending which had to be completely re-conceptualized and re-shot after they had already started!

Me? I liked it enough. If it had been released 10 years earlier, it would be a classic of the genre (or at least a minor one). But in a world where we have a weekly zombie series, this movie just seems old hat.

And yes, the current Dr. Who Peter Capaldi is credited as"W.H.O. Doctor"!

Kit said...


re Peter Capaldi, I heard about that too!

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I have heard really good things about the book. I did not know that was Mel Brooks' son.

AndrewPrice said...

PDBronco, I haven't read the book, but from what I've read about it, it definitely sounds like it should have gone to TV. In fact, TV is really doing an amazing job taking long and involved stories and bringing them to life.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I saw that an enjoyed it a lot. I've seen a couple funny zombie movies too. One in particular (can't think of the name) involved the zombies seeing themselves as normal and everyone else as the zombies. It was pretty funny.

I'm told the book is excellent. And if you watch the Honest Trailer for this one (LINK),which is very funny, they actually give a lengthy list of ideas that the film totally skipped.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I'm worn out on the genre as well. It was interesting for years, but now they are turning out the same story over and over and over.

Kit said...


"I'm told the book is excellent. And if you watch the Honest Trailer for this one (LINK),which is very funny, they actually give a lengthy list of ideas that the film totally skipped."
I think Tohokari Steel and I mentioned it earlier. :-)

Now, watching it again I realized something.
The fact that none of those ideas listed were in the film tells me that the film is amazing. In fact, it makes me want to cuss thinking about it.

The book is an "oral history" of the war featuring various interviews with survivors of the war relaying their stories. The idea behind the book was to take a genre that often follows only a handful of people at an isolated location and then expand it to the entire world.

Now, given this format creating a character like Brad Pitt's to streamline things makes a fair deal of sense. I also understand that since this is a movie some things have to be cut such as the the celebrity house or the Decimation Policy in Russia or even the Phalanx drug but... WHAT THE %@#^ING HELL!

They leave out the battles of Hope and Yonkers? Leaving out those two battles is like adapting Lord of the Rings and leaving out the Battles of Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith. Really, they are the major battles of the book.

Also, in the book the zombies were slow, not fast. More Walking Dead than 28 Days Later.

Koshcat said...

I liked the book. They movie is really not related at all. They basically bought the title. I didn't think the movie was as bad as the review; perhaps I went in with different expectations. I did like that they didn't waste time with a long back story but that may have weakened Pitt's character as you barely knew him. The did a better job of showing rather than telling. In the beginning they show Pitt as a family man but also he is cool under stress and resourceful. I think the fall of Isreal was unnecessary to the plot.

One minor issue is the movie starts out in Philadelphia not New York.

AndrewPrice said...

Tohokari, LOL! Brilliant observation about this genre becoming a zombie!

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, It's too bad they ignored so much of the book. It sounds like the book would have made a great movie. As for changing the character to Pitt, I wouldn't have a problem with that either. Sometimes it makes sense to take liberties with a book. It just doesn't make sense to ignore the book completely.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It made it to my radar because I like Pitt a lot and I'd heard the book was really good. Then I read about the disaster that was the film's production and that raised my curiosity. The film sadly, lived up to none of it.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Yep. If this movie had been made ten years ago, it would have been hailed as really impressive. But at this point, it's just a total repeat of what every other zombie film has done.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I haven't read the book, but I saw almost nothing in the film that struck me as coming from a something original. It all felt like every other zombie movie on Chiller, except it had higher production values.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

The fall of Israel just didn't work for me. It was far too Pitt-specific.

shawn said...

No argument here- I thought the movie was worth a look-see, but it didn't warrant a repeat viewing. Also the zombies in this film are ludicrously fast.

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