Friday Night Geekery: Early Thoughts on the World War Z movie


Here’s the first trailer.

Now, for the four people I know who aren’t Nerd-Americans like myself, World War Z is a goddamn good book.  Go buy it, even if you’re not really all that into zombies.  Like all fabulous works of fiction, it’s not actually about what’s advertised on the surface.  In this case, World War Z is about socio-politics and really UGLY hard decisions.  It also has a heaping dose of what I like to call The Iron Laws of Survival.

  1. If you screw up, you’re dead.
  2. If any of your buddies screw up, you and they are dead.
  3. Failure to formulate a correct course of action, and to execute it effectively is, in Scene Two, effectively defined as “screwing up.”
  4. Failure to screw up does not guarantee failure to be rapidly and unpleasantly dead.

and, since this is a very adult book, rule #5:

Your willingness to be rapidly and unpleasantly dead is the only thing which may allow others to survive.

The writing is, among other things, smart.  And the more astute the reader is, the more Brooks’ writing pays off — the book is full of subtle allusions and asides to reference prices that are being paid “out of sight” of the main plot and action.

So the question is:  how do you take a really good, really sophisticated, really subtle book about the Zombie Holocaust, and put it on the screen in a way that will grab the interest of not merely the fans, but also people who have no interest in the book whatsoever?  This is a huge consideration: like most geeky topics, this is a movie that has barely avoided the “ash-heap of no funding” on at least two occasions.  Like the Lord of the Rings movies, concessions are to have to be made to keep it accessible to a public which frequently will not care one whit about  the most important themes of the original work.

Compromises have to be made.

Fans are currently very upset with what they’re seeing in the first trailer, and in the directorspeak of “Brad Pitt saves the world.”  The direction and imagery is Roland-Emmerich-style “disaster movie ends the world” stuff.  It provides a sense of what’s going to happen, but conveys absolutely none of the sophistication of the book on which it’s placed.

That said, there are some grounds for optimism:

  1. The trailer is very clearly showing the beginning of The Crisis.  So we don’t actually know how much of the rest of the movie will play out, and there’s still plenty of ground for optimism that Pitt’s character will somehow be involved with the “Redeker Plan.” (I won’t spoiler this, but those who have read the book know what I’m discussing).  The script released in 2008 had some serious deviations, which were unfortunate (particularly as I have great respect for its writer), but there’s been significant rewriting and reshooting.  Right now, there’s no reason to assume that the inevitable deviations will be all that far afield.
  2. The visuals are stunning, and the opening of the action is disturbing.  Having decided to follow the UN employee from the beginning of the action (which most zombie movies avoid, in favor of a cheaper and considerably-easier “second day starts the action” approach), they do it well.  Many viewers don’t like the fact that these are “zoombies” (zombies which can run), or the way they tend to swarm.  One of the swarm depictions, however, where the zombies are “ramping” up the large concrete wall, IS very much “per the text,” and is a sign that the writers and directors paid attention.  That’s important, because this isn’t something where people can simply camp out on rooftops and be safe (this is an important detail in several parts of the book, which astute readers can use to gauge the trustworthiness of some of the book’s narrators — some of the storytellers either don’t get or aren’t sharing the full picture).  I have no personal qualms with “zoombies,” as they’re a lot scarier to deal with than walking zombies are — necessary for the general audience.
  3. The plot provides you with a protagonist who is anonymous in the book:  the UN employee who gathers the data.  Along the way, they do something that’s very smart:  provide a reason for people who might just want to watch Brad Pitt to care about the action.  Zombie Holocaust Narrative is something that’s “fantasy adventure” if you’re a single male who has combat training and appropriate survival skills.  It is unmitigated horror for a married man or woman working through the question “how do I keep my children alive?”  In the real world, when disaster strikes, our first thought is to get with our family, make sure they’re all right, and keep them that way.  A true Zombie Holocaust would be that story, written out over and over, across billions of us as we try (and mostly fail) to do just that.  It is smart writing to recognize the fundamental problem Pitt’s character endures in having to constantly place himself in danger for the benefit of the Greater Good. (And the original, clearly drawing from Studs Terkel, pulls no punches about the need to sacrifice for the Great Good when faced with something that is bigger than any one person).
  4. It has “angry electric bass noise.”  A lot of people HATE this, but I am a firm believer that there are times when over-the-top soundtracking is the only thing which will meld with a scene — music is critically important for a movie’s success (try to imagine the Schwarzenneger conan without Basil Poledouris’ bombast– it wouldn’t work).  The angry, klaxonish sound works here.
  5. The actors are good.  Now, granted, this is a trailer — but it’s a very effective one, partially b/c the child actor goes a completely believable job of being shocked, horrified, and completely, utterly baffled.  Now, this may, as some trailers re, be the best two minutes and thirty seconds of the movie — but it’s a promising start.

All in all, it may simply turn out to be a big-budget zombie movie, rather than the “this is deep enough to force serious critical attention” movie that a close following of World War Z would involve.  But so far, outside of unnecessary but totally justifiable nerdrage (I’m still pissed at Peter Jackson for screwing up the March of the Ents!), it’s too early yet to count this one out.


An Open Letter to the Republican Party

Hey guys!  Word on the street is, you just got your asses kicked. 

Looks a lot like you got your asses kicked because elections are about showing up, and “your team” didn’t.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?
Well, you should have.  The writing’s been on the wall for years, and you didn’t believe it.  All those “independents” turned out to be… former Republicans.

That is, people who are disgusted with you.  And I don’t mean just a bunch of shrieking feminists who couldn’t believe that Mourdock wanted rape victims to consider the idea that something good could come out of a horrible crime (but you sure did a crap job handling him and Akin, didn’t you?)  I mean the people whose hearts you break every four years by promising good things and continuously reneging on them.

For twelve years now, Republicans who were actually concerned about limited government and personal liberty have been screaming bloody murder about how the Republicans have governed.  What did Republicans do, once they owned government in the early aughts?  Signed McCain-Feingold, and raped the First Amendment, while simultaneously falling in love with every piece of K-Street pork in existence.  What did they do after that?  Tried to buy senior citizens’ votes by enacting a huge entitlement expansion.

We small-l libertarians screamed bloody murder.  You guys didn’t listen.  You told us “where you going to go on Election Day, the Democrats?”

We warned you over and over again that the answer was going to be “out to dinner, chump.” And you just couldn’t believe it. 

Hello, this is your 6 a.m. wakeup call.

When you pass legislation that rapes the First Amendment, your hypocrisy loses you voters.  And yes, we have memories, and remember that Paul Ryan from Wisconsin was for trashing the Bill of Rights, before he was suddenly against it. 

Your Main Man was a dude who would replace Ben Bernanke with a woman who’s even more Dovish and would devalue the dollar even faster, and whose foreign-policy differences with the President can be summed up as “not much” even on a rhetorical scale.  Let’s face it, Benghazi sucked, but it’s not like you can say that Obama really hates blowing up the bad guys.  That man’s Drone-o-matic.

 And before you get too high and mighty, we’ve seen that Romney/Ryan budget.  Not a lot of slashing where the Republican interests at the Department of Agriculture’s concerned, huh?  When all you can offer during budget debates is “we’d like to cut the other guys’ stuff,” why should anybody take you seriously? 

Oh, and Mexican voters?  The guys and gals who bust their asses to make a better life, are hugely into small business, and who should be your natural constituents?  They’re not stupid.  “Secure the Border before Reforms” means never doing any immigration reforms.  Because “secure the borders” is meaningless pap, just like the “War on Drugs” is.  Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, know that our immigration laws are a pathetic joke, full of so many bandaids and cross-precedents that whether a person gets permission to stay is basically dependent upon whether the judge in question likes you.  That being the case, why respect an obviously arbitrary and unfair set of laws?

What else happened this time around?  Oh, yeah.  Ron Paul.  Remember that guy?  The one who consistently racked up 10-12% of the Republican Party primary voters, and was getting some long looks from anti-war Democrats?  Threw him right under the bus, didn’t you?  You actually were arrogant enough to believe that his supporters would watch their man being trashed left and right by your Party, and still come out to vote for the guys who said “Ron Paul?  Screw that guy.”  You guys didn’t even let him speak at the Convention.  You sent home a state delegation because they had too many Ron Paul guys.  There are already people saying that you lost because you disenfranchised the guy.  But hey, who needs Maine and New Hampshire, right?  Surely there are enough Republicans out there that you can piss away 10% of them and still win….

But that’s not true.  You lost because you simply didn’t give a crap about any of the folks who liked Ron Paul, and found him a refreshing change of pace from your same-old same-old.  You did nothing to make sure you had those guys’ votes (outside of putting some conservative pundits up on YouTube to say “if you ‘principled’ guys don’t vote Romney, then you hate America”).  Oh, and having his delegates arrested.  That was Smooth.

Oh, and speaking of throwing away votes, what about Gary Johnson?  Yeah, him.  This guy balanced an out-of-control budget in a Deep Blue State without having to lay off a single government employee.  Gary Johnson makes Paul Ryan look like a clueless poser: he ought be a Republican rock star.  You wouldn’t even let him show up for the debates.  I mean, because, really?  Who needs a wildly successful two-term governor who can give you a solid lock on blue-state New Mexico and deliver a slew of normally-Democratic voters, and the entire population of NORML, in the process, when we could be listening to Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachman, or Herman Cain?  It’s already out there that “that guy” cost you a Senate seat in Montana.  He drew off more than enough votes to send Tester to the Senate.  The Democrat won by 2%.  Johnson drew off 5%. 

But honestly, Johnson didn’t cost you Montana.  Your arrogance did, when you assumed that people who actually believe in political principles would flush those principles down the toilet in order to vote against Barack Obama — when you assumed that faced with a choice between Democratic big-spenders and Republican big-spenders, their choice wouldn’t be “hey, how ’bout Red Lobster” instead of standing in the polling lines to put in a vote for somebody who takes their support for granted and will betray their promises at the drop of a hat. 

So, here’s the deal, Republicans.  Democrats are seriously into “social justice” and will spend like drunken sailors and therefore force themselves to reform once they realize that they’re bankrupt — and slowly but surely, those reforms are already happening.  Some of them are even happening in California, of all places.  If they can pull that off, and have social programs and a balanced budget (again, like that Johnson guy you shut out of the debates), they’ll own the government forever.  It’s not like we’re still in the Cold War, when the Democrats were functionally insane on foreign policy.  When the Democrats eventually throw the unions under the bus, which they will eventually be forced to do by the sheer Power of Math(tm), the only people who will care about fighting them will be a bunch of people who are so far into social-conservative-land that they’re basically irrelevant on the national stage.  And even those guys know you can have a Democratic president, and still fight against abortion via other venues.

By comparison, you guys don’t even talk a good game any more.   Unless you get serious about fixing things, you’re toast.

So answer me a couple of things.

If you actually stand for personal freedom and limited government, what do you plan to do about that?

And if you don’t, why should we who do give a rat’s ass about whether the Republican Party survives?

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