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.

Leave a comment


  1. James

     /  November 12, 2012

    the biggest problem I have with the trailer is that the movie looks like B-grade schlock, aka “boring with nice set-piece special effects”

    • Which is why I was pleased to see what appeared to be some pretty quality acting — that argues that it might not be quite so boring.

      Otherwise, hard to argue with what little we have atm.


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