News, Views, and Reviews
Every once in awhile, a movie introduces either a new way of making movies, a new way of representing something in movies, or both: “Jurassic Park” made us afraid of CGI dinosaurs; “The Lord of the Rings” made us believe in a main character, Gollum, represented in CGI; “28 Days Later” made us afraid of quick, aggressive zombies instead of slow, stumbling zombies; “Avatar” re-introduced 3D to movies, and so on. “World War Z” introduces a new way of representing zombies in movies: not as creepy, crawly, horror movie antagonists, but as a force of nature. When viewed as less of a “zombie” movie and more of a “disaster” movie, World War Z is pretty innovative. I’m already hearing complaints that “it’s rated PG-13” and “it’s not gory enough” but I think those complaints are missing the point. This isn’t just your typical “zombie” outbreak movie, this is WAR: Man versus Nature. And not just any war, a World War. Part of the adventure is finding out how the rest of the world is surviving the zombie apocalypse.
Story: I suppose it’s important to point out that this isn’t a direct book-to-film adaptation, rather, this is a movie *based* on a novel by Max Brooks. It borrows some of the novel’s ideas, such as how countries like North Korea and Israel deal with the zombies, but it’s a separate story following a different protagonist. Familiarity with the books, as far as I can tell, is completely irrelevant. The movie trailers do a decent job of setting up the scenario: when the world is overwhelmed by an outbreak of zombies, U.N. disaster-specialist, Gerry Lane, is rescued by a friend in the defense department, who brings Gerry and his family to a fleet of ships in the Atlantic Ocean. These ships are for “essential personnel” only, so Gerry has to strike a deal with his friend. They will allow Gerry’s family to stay onboard, as long as he goes on a quest to find the cause of the outbreak. Unfortunately, this scenario is only briefly referenced throughout the movie, and ends up as sort of a sub-plot. Similarly, familiar “zombie” issues are only briefly mentioned, as if they should be the audience’s understanding of zombie outbreak movies by now. No, this is a quickly paced story, as Gerry races around the world looking for answers and stays barely one step ahead of the growing zombie hordes. As a result, the sub-plots, supporting characters, and even the weight of the situation feel secondary. There are plenty of thrills and intense moments, in fact, I wouldn’t recommend this movie to younger viewers, despite the PG-13 rating. Surviving nature can be scary enough, even without the gore.
I hate to mention anything remotely spoilerish, but news of inevitable sequels should make something fairly obvious: World War Z has a very open ending. I think the best comparison would be how the (original) Star Wars movie had a “happy” ending with the good guys winning a battle, but the bad guys are nowhere near being defeated. Similarly, World War Z has an ending, but it’s definitely not a conclusion.
Characterization: Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, and as the star, has the most interesting character. Like a good disaster movie, the supporting characters come and go – which makes it hard to feel connected to or concerned with many of them. A few characters do stand out, even if their names and personalities are forgettable. I don’t think this is the fault of any of the actors, rather, the quick pacing of the story rarely dwells on anything other than the bleakness of the situation. The production of the movie has it’s own dramatic story, and a good portion of the movie was re-shot and significant parts and characters were cut out. I can’t help but wonder if there will be a “director’s cut” or “extended edition” that will include some of this material. If there is, perhaps it will shed more light on the sub-plots and secondary characters. In the meantime, enjoy the action and don’t worry too much about the characterizations.
Visualization: With so much emphasis on the spectacle, and little attention to secondary details, a lot is riding on the visualization of World War Z – and it does not disappoint. Transforming the cliché “zombie apocalypse” into the scale of a global disaster is clearly this movie’s strongest attribute. Zombies don’t just run around trying to bite people, they mass together like crashing tidal waves, drowning and devastating anything in their path. How can anyone hope to survive something like that, let alone stop it? The CGI zombies may seem “unrealistic” but I think that’s because they are so unsettling and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. I was absolutely immersed in the effects, computer generated or practical, so they are definitely effective. Again, the lack of gore may upset some, but that’s a personal preference, and not an issue of the quality of the movie.
My recent disappointment with the 3D version of “Man of Steel” almost convinced me to pass on watching World War Z in 3D, but I’m SO glad I watched it in 3D anyway. Fantasy or sci-fi movies like The Hobbit or Avatar seem to make the best use of 3D, so I was very impressed with World War Z. In fact, I think it utilized the format so well, I highly recommend watching it in 3D.
Sound: The visuals may compensate for lack of gore and secondary story details, but those visuals are complimented by some outstanding work in the sound department. Sound itself is portrayed as one of the dangers the survivors contend with, as loud noises can attract zombies. Sound effects and music are effectively used throughout the movie: tense, quieter moments are balanced with giant, dramatic aural spectacles. I would describe the musical score as an eerie blend of natural and electronic noises. Fun fact: as I was watching the movie, I thought it reminded me of something the musical group “Muse” would produce – and it turns out I was RIGHT. Muse IS credited for the score! Marco Beltrami is also credited, and that’s a fun coincidence as he did the soundtrack for “Warm Bodies” which I recently reviewed.
Conclusion: On one hand, this movie IS lacking. Secondary characters and sub-plots are not very well developed, and overall, the movie lacks a satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, the visualization and sound work more than make up for those shortcomings. World War Z introduces a brand new way of looking at zombie AND disaster movies, and it could change everything. It’s quick pace and intense situations definitely kept me entertained, and it’s impressive visual and sound effects kept me immersed. For best results, make sure you can see it in a 3D theater with the best sound system available.
World War Z hit theaters June 21st, runs 116 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images. The movie is based on a novel by Max Brooks.