In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. A man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
Life for former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane and his family seems content. Suddenly, the world is plagued by a mysterious infection turning whole human populations into rampaging mindless zombies. After barely escaping the chaos, Lane is persuaded to go on a mission to investigate this disease. What follows is a perilous trek around the world where Lane must brave horrific dangers and long odds to find answers before human civilization falls. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Marc Forster and J. Michael Straczynski clashed throughout the writing process. Forster wanted to focus on the action, which Straczynski felt detracted from the story's main themes; he was more interested in remaining faithful to the book, focusing on the characters and the global reaction to the Zombie Apocalypse. Straczynski was eventually fired and replaced with Matthew Michael Carnahan, who made the film an action-adventure focused on a UN field specialist named Gerry Lane, dropping the book's first-person accounts. Brad Pitt had already been cast as Gerry before any script was written; in fact, Pitt had read the book and obtained the rights to it, and approached Forster about a possible adaptation. See more »
The escape from Israel is on board an A310. However the interior of the cabin, as shown in the movie, corresponds to a B777 and not an A310. See more »
It seems unfair to criticise the film for not being like its source material given that it obviously didn't try to be but I'm going to start by bringing that up anyway. The book had so many sequences that could have been turned into amazing set-pieces in a film and yet not one of them were used. The book also had some neat ideas about how a global outbreak and response play out. What might work? What would catastrophically fail? What would the cost be? Not one of these ideas were explored or even alluded to and there seems absolutely no reason why this was the case.
It might have been okay to abandon these ideas if the film had some ideas of its own to explore or at least play out but it doesn't. Instead we follow Brad Pitt and Brad Pitt's baggage through a few set-pieces as he first escapes from and then looks into an outbreak of zombies. There's little else to say about it than that.
The first major problem came down to the zombies themselves. For a zombie film to get that right is critical and World War Z stumbled pretty badly here. The physical appearance of the zombies is a clear problem. Given the film's penchant for shying away from blood and gore to keep its rating audience-friendly, the only things that separates these zombies from regular people are milky eyes, grey skin, and a tendency to bare and snap their teeth. They're not the bloodthirsty creatures at various stages of decay and ruin that feature in most zombie films. This is generally fine in close-ups but at a distance it's impossible to tell the zombies apart from regular people. And when most of your action scenes involve panicking people running away from what are allegedly zombies, having them pretty much indistinct from each other means you never get much of an inclination about the level of the threat or even what's going on.
A possible solution would have been for the film to opt for the shambling moaning Romero-esque zombies of the book. Instead of running and tackling, having a slowly ever-advancing tide of danger would have turned the zombies into something to be feared rather than something to try and spot in a crowd.
But even later when the film displays zombies in their 'docile' state its shown how little the film-makers understand how zombies are supposed to work. The jerking around and screeches were meant to be threatening and they are anything but. They are borderline slapstick and certainly comical judging by the outbreaks of laughter in the audience at my screening. They clicked their teeth together as if they enjoyed the sound. They repeatedly hit their heads against the wall in a way that was meant to seem deranged but just came across as silly. They spun and jerked around leading to a hilarious sequence of Pitt and two others essentially playing "Red Light/Green Light" with a snarling zombie. Nothing about these zombies seemed to work as intended.
The second major problem came down to the complete lack of weight or tension. Brad Pitt isn't the type of actor anyone expects to be in danger, at least not when he's in an action film, so already there's the knowledge that he's fairly safe. But added to that, his character is a practically invulnerable bad-ass UN investigator whose field knowledge and ingenuity makes him able to adapt to any situation. His 'baggage', as I referred to them earlier, is played at first by his wife and two daughters as well as an orphan boy - far too cute to ever come into real harm in a film like this. The baggage is then played by a doctor and a team of soldiers who are so bereft of personality and character that there is no reason to care about them. He then teams up with a young Israeli soldier who is the closest person aside from Pitt to qualify to be called a character but unfortunately she doesn't seem to serve any purpose. His final baggage comes in the form of a team of WHO doctors. I won't say anything about them aside from pointing out that all four are named in the credits as "W.H.O. Doctor" despite being a key part of around a quarter of the film.
Though I wouldn't recommend the film, to its credit it managed to attain a level of being entertaining and it never embarrassed itself, (despite a squeamish bit of product placement.) It was clearly let down by a few core problems and while certainly not a good film I'd feel a bit mean if I were to label it 'bad'. I'm disappointed that it painted itself as a zombie film for zombie fans while clearly being a toothless blockbuster to appeal to a broader audience, (however understandable that move may be from a film studio's perspective given the production problems and cost blow-out.) For this reason maybe the film tripped up and fell flat on its face but as it dragged itself to the finish line I'm willing to applaud it for that at least.
I suppose all I can do it sit here and try to imagine what might have been...
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