This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is director Marc Forster‘s World War Z.
World War Z is a film that has no right to work as well as it does. Everything that could have gone wrong during the transition from book to film, did; from massive re-writes, funding problems, conflicts with the Hungarian Counter Terrorism Centre (!!), a major reworking of the third act requiring 30 to 40 minutes of additional footage to be shot after production had wrapped, political wrangling, shifts of entire countries for finale settings, and the canceling of already planned sequels.
And that’s not even mentioning the fan outrage over the proposed changes in the plot, making it a globe-trotting action-adventure rather than the gathering of survivors’ tales, along with the decision to opt for a PG-13 rather than an R rating for a ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST MOVIE.
Marc Forster channeled his Quantum of Solace stylings (which I enjoyed despite the overall critical response) and with producer Brad Pitt on-board to star they put together a big-budget (nearly 190 million) action/disaster movie with an extremely effective, downright creepy, new take on zombies that I highlighted as a success during our Summer of Sci-fi roundup. Because of the shift in focus from the horror aspect, World War Z really does play out more like a sci-fi plague movie than a zombie nightmare, but it still packs in the scares.
What makes the film work as well as it does is the way Forster is able to ratchet up the tension in just a matter of minutes. There’s no fat on this script as it moves from set-piece to set-piece, following Pitt’s character Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator who is recruited to track down the source of the rapidly-spreading zombie plague.
Because of the lack of extensive blood or gore (thanks, PG-13), I was left wondering for the first part of the film if it was truly a zombie film at all, despite the source material. It seemed to have more in common with 28 Days Later than with your garden-variety zombie film, as the disease is represented more like a super-rabies than as the walking dead.
But by the time we move into the second act, it’s clear that the infected are no longer alive, but are reanimated by the infection.
Another strength of this film when compared to many zombie films is that with a big budget, the film makers can focus on areas that are usually pushed into the background — namely the military and scientific response. And that’s what lends itself to becoming a strange, but effective, mash-up of Jason Bourne and Michael Crichton. The final section of the film (which wisely focused on science instead of turning Lane into a super warrior like one early draft of the script), set in a nearly-abandoned World Health Organization facility in Wales, turns into an intense and intimate climax that contrasts nicely with the big action sequences that get us to that point in the narrative.
Plus, we get the new Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, in a small role credited only as W.H.O. Doctor!
So put aside your reservations and give this one a shot. Especially since, thanks to its box-office success, those cancelled sequels are now back on the schedule. And now that World War Z has already established and dealt with the zombie holocaust, a second film would be the perfect opportunity to really adapt the book this time.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.