Does ‘World War Z’ Look Great or Not? We Examine the Pros and Cons of the New Trailer
The latest 'World War Z' trailer has us given us all kinds of mixed feelings. On one hand, we're pumped to see Brad Pitt traverse the world battling hordes of the undead, but we're also completely dreading the experience. For everything that piques our interest (a big zombie movie filled with prestige talent!) there's something that causes our expectations to plummet into the basement (huge delays due to massive rewrites and reshoots!). If only there was some way to work through our mixed emotions regarding this film...
Wait...we feel a list coming on!
The zombie movie as we know it was invented back in 1968 when George Romero made 'Night of the Living Dead' on a shoestring budget. Since then, it's been a horror subgenre friendly to low budgets and indie filmmakers -- as long as you can craft some cool gore, you're golden. 'World War Z' is an anomaly: it's a zombie movie that was shot around the world on a budget that could've made thousands of normal zombie movies. For the first time, we're getting a zombie film that can actually show us the chaos and devastation that's usually relegated to radio broadcasts and static-filled TV news reports in smaller movies. Zombie stories are usually about that one group held up somewhere safe while the world tears itself apart, so the idea of actually seeing the world torn asunder is fascinating and terrifying.
With big budgets and summer release dates comes a terrible price: 'World War Z' may be the biggest zombie movie of all time, but it's also going to be one of the tamest since it's cursed with a PG-13 rating. Now, we don't want to say something silly like "There's no way a PG-13 zombie movie can be any good!", but there's no way a PG-13 zombie movie can be any good. Like no way. Your average episode of AMC's 'The Walking Dead' will probably have more gore and creative violence than 'World War Z' and that's a huge problem for horror aficionados.
When you have Brad Pitt starring in a big zombie movie, you need a prestige director to assist in classing up the joint. Enter Marc Forster, a filmmaker who's had plenty of brushes with great filmmaking. 'Monster's Ball' was a big awards contender a decade ago, 'Stay' is an underrated little thriller and 'Finding Neverland' let him expose a sweet (and slightly schmaltzy) side. In other words, he's not the first guy you think of when you think about zombie movies (he's not even the hundredth), but he's certainly an interesting and fascinating choice...
Well, we'd call Marc Forster an "interesting and fascinating choice" if we hadn't seen 'Quantum of Solace' (where he botched James Bond in the middle of one of the franchise's hot streaks) and 'Machine Gun Preacher' (which is just plain bad). Forster has proven himself exceptional in the past, but the last five years have seen him direct one dud after another. We'd like to think that 'World War Z' would see him pick up his game, but the news of extensive reshoots due to a disastrous first cut don't bode well.
Here's the truth about zombie movies: after awhile, they all start to blend together. Even the increasingly popular 'The Walking Dead' had to introduce a human antagonist this season because the zombies themselves were starting to get a little tiresome. How many shambling corpses can you shoot in the head before it starts to get downright dull? The big surprise from the first 'World War Z' trailer was that the zombies weren't going to be slow dead people, but lightning fast mobs of ravenous creatures, capable of sprinting and jumping and using one other to climb and move at a terrifying pace. We're not sure if the zombies in 'World War Z' even qualify as zombies, but man, it sure is an interesting take on an overused idea.
As interesting as the film's take on zombies is, we still can't shake the nagging feeling that this is a case where new is not necessarily better. The truly inspired moments of Max Brooks' novel (which we'll get to momentarily) deal with how the world would actually deal with a typical zombie apocalypse, taking a well-worn concept and injecting it with fascinating political and social commentary. At it's best, 'World War Z' could prove to be a really cool monster/disaster movie, but the lack of traditional zombies means that these layers will be completely lost.
Let's forget about Marc Forster and concentrate on the man in front of the camera, shall we? There are few actors like Brad Pitt: genuine icons who take chances, make risky, odd movies and deliver performances that are at odds with their public image and good looks. He also tremendously good taste in filmmakers, working with David Fincher, Andrew Dominik, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick and so on. Seeing Brad Pitt's name at the top of a poster is often a sign that the film will be worth your time. This guy simply doesn't mess around or attach himself to mediocre projects. If Brad Pitt got involved, there's at least something special about 'World War Z.'
However, the presence of a movie star of Pitt's stature is a double edged sword. The source novel is essentially a collection of short stories told by dozens of different characters from around the world, each of them with a different perspective on the zombie apocalypse. The trailer is all about Brad Pitt all the time and while solid actors like Matthew Fox and David Morse are also in the film, it's pretty obvious that 'World War Z' isn't going to live up to its title. This isn't a picture of a worldwide conflict, just one man's journey. Not that there's anything wrong with that but...eh, nitpicks.
And this is what we've been leading up to for this entire list. As a novel, 'World War Z' does more fascinating, unique and exciting things with zombie horror than anything else in recent memory. It's a laundry list of intricate set pieces and each chapter could sustain its own movie. All a good adaptation would have to do is pick and choose.
But here's the rub: absolutely nothing in the trailer resembles the novel. Not even slightly. And on one level, that's fine. Any film, even an adaptation, should strive to be its own thing and develop its own identity. The big problem here isn't that 'World War Z' isn't sticking to the source material (which feels better suited for television, anyway), it's that everything on display in the trailer is so less interesting than what it's apparently based on. That's a problem.