World War z

Art & Culture

There is nothing in the history of the creation of this film to suggest it would be anything other than a total turkey, but the good news is that it’s not actually bad. Not good, but nothing like as turgid as Man Of Steel.

Let’s rewind 7 years to the publication of an apocalyptic horror novel called World War Z by Max Brooks. This was an ambitious, sprawling book set over a long period of time as the human race tried to survive the tidal wave of zombies that threatened to annihilate them, then gradually regain supremacy. It is an implicit critique of many parts of the world (Middle East, Russia), with the zombie menace as a device to show how fragile our political structures are, and how arbitrary the conflicts which the human race indulges in.

It is not a book that obviously lends itself to a film adaptation, lacking a single charismatic hero, being set over decades, and being pretty political – but minor details like that never stopped Hollywood. Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B bought the book, and then set about the apparently impossible job of carving a film out of it. Pitt was scheduled to star with Marc Forster as director, but shortly before filming started in 2009, they went back to the drawing board and came up with a whole new script. Filming got underway two years ago, and the movie was going to be released in time for Christmas last year, but then the date got bumped back another 6 months. And now here it is.

You could be forgiven for expecting an incoherent mess, but although this is both a familiar enough saga, and lacking a sensible script, it is moderately entertaining. Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a UN dude, who’s just retired from being a troubleshooter to spend more time with this family. And it is while he’s with his family that he (and they) suddenly become aware of the zombie menace that is sweeping over the globe – or in this case, a traffic jam in Philadelphia. Needless to say, Brad is the only man who can save the human race, so after a few token refusals to put the saddle back on, he’s off to South Korea on a big plane to see if he can find the source of the virus.

From there he goes to Jerusalem, and finally to South Wales (yep, that’s right) in order to come with the solution to the plague. Not that this has any sensible medical logic. The film is pretty much a straightforward thriller, though with a more than usually heavy emphasis on the family connection. We see a lot of his wife and daughters waiting for him on the aircraft carrier, which as a soppy git, I found quite endearing. As far as I can see, the scriptwriter kept the title of the book, and the idea of a zombie plague, then started from scratch, to create a lot of Jurassic Park-like scenes in which our hero and his buddies have to tiptoe round to make sure they don’t disturb the raptors – sorry, undead.

The undead are not very interesting – they never are. They simply lurch around in CGI phalanxes, looking baffled and furious, and zombifying anyone they catch up with. There is no visible political subtext, no explanation of where they came from or what they want; while the solution to the problem ranks up there with the way that water wipes out the aliens in Signs. There seems to be an endless stream of these films, with humans under threat from big bad Outside Forces. Pacific Rim and Elysium are coming soon, and Oblivion  and After Earth  have only just been or gone. Perhaps it’s because Hollywood feels it can’t can’t use Russians and Arabs as villains any more. 

But the film does have a momentum that keeps you moderately thrilled; it doesn’t go on too long; and while Pitt is hardly stretching his acting muscles, he is a more likeable and engaging central character than most. 


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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