by Bill Watters, Editor
It says a lot about a movie when people suggest to NOT read the book before watching it in the theater as I’ve found more and more people doing with World War Z. I rather wish someone would have given me that same advice before I excitedly jumped into reading it a few weeks ago in advance of the movie’s premiere.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is for a wide range of reasons one of the best zombie novels to come along in a very long while. Unfortunately the Marc Forster directed movie bears little resemblance to anything in the book (so much so that the only thing achieved by using the same title is pissing off the vast majority of the book’s fans). With the screenplay having been written by J. Michael Straczynski,(Babylon 5, Amazing Spider-Man) I had perhaps unrealistic hopes of it at least living within the same universe as the book. The movie seems to suffer the same sort of media translation that Charlaine Harris’ True Blood fell prey to: Beyond a few character names, fleeting snippets of dialogue and the general premise of supernatural beings are around, everything else is utterly unrelated.
Hollywood seems to continue with the idea that there always needs to be something that the central character did to help turn the tide. There are sadly too few movies that have the balls to go where Se7en went in the final act. The Vanishing is an example of a film that was sanitized for American audiences, making sure of a happy ending (which shows that in doing the rewrite, the studio missed the point of the story entirely). World War Z’s adaptation also makes that mistake. If they wanted to focus on a singular character’s contributions to turning the tide in the war effort, it would have been around the South African Paul Redeker and his plan to create safe zones. A major aspect of the book is how there weren’t any fancy solutions to the problem, and the massive sacrifices that had to be made to help form a base to begin the long road back towards victory over the zombies.
One of the other points missed is that there’s a belief that an audience can’t follow a multi-character storyline within a movie setting. It seems that Hollywood must have been completely unable to follow a story with multiple points of view, like Go. Such an approach could have been used to great success with Z, but sadly, that’s not what we got.
In film form, World War Z follows a former UN employee Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt – Inglourious Basterds), and his globetrotting adventures as he tries to find the source of the pandemic. He does meet a few characters from the book, but only Jurgen Warmbrunn (Ludi Boeken) has a moderate relation to the character in the source material.
From here you can insert the traditional flow of any zombie-flavored movie over the past few decades. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Zombie movies are fun popcorn fluff. The complaint I have with this and any movie that stems from a book that delivers a unique take on the genre, is that so often the creators fail to live up to the challenge of adapting a great work from literature to film and actually retain that which makes it great. Instead we find that they take the easy way. They take something great and make it simply average.
“Simply Average,” that’s my final rating for World War Z. Taken for it’s own merit and forgetting the book, it’s fine. I’d probably more lean towards waiting for Netflix or Blu-ray than spending full theater prices.
ComicsOnline gives World War Z 2.5 out of 5 lukewarm apocalypses.
(Or for serious fans of the book: Rating: )
Edit: Many thanks to the indomitable Robert Meyer Burnett for pointing out that J. Michael Straczynski authored the original screenplay from the book, it was after that point that studios then brought in a ongoing cavalcade of writers to create the Brad Pitt vehicle that the movie became (which, when that happens, it’s usually a sign that little good will come from it).