‘World War Z’
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz and Matthew Fox
Rated: PG-13, for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images
Runtime: 1 hour and 56 minutes
Bottomline: Superficial but fun action blockbuster
“World War Z” might go down in film history as one of the greatest recoveries of all time.
This production has been an infamous, well-publicized disaster. A full cut of the film was finished in 2012, and it was supposed to be released several months ago. But star and producer Brad Pitt and others were unhappy with that version.
According to those who saw the movie in that form, they had good reason to doubt its prospects. So the script was rewritten, new scenes were shot and a huge chunk of the film was cut — including the final, very expensive climactic sequence.
Meanwhile, rumors about the dysfunction among the production’s major players have spread. Several key crew members quit the project. Gossip has it that Pitt stopped speaking to director Marc Forster at some point.
All of these factors have pushed the budget to near $200 million, if not more. Horror movies are profitable because they reliably draw a niche audience and are relatively inexpensive to make. This one, however, has ballooned into blockbuster territory, and that is a very risky situation for a zombie movie.
The stakes are quite high for Pitt personally, too. This is his first attempt to build a franchise around himself, and Pitt, his production partners and Paramount Pictures have given themselves a very small margin for error. To be a success, this movie has to produce huge numbers.
These behind-the-scenes stories had most reviewers expecting a trainwreck, a flop on the scale of “John Carter,” “Ishtar” or “Cleopatra.” The end result, though, is a world away from those expectations.
Against all odds, “World War Z” in its final version is one of the most entertaining movies this summer, even if it isn’t the movie some want it to be.
The film deviates wildly from the novel on which it is based, Max Brooks’ “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.” Like “The Bourne Identity,” the movie retains the title and some of the foundational ideas from its source but constructs a very different story around Gerry Lane (Pitt) and his family.
Lane is a retired United Nations investigator living in Philadelphia. But when the zombie epidemic hits, he is drawn into the search for its origins and a way to contain it. Lane quickly begins to lead the investigation, which takes us to a handful of locations around the world.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen a zombie movie with as large a scope as this one. His quest takes him to South Korea, Israel and Wales. In each location, there is mass devastation.
Brooks’ novel has been praised for its realistic portrayal of how various governments around the world would respond to a zombie outbreak. Those elements of the story are largely omitted from the film. The Israel section is really the only time the film delves into geopolitics, and not very deeply at that. So the movie doesn’t offer the strong social commentary that usually distinguishes something as a great zombie movie. The focus is squarely on Lane and the search for a cure for whatever is turning people into rabid, undead predators.
Hardcore fans of the genre might not be satisfied by the movie’s depiction of the attacks, either. The first act consists mostly of the Lane family trying to survive the initial onslaught and is emotionally very intense. But there is a minimum of gore even in those sequences.
The movie is high on suspense and action but not blood and guts.
It probably won’t be considered a landmark of the genre or a great adaptation, but as a summer action film, “World War Z” provides a more satisfying payoff than any of the tentpole releases so far this year —“Man of Steel” and “Iron Man 3” included.
It gives us what has been lacking from those releases: entertainment.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.