Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Friday, June 28, 2013

World War Z

I finally got out to see World War Z.  Part of any complaint has to be: It's not as good as the book, because movies never are.

One of the tightropes zombie movies in particular have to walk, I think, is balancing the fantastical elements of zombies with the human elements of how people cope with the end of the world.  If the first part doesn't work, then the whole thing feels contrived.  If the second part doesn't work, the whole thing feels pointless.

WWZ does much better with the latter part than the first part.  Pitt is very good, as are the supporting cast.  There is a palpable sense of sadness by the late stages of the movie in Wales.  The human jeopardy feels real.

The zombies themselves are excellent.  One thing they do, which I appreciated, was to really minimize gore.  Your average episode of The Walking Dead is a smorgasbord of viscera and blood.  WWZ is remarkably bloodless, which makes the violence less gratuitous.  There's no effort to make "gore porn".

The actual zombies are clearly a mix between Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later and insects.  They don't run so much as swarm.  The scenes in Jerusalem in particular are frightening because of the speed and numbers.

The main problem in Brooks' novel is that he never really gives a good explanation for where the zombies came from and he makes them too invincible.  He has them wandering the abyssal plains of the ocean, where their skulls would be crushed by the water pressure.  Why?  Because he needs them to, to take away the refuge of islands. That's where the contrived element takes over.

Traditional zombies are easy to kill because they are slow and witless.  WWZ changes this by making them lightning fast and massive in numbers.  It also gives a nice apocalyptic explanation for the zombie plague: Earth has to erase the stain of human damage.  It feels more like the Morningstar virus books, which did a great job with "zombie science" but were atrociously written with cardboard characters.  In this sense, WWZ borrows from two different sources to create a really compelling and scary zombie threat.

The movie does fall apart on "zombie science" at the end, I think.  Pitt's "solution" doesn't make sense.  Given the swarming behavior of the "zekes", the solution suggests a considered reflection on the point of zombies that doesn't work.  For me anyway.

What made the book so good was its episodic retelling of a disaster that had already happened.  The book captured that sad, guilty feeling among the survivors.  WWZ is clearly intended to launch a franchise.  It will be interesting to see if they continue that episodic feeling.  Frankly, given the choice to downplay the splatter factor, they should consider moving the whole thing to TV.

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