I’ve got a confession to make. I actually haven’t read Max Brook’s novel of ‘World War Z’ just yet. I have however enjoyed immensely his previous book, the comical ‘The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From The Living Dead,’ and although I’ve heard nothing but good things about his follow-up which is a narrative take on the zombie post-apocalypse, it’s just one of those things I haven’t been able to squeeze the time in to read. And hence, I am the ideal target audience member for Paramount’s huge big budget summer blockbuster movie adaptation, because like me, most people going into this movie will have no prior knowledge of its inspiration.
In fact, early rumblings from diehard fans of the book are that the movie version only seems to share the title and basic overall story structure of its source material. While no one will know for sure if ‘World War Z’ succeeds as its own entity until it’s released on June 21st, FEARnet was lucky enough to get a sneak peak at the brand new 3D trailer (which debuted earlier this week on-line) and approximately 20 minutes of footage that covers the basic beats of the first two acts. And I’m here to report that while it might not be a successful adaptation of the book, it definitely looks and feels like a big blockbuster popcorn movie. (Meaning, it looks ridiculously crazy and fun.) And the star and producer of the film Brad Pitt was on hand to personally introduce the footage.
He kicked off the presentation by announcing, "About 4 years ago, I didn’t know anything about zombie movies, I didn’t care for zombie movies, I didn’t watch them. But now, I’m an expert, so if any of you have any questions, just let me know." This drew some genuine chuckles from the small group of press gathered here and proved in under 2 minutes why Pitt's the charming superstar that he is. He continued, "I wanted to make a movie that my boys would have fun with and as you’re about to see… we got a little carried away."
The trailer as you’ve all seen by now, definitely gives a better sense of the overall story here and gives snippets of some impressive action-packed set pieces, in particular that bit at the end with the outbreak on an airplane. But the 20 minutes of footage that followed were really a better representation of the overall tone and feel of the movie. Which as I mentioned earlier is big, both in scope and ambition.
Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former employee with the United Nations now retired and attempting to evacuate the city with his family per government instructions. In these first few minutes (which are in the first teaser trailer), we get to see pure pandemonium and all hell break loose in the middle of a busy populated city street with the zombie outbreak beginning and Lane immediately springing into action trying to escape the havoc caused by the strange group of “infected” that are attacking innocent people. As Gerry flees the scene, he takes in what’s going on around him and witnesses firsthand the way the infection works. He sees a victim get pulled out of his car, bit and then change into a zombie in the span of 12 seconds. It’s a clever way (the first of many) to physically set up and show us the rules of the zombies of this world.
A bit later, he reluctantly accepts a mission (solely for the safety of his family) to travel to different corners of the world (most of which are now cut off communication-wise) to seek out people from early reports that cited either the original outbreak origin point of the infection in an attempt to formulate a potential cure. This leads to an action packed sequence in Israel where a swarm of zombies manage to scale a giant wall and infiltrate the structure where a large group of people are holed up. (It’s from that new teaser poster image and it’s insane.) While some may argue about the over usage of CGI for these particular sequences, in the context of the footage we saw, the zombies of this movie are incredibly fast, frenetic and hyper; somewhere between what you saw in '28 Days Later' crossed with 'The Crazies' in terms of appearance. They’re very insect like, both in their speedy and stealthy attacks as well as by grouping up in droves. But also, this sequence and a lot of the other footage we saw shows a tremendous amount of scope to the overall film. There are a lot of ariel overhead shots revealing a ton of stuff going on simultaneously which reminded me of the opening of the 'Dawn Of The Dead' remake, but here it’s amped up to like... a 100.
After the lights came up, director Marc Forster joined the group to talk a little bit more in depth about what we just saw. Among the first topics tackled are the rumors of production problems that plagued the film, along with insider banter about extensive reshoots. Forster explained that the delay was always for the benefit of the movie. "We shot the movie, I put it together and we all felt that the ending wasn’t what we wanted it to be and that it could be better, so we showed it to the studio and made a proposal for what he thought could make it better, they agreed so we went back and did some additional shooting and we’re very happy with the result. It’s a different ending than we initially had, but I prefer it and I think it’s more powerful and satisfying and it works."
In regards to zombie "characters" per se, Forster does claim that despite seeing only giant groups of fast zombies in the footage, there are different types through out the duration of the movie and even a few more distinct zombie characters ala Romero's films and 'The Walking Dead', but it was important for him to do something new with the genre, which is why there's so much focus on all those swarming zombie shots in all the promotional material. "What worked so well about George Romero’s films were that the zombies were such a great metaphor for consumerism. For me the metaphor here was more about over-population today and having less & less resources. And how it’ll eventually come to this kind of swarming; that’s when the feeding frenzy starts."
With any adaptation from a book, liberties are obviously going to be taken from the source material, but Forster admits he did meet with author Max Brooks several times to discuss the topics of his novel for more insight before delving into that world himself. "I met Max a couple of times and we spoke about the book and I think ultimately he gave us his blessing to do what we wanted. He hasn't seen the finished film yet because I'd like him to see the final film. I hope he approves and we get his blessing with what we've done."
And if I had to draw any comparisons to what I'd seen, it’d be to films like the previously mentioned '28 Days Later' and 'Dawn Of The Dead'. This footage got me thinking, because those 2 examples, did we really suffer through a glut of "fast zombie" movies? I don’t recall too many to come in the wake of those films and you’d think considering their success there would be tons of them. But I can’t think of one, other than maybe the 'Day Of The Dead' remake which the less said about that, the better. My point being, it’s been almost a decade since we’ve had a big budget movie that gave us "fast zombies." At the very least, ‘World War Z’ looks like it’ll deliver on sheer entertainment value with these epic fast paced elaborate action set pieces. And while the zombie mayhem is fast & furious, it never got too gory, which I honestly didn’t even notice until the director pointed out that the film has always been intended to be a PG-13 release. If anything, this has to be the most expensive zombie movie ever made, and it definitely looks like the money is right there on the screen. I'm looking forward to congregating with a packed audience and going along for the full ride.
'World War Z' opens in theaters June 21st.