Wednesday, October 9, 2013
IS THAT ALL THERE IS TO A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?: a review of "World War Z"
Based upon the novel by Max Brooks
Screen Story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski
Screenplay Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Damon Lindelof & Drew Goddard
Directed by Marc Forster
**1/2 (two and a half stars)
About two years ago during while I was teaching one of my summer school classes, one of the children asked me if I believed in ghosts. Half facetiously and half seriously, I quipped, "I don't like to rule anything out!" My lovely young Co-Teacher at the time then said to me, "I don't believe in ghosts so I'm not afraid of ghosts. But do you know what I am afraid of?"
"What?" I asked, very interested.
"Zombies!" she replied, and noticeably shuddering at the mere thought.
"Zombies?!" I asked, softly questioning her seriousness.
"Yes!" she said. "Zombies." But then she rapidly added, "Not the slow ones but the really fast ones!"
After finally viewing "World War Z," Director Marc Forster's epic scaled, adrenaline rushed adaptation of the best selling Max Brooks novel, I would think is precisely the film that my aforementioned lovely young Co-Teacher would absolutely, positively not see as the zombies on display and prepared to end the world as we know it are a relentless, rapacious and endlessly ravenous bunch and the film itself barely takes a moment to breathe. That said, what surprised me is how after all of the carnage, the peril and the anxiety, how it didn't really add up to much, so little that the experience almost felt to be a bit disingenuous and even more consumer driven than artistically so.
"World War Z" begins without a moment to spare as the world is already careening towards a certain annihilation from an unknown virus. Early one morning as Former U.N. Investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two young daughters (played by Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jerins), are stuck in Philadelphia rush hour, the streets erupt into chaos and violence as zombies rush the city. Gerry and his family narrowly escape certain death and subsequent infection and "zombification" throughout the day and night until they are all rescued by Gerry's former colleague Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena), a U.N. Deputy Secretary-General, and transported to an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean.
Gerry is soon (and reluctantly) convinced to return to the field to assist a young virologist with discovering the origin of the virus but when the virologist is accidentally killed during a zombie attack, Gerry is forced to restlessly travel around the globe to complete the work that has begun, potentially saving the remainder of humankind.
From the first few images, Marc Forster paces "World War Z" as if trapped inside of a fever dream that reuses to end. It is a masterfully conceived series of cliffhangers and narrow escapes set within a visual cinematic landscape of cataclysm and terror that never slows down terribly much for you to gather your bearings, much like the characters who are fighting for survival. What I also appreciated greatly is how effectively Forster staged his large scope action set pieces (of which there are many), where they are all visually coherent, instantly involving and perilous enough where you are tricked into thinking that even Brad Pitt, the star of the film, could perish at any moment. The action sequences never felt to be bludgeoning to me as they were emotionally resonant, especially when the zombies are on the scene and on the unending attack.
Now, truth be told, I have essentially avoided all things (although I did love Director Danny Boyle excellent 2002 thriller "28 Days Later") zombie in the media, regardless of quality and entirely due to its over-saturation (like vampires and as I have also said, even superheroes are making me weary). I have to admit to having somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction in that regard, and beyond that, I have never found zombies to be terribly interesting creatures or even creatures to fear (perhaps due to their slowness in those old monster movies). What Forster has achieved so strongly with his zombies is not by only increasing their speed ferociously but how he places the zombies into the action. He rarely lingers upon these figures, preferring them to be experienced with quick shots and imagery--like their herky-jerky bodies and gnashing, chomping teeth--leaving their grotesqueness intact and the mounting fear of being eaten and dismembered by such creatures very primal. Several times during "World War Z," I could almost begin to understand why that lovely, young Co-Teacher of mined housed such a fear of zombies as Forster makes them a formidable enemy.
Brad Pitt, on the other hand, made for a most convincing and engaging hero to follow around the world from Philadelphia to South Korea, to Jerusalem, to Wales and finally, Nova Scotia. He is intrepid, steadfast, and courageous of course, but the intense bond he forges with his family in the film gave him the sensitivity and overall humanity the character, and the film as a whole, truly needed to be worth watching at all, as far as I am concerned, especially as I have also grown terribly weary of emotionless CGI death and destruction. Pitt is so effective in the role that even though he escapes from the jaws of oblivion more times than Indiana Jones, James Bond and Jason Bourne combined, you buy the fantasy due to the gravity he gives to the role and to everything that surrounds him.
What bothered me about "World War Z" was when the film reached its final stretches and ultimate conclusion, such as it is. For a film that runs just a hair under two hours, and as effective as it is, it also felt to be so inconsequential and even incomplete. Once the film ended, it just struck me that Forster--or even the Hollywood-powers-that-be, better yet, were smelling "franchise" and ended up creating a motion picture that never really amounts to anything at all as it has no resolution, has no ending at all and apparently has no other purpose than to make another one whether it necessary or not. Really?! For everything the film places our hero and audience through (and that the source material itself is only one book), I would think that it would have behooved the filmmakers to create something that, at least, felt...complete and not like a film that essentially has an invisible "To Be Continued..." upon the screen for no other reason than to dip into our pockets for one more go-around. It just didn't feel pure and because of that feeling of blatant commerce over art and even entertainment, it left a sour taste in my mouth once everything was said and done.
Which is a shame as there is a lot to admire about "World War Z," a grim popcorn movie that is creative, inventive, involving and thrillingly entertaining. I guess the real relentless, rapacious and endlessly ravenous bunch of zombies to truly be feared are the Hollywood executives who are just itching to keep taking chomps out of our wallets!