World War Z is Proof That You Should Never Stray Too Far From the Book

World War Z (2013)

When it was originally announced that the Max Brooks book, World War Z, was going to be turned into a live action film, plenty of fans were excited. So it comes as to no surprise that the actual film itself was a massive disappointment when the studio decided to not follow the book at all. In fact, the film hardly resembles the events or even spirit of the book that it would have been fine being named as a completely different movie altogether. So that begs the question, what really is WWZ the book and what on Earth is this movie?

What is World War Z, the Movie?

Before we talk about the book, let’s talk about the movie. World War Z is a 116 minute long Brad Pitt semi-action movie that is set in a world overrun by zombies. Pitt plays the role of Gerry Lane, a UN investigator who is trying to investigate the zombie outbreak (probably in the purpose of finding a cure or solution to the problem). Lane’s quest takes him to various locations across the planet; he encounters groups of survivors ranging from the badly overrun to the well-organized, and of course, eventually discover something important about the zombie plague/virus/whatnot. In between his mis-adventures as an investigator, the film interjects the plight of his family aboard one of the few safe locations on the planet: an American battlecruiser.

Where it All Comes Apart

On paper, that actually sounds like a plot for a pretty interesting film. Sure, it has completely nothing to do with World War Z, the book, but as a movie with a completely different name, it works. The problem comes with two big issues: first it does have World War Z as a name, which is a massive waste of acquiring film rights to an IP. The second problem is that aside from the fact that the movie strays from the source material, the execution is not well done.

The book is about the aftermath of the Great Zombie War –which started out as a very one sided battle with humanity coming close to getting wiped out before we all eventually learned to adapt to the cold, hard, and cruel decisions that had to be made in order to survive against the threat of the living dead. Since the narrative is told as a series of interviews from different characters highlighting different parts of the war, it would have been better as an anthology type film (as opposed to having a single massive narrative where there isn’t). There was never any focus for a search for a cure (nor was a cure ever found), and the victory of humanity against the undead was a more practical one, and one that beautifully blended the realities of war and its long-term effects.

World War Z (2013)

Big Names, Little Content

Having a major film star like Brad Pitt in the starring role certainly gave this movie a big boost. And the fact that it premiered right at the height of zombie fever meant that commercially, World War Z was set to becomes a box-office success. And it is. The movie grossed a significant amount of sales and tons of people came to see it. WWZ is a blockbuster Hollywood film with a mindless plot and a focus on giving the audiences a thrill ride. So yeah, if you are looking for a quick watch that does not have to include much emotional or mental stretching then this is a good zombie film to pop in the player.

But if you were one of the many fans of the books who have come to appreciate the depth of the characters, the nuanced balance of broken morality in their decisions, and the emotional impact of the narrative –then expect to be disappointed as the film has not a single bit of that.

The Takeaway

With everything all said and done, is World War Z a good movie? Well, the bottom line is that it is actually enjoyable –in the same way that many shallow comedy/action films are enjoyable. This is a big-budget production B-movie, so yes, there is something here that viewers can actually enjoy. Visually, the effects are quite stunning –seeing that massive wave of zombies act like one huge organic presence makes you feel as if the protagonists are fighting against a gestalt consciousness of flesh eating corpses. So if you happen to be a fan of the books, just forget about the title and accept that this film has nothing to do with it.

The bigger issue here is that WWZ is a testament to the fact that Hollywood’s process of acquiring film licenses is sometimes pointless –they did not even need the book nor its’ title; they could have called this a “Brad Pitt Zombie Film” and still have made just as much money. The sad part is that the success of the movie encourages studios to buy up rights in the hopes of attracting the existing fanbase of source material (in fact, the film is now part of a trilogy with the second film expected to premiere by 2017). Hopefully, if the book ever gets re-adapted, someone else who actually cares about the material will handle it.