I'm told (by people who would know) that Max Brooks' "World War Z" is an exceptionally good book, an epic, globe-spanning "oral history"--modeled on Studs Terkel's "The Good War"--of an apocalyptic uprising of Romeroesque flesh-eating zombies Definitely my cup 'o tea and one I'll likely imbibe in the near future.
I have, unfortunately, already seen how Hollywood treated the tale. Conceptually, the film's creators immediately disposed of the successful book, putting it through
the usual creative gang-rape--I'm told the biggest similarity
between it and the eventual film is its title--and rendering the film adaptation as a typical Hollywood tentppole, a huger-than-huge action extravaganza with a Big Name Star in front of it (Brad Pitt), shot on a budget that more closely resembles the gross domestic product of a small nation. As with anything on which an American studio spends that kind of money, it's made by a committee, filled with computer-generated effects spectacles to ooh and aah the bumpkins, plotted, shot and edited in Attention-Span-Optional mode, watered down to a PG-13 rating so as not to keep the kiddies away and dumbed down to serve the needs of the dumbest son of a bitch who may wander into a theater to watch it.
I've lived long enough to have
seen the birth of the tentpole pictures. The ones that caught fire in
my youth and created the trend made their big piles of money because
they were actually good, or that's what I'd like to think. Am I
wrong in that? The pictures were good and all these years later
hold up but was this really a relevant factor in their success in those
days? Were people really just paying for empty spectacle all along? To
see the sorry state of this kind of movie now and contemplate the
paradoxically obscene piles of money the pictures make anyway... it makes my head hurt. With few exceptions, I don't watch these kinds of movies anymore.
I do watch zombie movies from time to time though, and this was the most expensive film ever made in that particular subgenre. Not that its creators wanted you to know it was of that particular subgenre. I saw WWZ because my uncle inexplicably bought it, and something I noticed in looking over his copy is that nowhere on the packaging does it
mention that it has anything to do with zombies or that it's even a
horror picture. The full description on the back reads:
"'The suspense in killer!' raves Peter Travers of Rolling Stone
in this fast-paced, pulse-pounding action epic. Former United Nations
investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is in a race against time to save
both his family and the world from a pandemic that is toppling
governments and threatening to destroy humanity itself. David Denby of The New York Times calls World War Z 'the most gratifying action spectacle in years!'"
I was surprised to read, there, that Peter Travers was in the movie--the revelation does make you wonder why a studio that spends
$190 million on a movie can't pay someone a few bucks to write competent
ad-copy for them. That aside, the DVD cover reflects the description--it's just Brad
Pitt with a gun, looking like he's dressed for action while helicopter
gunships fly by in the background. The studio suits apparently decided to conceal WWZ's zombie-ness in order to up its
"mainstream" appeal. Because, y'know, zombies aren't "mainstream." That's why no one paid to see the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake or ZOMBIELAND or the infinite RESIDENT EVIL films, no one watches THE WALKING DEAD, no one read Brooks' "World War Z" and no studio spent $190 million to turn the latter into a movie. Twice.
Though only one film was released, WWZ was, in effect, filmed twice. It wasn't just made; it was remade. Officially, there was only a round of "reshoots" to fix the ending. In reality, the
suits saw the finished film, realized it was a disaster and, in effect,
ordered it remade. The "reshoots" had a seven-week shooting schedule and reportedly cost something between $20 million and $65 million. That's a remake. Looking over the version that was released--an utterly moronic piece of shit that
wasn't worth the guitar picks that were precluded birth in order to make
it--one shudders at the thought of how bad the original cut must have been. Only the eventual theatrical release made its way to video.
WWZ chucked the shuffling ghouls of Brooks' book and, instead,
followed and expanded upon one of the least fortunate trends in
contemporary zombie pictures; the dead are hyperactive, rocket-fast
sprinters. Rather than being a disadvantage, death supercharges them, and WWZ ups the ante by making them more like ants; they're dead and supposed to be dumb but they seem to have a hive mind that lets them work together toward a common goal and they run all over one another like ants from a hill in ways that are physically impossible for humans and look even more comically absurd on film than they would sound if I described them. There's no humanity in them. They aren't particularly ghoulish in appearance either. They don't eat people like Brooks' zombies because that kind of carnage would kick the whole affair above the contractually-obligated PG-13 rating. Instead, they just bite folks. Bite them in order to spread the disease. Central to the film's plot--WWZ tries to make a big mystery of it--is the fact that the zombies ignore people with terminal illnesses. They only bite healthy people because that's what the disease infecting them wants. But the disease kills its victims in, quite literally, 10 seconds. They count it out on screen.
If that makes any sense to you, you're probably of WORLD WAR Z's target audience. And shame on you.
 Depressingly, the director of record for WWZ is Marc Forster, who, at one point in life, made flicks like EVERYTHING PUT TOGETHER (2000) and the incredible MONSTER'S BALL. Marc, you break my heart.
 Filmmakers who make horror pictures then explain they aren't really
horror pictures have, of course, been a running joke in horror fandom
for literally decades.
UPDATE (22 March, 2014) - As I posted this in some venues around the internet, one of the responses that came to me more than once was that I didn't outline a lot of the particular idiocies of the film itself. It's true one could write a long article indeed cataloging WWZ's many idiocies. Throughout the film, for example, our hero travels around the world and the situation with the zombies goes to shit as soon as he comes on the scene. The zombies had to wait for the star of the movie to arrive, you see. That's the kind of "plotting" at work in WWZ. As someone on one of the IMDb message boards observed, if Pitt's character had just stayed away, all that mayhem could have been avoided. Another example of idiocy is when Pitt's character is trying to be stealthy and sneak past a gaggle of zombies and he leaves the ringer on his sat-phone turned on. And--wouldn't you know it?--his awful wife chooses that very moment to call. The ringing alerts the creatures and Pitt's team is wiped out. And so on. In WWZ, these inanities are ubiquitous. They're also ubiquitous in nearly every big Hollywood "tentpole" film and my article was really a lament over how bad that kind of film had gotten and over the process that gives birth to such rubbish. I understand why readers of an article of that nature might be skeptical of building on that kind of premise without quantifying it with specifics. That's why I just decided, at nearly 4 in the morning, to tack on this little update.