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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 21, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 25
It's alive! - Zombie-filled War puts humanity front and center
Arts & Entertainment
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It's alive! - Zombie-filled War puts humanity front and center

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WORLD WAR Z - Opens June 21

I'll admit right from the start that I have not read author Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. I cannot comment on how director Marc Forster's (Quantum of Solace) adaptation World War Z, scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom), Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods), and Damon Lindelof (Prometheus), with a story by Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski (Underworld: Awakening), compares. But according to those I know and trust the only thing the movie version has in common with its literary counterpart is the title, and the fact that it treats a zombie outbreak as a universal pandemic. The similarities stop right there.

Honestly? I'm OK with that. Truth of the matter is that I got a major kick out of World War Z, the zombie-infused procedural playing much like an adrenalized B-grade reinterpretation of Contagion or The Andromeda Strain and I can't say I was bothered by that one little bit. The movie hits the ground running and then refuses to let up, moving along with pinpoint precision building to a quietly chilling conclusion that some will undoubtedly consider slight but that I felt was emotionally honest and borderline refreshing. In an age when bombast and chaos rule (see Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, or countless other similar-scale blockbusters for proof on that count), Forster and company go in a direction that's far more intimate and personal, staying true to their main character's central narrative in a way that's moderately surprising.

I understand this wasn't always the case. The movie was delayed more than six months for extensive reshoots, apparently instigated by producer/star Brad Pitt, the whole last third completely rewritten and re-engineered after test audiences didn't respond kindly. A reported $200 million or more was spent on this behemoth, columnists suggesting Pitt and Forster locked heads and the way things in the film climax have more to do with the former than they do with the latter - the director almost given his walking papers if some reports are to be believed.

But I can only talk about the movie itself, and whatever internal conflict there might have been and however chaotic, behind schedule, and over-budget the shoot might have proven to be, there are precious few signs of this madness in the finished product. The movie moves with precision and tenacity, its strength of focus its single greatest asset. It has undeniable urgency that is mesmerizing, the air of tension hovering above the proceedings enough to keep me happily glued to my seat for nearly every second of its almost two-hour running time.

WHO IS THIS GUY?
Not that I mean to say all is perfect. Character development takes a back seat to the world-shattering zombie Armageddon, and the central concept of former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt) dragged back into service to investigate the outbreak's beginnings while longing to get back to his beloved wife (Mireille Enos) and kids (Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins) is not exactly complex. What's more, there are times when, as Lane trots around the globe, going from Korea to Israel to Nova Scotia in what feels like the blink of an eye, it isn't entirely clear what his qualifications for this assignment are, or why he's seemingly the only one on the planet capable of succeeding. While his observation skills are second-to-none, it isn't as though he's a trained soldier (he could be, I guess, but nobody ever says so, even in passing) or a super-smart scientist (the fact of which is repeated throughout), so it's anyone's guess as to why he's the key man in solving the riddles of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Be that as it may, this film worked for me. Lane thinks on his feet and makes decisions on the fly, never wavering from his mission while still holding out hope he can find a solution. More, the movie comments on zombie conventions and then gleefully subverts them, one one-handed survivor in particular going against the grain of genre cliché in a way that feels daringly authentic.

But the best thing about World War Z is how willing it is to get quiet, how open it is to slow things down and not let events get overrun by spectacle. While there are some gigantic moments, while certain sequences of zombie chaos - most notably an invasion inside a walled-off Israeli stronghold - are stunning, Forster, Pitt, and company allow the movie to take breaths, allow it to grow calm even as mayhem and madness do their best to overwhelm the proceedings. In a summer where destruction and devastation have ruled, they've had the temerity to craft a mega-budgeted blockbuster that remembers to keep the human element at the forefront, the heart of the piece beating with a strength and resilience that I borderline adore.

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