Monday, August 15, 2011

World War Z

So, I'm not a big fan of irrational anger. And I try not to allow myself to get irrationally angry. But when I heard the initial reports on the now filming World War Z (hereforth referred to as 'WWZ') I, like so many others, had a gut reaction to it.

The book, somewhat needless to say, was amazing. And the reason it was amazing was because it took a genre that has been, in various ways, done to death and breathed new life into it.

WWZ was scary, sure. But that is not at all the point of the book. Any fear you may feel is secondary to a far deeper story. Which isn't to say that the writing isn't gripping when it describes the wail of the undead coming from decaying throats. But that's just gravy on top of a far more beefy and filling meal.

No, WWZ is not a horror novel. It is an intricate tapestry weaving together stories that examine the cultural, political, religious, environmental, scientific, familial, psychological, geological, historical, biological and philosophical impact of undead walking the earth. Wonder how zombies change the landscape of warfare? He answers that question. Wonder how technology is impacted? He answers that question. Wonder what a horde of zombies looks like from space? Yup, that too. There wasn't a single thing I could think of that he didn't cover. And he covered each and every one in the most intimate way possible: first hand accounts.

So that's the book. Now what about the movie?

When I was reading it there were several stories that, in my mind, begged to be put on a big screen. The writing is such that you can visualize a lot of things in brilliant detail and you sort-of make your own movie in your mind's eye. So that's obviously not the problem.

The format of the book is similar to that of the movie: one person getting several different first hand accounts from people all over the world. That, in and of itself, could be a problem. But with a decent budget you could do it. And with Brad Pitt on board I have to imagine they have a decent budget. So that's obviously not the problem.

The problem, it seems, is the premise. The idea behind World War Z is that it happened. The dead walked the earth and everything changed. The idea behind the movie is that it is happening. The synopsis (according to the press release) involves "a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself." See the issue?

When you listen to people who lived through WW2 or Vietnam or whatever there is an overwhelming sense of being caught up in something beyond your control. The events that changed everything you knew about your world and your very existence were beyond your control and you were simply caught up in the fury, doing your best to survive. That's the sense you get from WWZ. You're looking at the world from the other side of a wall and you can never see it the way you did before it happened.

Simply using the words "race against time to stop" puts the storyteller back in control. Yes, there is this threat- but we're going to beat it. We'll save the world, prevent the apocalypse and be heroes.

It's like the giant asteroid idea that spawned two giant movies a few years back. I loved "Deep Impact" and hated "Armageddon" for many of these same reasons. Deep Impact had a lot of what WWZ has- different people in different circumstances with different points of view. It's poignant because you see things through their eyes and the fact that it does happen- the giant asteroid does hit- is what makes it good. Armageddon, while it had many, many other flaws- lacked that main ingredient. There was no sense of hopelessness or having to accept the uncontrollable. There were just another bunch of hot-shot douches saving the world.

WWZ, while examining so many different worlds, has one uniting factor: these people survived. It happened, no one could stop it, it effected every human being on the planet, decimated the human race and these people survived. That's it- the essence of WWZ. Changing the timing and putting people back in control changes everything.

Some of the scenes can be done- as I said earlier. They'll look great on screen if you get anyone worthwhile at the helm. But these stories were told by people who had survived uncontrollable circumstances. Who they are now telling these stories now, a decade of unimaginably hard living later, is huge in making the stories what they are. You can't take that away and leave the essence of the stories intact.

I don't know why the movie execs decided to do what they're doing. My cynical side wants to say that they just didn't care enough to make a good movie- they knew there was money to be made in the zombie genre, original premise and fans of it be damned. But another part of me wonders if they just don't get it.

So, in closing, read the book. It’s just too damned good to miss. Whether or not you see the movie, know that it is NOT the book. It may be a fun zombie movie- but that's all it can be. Another fan said it best, I think. "Of course we're all still seeing it, but what we're seeing isn't 'World War Z,' plain and simple."

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