There’s something about spectacle. The book version of World War Z was all about the literary spectacle, taking the normally claustrophobic zombie story and blowing it up, writ large across the worldwide campus. I’ve always described it as Contagion with zombies – a world wide, political thriller that just happened to feature the undead.
The movie version, as produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B company and starring the man himself, is also all about spectacle, although it mostly jettisons the political thriller aspects. Instead, all of Max Brook’s book’s worldwide intrigue is channeled into the person of Gerry Lane (Pitt), a former UN specialist turned stay at home Dad. He and his family are peacefully traveling through the city when the zombie apocalypse begins, and he is specially recruited by the shambles of the US government to help fight the impending disaster. There’s some reason why he’s the only man in the world who can save everyone, but it’s mostly superfluous – of course he is, he’s Brad Pitt.
The movie mostly succeeds. I had walked in expecting a crapfest (although not quite reviled by critics, World War Z was certainly not beloved and it came with a healthy heaping of bad buzz), and instead got a pretty good, if mostly brain dead, zombie film. The characters act believably and intelligently*. Brad Pitt is his normal engaging self. The zombies are legitimately scary, and the film uses its epic budget effectively to really sell the scope of the apocalypse. The conclusion is a little too pat and goofy, but the lead up is good enough and engaging enough that you’re still with it.
While I yearn for a world in which the far more complicated opus created by Max Brooks could be brought to fruition, World War Z is still a really cool entry in the world wide zombie cannon.
*OBLIGATORY FEMINIST CORNER: Hey guys – I almost made it through a whole review without talking about the portrayal of women. Almost. But big surprise – I am about to say really, really good things about the way World War Z treats those with two X chromosomes. Unlike SO. MANY. Big Hollywood films headlined by a male protagonist, World War Z does a GREAT job of making its female characters feel like they have an inner life. There are varied depictions of women, in varying degrees of competence, all of whom act in believable and interesting ways. It’s such a subtle thing, but it made the rest of the goofiness and stupidity a lot easier to take. So way to go, Plan B and World War Z.
Though the film looks awesome on Blu-Ray (and it’s always nice when a physical release also includes a Digital Copy so you can add to your collection without giving up modern convenience), the special features that come with the disc are fairly lame. First of all, an Extended Cut does not count as a Special Feature and it’s the main selling point of the Blu-Ray (the DVD is literally just the theatrical film). But even if it did count, World War Z does not need to be over 2 hours long (or, at least, in this film incarnation it doesn’t) and the new footage doesn’t add anything to the storytelling. The only other feature is a single Behind-the-Scenes featurette on the Blu-Ray disc. Anytime you’re dealing with effects both digital and physical, featurettes are key (the zombie makeup alone…) and this one, seeing how it’s the Only feature on what should be an access-rich Blu-Ray, just isn’t enough. Also, the omission of an audio commentary is ridiculous. I don’t need you to get Brad Pitt to do it; I would have liked to hear from director Marc Forster, or the head of Effects, or (best idea ever!) Max Brooks, who wrote the book the film appears to be based on in no real way.