Unless you read as much movie news as I do (and I read a lot of movie news… too much movie news…) you are probably blissfully unaware of World War Z’s extremely rocky road to becoming a complete film that people could go see in a theater and stuff.
In short, Brad Pitt read a great novel by Max Brooks back in 2006, and wanted very much to turn that novel into a smart, gore-free zombie film that he’d be proud to take his kids to! Which was a foolhardy mission, as anyone who has read and enjoyed World War Z – enthralling, expansive, and completely unadaptable – can tell you.
That was over a half-decade ago; countless rewrites and feuds, and a whopping $200 million later, I don’t know whether Brad Pitt feels he achieved his goals – naming this movie World War Z is tantamount to a bald-faced lie considering how little the film adapts from the book (nothing…), and it’s not exactly something I’d run out to see with a brood of impressionable young tykes in spite of its PG-13 rating. But Pitt can take satisfaction in knowing this: watching the finished product, there is no way to know that World War Z was an overbloated disaster waiting to happen. This is a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, pieced together out of pieces of pretty much every screenwriters’ idea for a big zombie movie, held together with duct tape; but dammit if the corpse itself isn’t beautiful to behold.
So why open this positive review with a tale of cinematic woe if it all has absolutely no bearing on what you can see in theaters today? I tell you about this film’s extraordinarily troubled production not to lord my trivial movie knowledge over you, but to emphasize just how big a wall this movie had to climb in order to enter into the warm embrace of my love, let alone avoid the withering disdain of my eye roll. I admit openly to being poisoned by this film’s dreadful adventure through the marketing grist-mill. I’ve never been more ready to despise a film. So let it stand as a testament to World War Z that, in spite of my marketing contamination, I didn’t just not dislike this film upon seeing the finished product; I adored it.
World War Z, a tightly wound thriller that had me on the edge of my seat and my mouth dry from Philadelphia all the way to Wales, is my platonic ideal of a zombie film – rather than a claustrophobic last stand in a mall, choked with sobs for poor Jenny who’s a zombie now, what Pitt and director Marc Forster give us is a big, world-spanning zombie epic with tremendous tension built across all its set-pieces, none of which require close quarters to be effective. That is until that killer third act maze at the World Health Organization, which was a late addition by my boys Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard. They swooped in and scrapped the ending of this film that was initially shot, which would have featured Pitt’s character being conscripted for years into the Russian army, only being set free once he won the battle of Moscow by freezing the zombies out (so very Russian)… and then discovering that his wife was sleeping with Matthew Fox now. Bummer… In contrast, the version of World War Z we got probably ends on too hopeful a note (the book ends on a hopeful note too, but it feels earned), but, by the end of the film, when Pitt says, in voiceover, “This isn’t the end,” I was whispering “Amen brother.”
A film I had planned to hate (that a lot of people had planned to hate) slayed at the box office, deservedly, practically guaranteeing a sequel, which I will be the first one in line to see. Ultimately, who cares that Pitt and Forster fought endlessly and bitterly to get World War Z to the point where we could talk about its triumph rather than its travails? Who cares that they spent $200 million dollars of Paramount’s money? It wasn’t my money, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about my ten dollars that I laid on the line hoping for a smart, taut zombie thriller. Best ten dollars I spent on summer spectacle all darn year.