Literature has always been a treasure trove of inspiration for movie-makers, and some of the best movies ever made are book adaptations. The quality of these adaptations sadly wavers from terribly low to incredibly high, from low-investment money grubbing schemes and to reels that end up being a better version of the story than the original source material.
The movie I went to see on the 27th of June -day of release in Italy- doesn’t fall in either of the two categories. No, it’s much worse than what I thought. I was honestly not prepared to see something like this when I went in.
The World War Z movie is for zombies what Twilight was for vampires.
Yes, it’s that bad. I was expecting it to not be that good ever since I saw in the trailer that they didn’t even get the speed of the zombies from the book right, but… I digress. Let’s go at this in order.
World War Z from Max Brooks is one of my favorite books. Sort of a sequel to his first book The Zombie Survival Guide, it’s a fictional non-fiction book, a researcher’s recollection and story of a war waged all over the planet between humanity and the zombie plague through interviews to the people who survived it.
This is a great book. It’s very immersive and awfully detailed. My mind boggles at the amount of research it must have gone into this. Max Brooks tackles his fictional war from beginning to end, on all stages and all levels. From the first infection to the retreat of humanity to the comeback to the adjustment. From families to politicians to astronauts. From medical to psychological to social. Every single angle you can think of regarding such an event, Max Brooks covers it. Nothing is left to be desired.
Each chapter is profoundly different from the others, each one a story that could be easily expanded into a book of its own. A tease, if you will, and a darn good collection of teases. I’d suggest this book to everyone, even those who are not a fun of Zombie literature. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll discover a great talent in Max Brooks.
If I had to pick a favorite chapter, it’d have to be the one with the interview with the hospitalised woman and her recount of a sunday mass gone wrong. Really wrong.
I’ll give the movie judgment in two different lights. As a stand-alone movie, and compared to the original book.
As a stand-alone movie
Taken alone, this movie is bad. It’s really bad, just like Twilight was for the simple reason that it’s calling itself something that it isn’t. It calls itself a zombie movie, it calls the things in it zombies, but you won’t find a single zombie in the movie.
Just like you won’t find a single vampire in Twilight. There have been tweaks on the zombie concept before, but never like this. This desecrating.
These beings run like speedsters, climb like chimpanzee and tackle people. These beings prefer to bite at the wrist, for some reason. These beings do not stop to eat. You read that right. They do not stop to eat, which is what zombies are supposed to do. That’s part of what makes them so terrifying, they’re a visual realization of a fear that accompanies us since we’re children. Most of our traditional fables have unfortunate characters end up eaten, devoured, swallowed, and so on.
This movie wants to be a zombie movie with a PG-13 rating. My twelve years old brother could have watched this no problem.
But of course, I would be shallow if that was the only reason I considered this movie bad. There’s the usual clichés of the one man finding a way to fight back, scenes that are shoe-horned in -what kind of idiot lets go of his only weapon in a sure-death zone to punch in a code for an automated door?-, and a long list of other nonsense.
But at the end of the day, what makes it a really bad movie is that it could have been good. The actors are good, and the writing is not terrible, but it could have been great.
There’s a scene in the last quarter of the movie where three people have to sneak by a glass door unseen by idle zombies. It’s the best two minutes of the movie, because in that single scene you can see a perfect understanding from the makers of how to make a zombie movie and what makes the slow creepers so terrifying.
You see no trace of that understanding and finesse in the rest of the movie.
Compared to the Source
It has no respect for it. It takes nothing from it. Not the zombies. Not the pacing. Not the information. Nothing. Just the name, to pander to the fans of the book to get the cash rolling in.
In the book, no one has any idea, even after the war, what happened to North Korea. Its whole population disappeared, the entire country went silent. In the movie, North Korea ripped out the teeth of its entire population to stop contagion. Because, yeah, it’s not like they have to worry about the rest of the world, right?
In the book, there’s no cure or immunity to be found even years after the war. In the movie, they find a way to immunize themselves a couple weeks into the conflict. And of course, it’s found by an american.
I’m not a person who thinks a movie adaptation has to be a line by line adaptation of the movie, but they didn’t even try to make it one. Why didn’t they? The movie was there already.
Make it a documentary styled movie. Follow the researcher as he goes around collecting testimonies. End it with the introduction, with him deciding to publish everything that his superiors decided not to include in the report. Invest in special effects for the flashbacks. From Yonkers to the siege on the New York estate to the church to South Africa.
Instead, they gave us a bad PG-13 zombie movie with no zombies that only has the name of a great book.
If you want a good zombie movie, look elsewhere. If you want a good infected movie, look elsewhere, because World War Z is not humble enough to call himself that. For the first, I’d suggest the 2004 adaptation of Dawn of the Dead. The zombies are fast, but at least they don’t tackle. For the latter, you can’t go bad with 28 Days Later. (Or, if you have a PS3, get The Last of Us. Be prepared to cry, though.)
And if you’re looking for a good adaptation of a great book, stay the hell away from World War Z.
- ‘World War Z’: Compelling speculative history (rappler.com)
- Movie Review: World War Z (alexclmovies.wordpress.com)
- Have to say this – World War Z is not a zombie movie (amanwithaphd.wordpress.com)