The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


World War Z

World War Z is an adaptation of Max Brooks' brilliant novel of the same name. Tackling that book was a tall order. It's an episodic work, examining the repercussions of a global zombie outbreak from every conceivable angle: scientific, religious, financial, medical, moral, you name it. To turn it into a movie, director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) and his team of screenwriters had to essentially create a lead character and generate a more traditional plot. What they came up with bears little resemblance to the source material beyond the general concept, but, despite a few undeniable flaws, it generally works.

Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations employee who is forced back into action when a worldwide pandemic breaks out. He first discovers the problem exists when his native Philadelphia is overrun with zombies. Gerry and his family barely make it out of the city alive. From there, the government ships him to various countries so that he can begin to explore where the problem started and how it might potentially be ended. Each place he visits brings its own dangers, even the supposedly “safe” Jerusalem, which has walled itself off from the threat. Just when it seems that the world may end, Gerry makes a startling discovery that could give humanity a fighting chance against the undead, providing his gamble pays off.

Zombies are a hot commodity in entertainment right now. Most likely, this is because they are scarier than any other literary or cinematic monster. While the undead can be stopped via head shot, the fact is that you can never really get rid of them. They just keep spreading in a way that vampires and werewolves simply do not. The first hour of World War Z runs with this idea, effectively creating the feeling that the pandemic has hit every city, every country. There are astoundingly creepy scenes with scores of undead piling on top of each other, scrambling to get over a wall or chasing prey down in the streets. As Gerry goes to different locales, he sees variations on the same problem. The visual effects are very effective, conveying the ubiquity and the rabid, instinctual movement of the creatures.

The bar has been set pretty high for zombie fare of late. World War Z is less intense than any given episode of The Walking Dead, but there are undeniably suspenseful moments nonetheless. Pleasingly, the movie tries to do more than just offer shocks. Even if it doesn't quite pull everything off, WWZ displays a fair amount of ambition in its desire to explore the macro implications of a global catastrophe. Countries have to work together, people in third world nations are left woefully unprepared to fight the zombies, scientific advancements need to be shared to save lives everywhere, etc. These factors up the stakes, while also giving the movie an intellectual twist that few pictures in the genre have. (Most zombie movies are about little more than mere survival.) This is definitely a thinking person's zombie tale.

Where World War Z suffers is in the shift from first half to second half. It starts to lose its scope, transitioning from a global thriller into a smaller, more intimate one. I hate (hate!) to bring a movie's production history into a review. In this case, though, the production history is directly responsible for the most significant flaw. It has been widely reported that about 40 minutes of WWZ were re-written and re-shot after the original third act was found to be substantially lacking. What they came up with works – but that's about it. What I mean is that the new material technically fits into the narrative, and it certainly provides multiple chills. However, it also gets away from the “big picture” approach the first half takes. Both halves are entertaining in their own way; they just don't seem like they belong in the same movie. It's difficult not to notice how the story switches tracks, moving away from the terrifying concept of a world struggling to save itself from imminent doom and moving toward a more standard “Can a guy outsmart a bunch of zombies?” finale. In other words, the seams show.

The potential was certainly there for World War Z to be an all-time, gold standard-setting entry in the undead genre. As things stand, it is admirably ambitious but also slightly compromised. Very little of Brooks' novel is on the screen, so a sequel is certainly within the realm of possibility. Perhaps if there's a next one, the filmmakers will learn from the mistakes of the original. World War Z still has plenty of merit. It's atmospheric and brainy, with some beautifully executed bits of both mental and physical horror. The movie delivers the basics that you want from a zombie flick. But seriously, read Max Brooks' book. It'll blow you away.

( out of four)

World War Z is rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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