“Most people don’t believe something can happen until it already has. That’s no stupidity or weakness, that’s just human nature.”
Having begun his career in blistering fashion, but unfortunately stumbling in recent years, Marc Forster seeks to reignite his cinematic form with an intriguing, yet worryingly loose adaptation of Max Brooks’ acclaimed zombie horror novel. His World War Z reimagining bears little resemblance to its sublime forebear, but that’s part of the reason why he’s able to create such an exhilarating disaster movie brimming with fascinating stories, compelling drama and memorable action set pieces.
Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former UN employee who, having survived the initial Manhattan outbreak, must leave his family and once happy retirement to work for what remains of the US government. Lane is tasked with aiding a young scientist on a journey around the world in search of a cure for the deadly, rapidly spreading infection that has plagued the entire globe.
Having blown an already excessive budget, omitted several scenes and revised and reshot the entire third act, World War Z struggled in production and wasn’t set up for success; especially when you consider the immense scepticism the project received when fans of Brooks’ original novel discovered just how unfaithful Forster’s “adaptation” would be. Despite these pitfalls, its plentiful flaws and plot holes, Forster overcomes each of them with a considerably sensible, self-knowing film that understands its limitations and never once overreaches.
There is something to be credited for the unfaithful approach in the sense that it allows the filmmaker to create an entirely new and justifiable product in its own right. In offering the more innovative and truly captivating experience the original novel may remain the better of the two, but Forster’s film is so well made and constantly entertaining that there is no reason why they can’t happily coexist. Nevertheless, it never quite shakes the lingering disappointment of having little in common with the literature and how so few of Brooks’ haunting scenes made it to screen.
But that isn’t to say there aren’t any memorable scenes at all. Forster’s World War Z is large scale, grand and constantly exciting (save for the conclusion which ends up as a small scale sequence, but is equally satisfying). From the minute it begins the audience are enveloped within the chaos with tight framing, sharp editing and surprisingly effective shaky cam. Traditional slow-moving zombie hordes are replaced with their more entertaining, cinema-friendly cousins, the rapid, almost super(sub)human infected and they provide some extravagant, big budgeted action. It is established early on and repeated throughout how quickly it takes a person to turn, roughly eight seconds, and this keeps the zombie outbreak a constant threat even when they aren’t directly in focus, giving a powerful tension and suspense to otherwise mundane scenes.
Over its course, the film offers necessary breaks in pace for subtle exploration of its themes, most notably matching the central theme from Brooks’ novel of how a zombie outbreak affects social and political structures across the world. Sadly, due to its modest, sub two hour runtime the film doesn’t have the scope afforded to a novel to explore too many different countries. This limitation is not helped by the self imposed restrictions of a modern Hollywood production not wanting to upset foreign markets in order to gain success at their box-offices.
Ultimately, Brooks’ World War Z is too vast and inherently linked to the written word for a literal adaptation that could see a healthy return on its expenses. Many may argue that in that case it would be best left alone, but Forster succeeds in delivering what is as close to the perfect result possible. His adaptation is a mixed bag, but the positives comfortably outweigh the bad. It’s certainly the best disaster movie in years and when you consider the production issues and audience trepidation it had to overcome his adaptation of World War Z is a remarkable triumph.