Over the summer, my wife and daughter went up to Hershey Park (an amusement park in the state of Pennsylvania) to see One Direction in concert. So what does that have to do with zombies?
Well, it freed me up to go see an action movie about zombies: World War Z. I enjoyed the movie, so much that I wrote a review on Facebook (since I didn’t have this blog at the time.) It was a pretty long review, plus observations on book to movie adaptations and Richard Matheson’s excellent vampire novel I Am Legend. The review was so long, it took me two nights (and two Facebook postings) to cover WWZ.
Below is my original WWZ review from July 5th, 2013, part one. (And here is Part two.)
(In the future, I hope my review/recaps/observations will be better organized. But don’t hold your breath.)
World War Z Review, by Pat Sponaugle (that would be me.)
I’ll point out that I have no reasonable credentials as a movie reviewer, except that I actually saw the movie.
I’m going to ramble a bit and be non-spoilery, then I will talk about the book that the movie’s name comes from, and then I will actually bring up some spoilery bits about the movie. Be warned. I’ll give a heads up when I get to those parts.
By the way, if a zombie outbreak ever happens, I’d want it to be the movie WWZ type of outbreak, and not a Walking Dead kind of outbreak. If either happened, you’d all be welcomed to the Sponaugle Fortress of Solitude in West Virginia. That’s right, I invited you all.
THE REVIEW (STILL NON SPOILERY)
I just got back from World War Z, a summer action movie zombie movie. Brad Pitt is the star and it will surprise no one (well, there’s always someone who can be surprised I guess) that he’s a big damn action hero, and he takes the hero journey of saving us all from an outbreak that turns humans into scary human-biting monsters.
I liked it.
In the spoiler section, I’ll discuss some plot points that I originally did not like but then had a dramatic reversal, as is my wont.
It’s not a great movie but there are some great set pieces. It’s only loosely based on Max Brook’s excellent book of the same name, but there were some echo-ey shadowy vibrations from the book that made it into the movie (possibly unintentional.)
If you are avoiding seeing it because you are afraid it will just suck, it doesn’t suck. It’s not bad. I think it’s worth watching and then talking about. And it’s not just because Brad Pitt is a damn fine looking dude. (The zombies agree with me. I could see the admiration for him and his excellent hair in their murky cataracty eyes.)
WHAT? THERE WAS A BOOK? WAS IT GOOD? WAS THE MOVIE A LOT LIKE THE BOOK? (I will now give details about Max Brook’s wonderful post-zombie war documentary/anthology thing.)
Yes, the movie was based on a book, go read it. The book was great. The movie was not a lot like the book, but was sorta kinda faithful in some ways.
The book takes place roughly seven years after a global zombie virus pandemic has been fought and won. The main character in the book is a UN staffer who has interviewed a ton of survivors; the book is made up of his interviews put together in such a way that a narrative of the zombie war emerges.
It covers the initial breakout and spread, the initial failure to contain, the collapse of society as things go badly, the turning point when humans get their act together, and the eventual victory.
Gosh, I spoiled the book.
Not really. It’s a cool read, even if you know ahead of time that the guy is interviewing survivors seven years after the war ended with human victory.
The book is gripping but possibly unfilmable. I mean, I’d go see it if it was a movie based on short vignettes of people’s survival stories. But I don’t know if I would expect a studio to fund a project. A documentary-style mini-series maybe, but TV already has an excellent zombie project in the Walking Dead.
TIME FOR SPOILERS. I promise they will not be super-spoilery… but sort of spoilery. You decide if you want to read more, I have given you fair warning.
Okay. In the book, the zombies were the slow moving shambling type of zombie. And they’d bite the hell out of you. Yeah buddy.
The movie zombies are the fast zombie types that are more common nowadays. I’m not talking the faster than shambling type we see on Walking Dead, I’m referring to the adrenaline-on-PCP type that are more similar to the super-charged feral raged-out cannibals from 28 Days later. (Those are not zombies by the way. I agree with the consensus that to be a zombie, you have to be dead, not just really angry and contagious.)
This didn’t turn me off too much, but it’s a different tone, and a different emotional connection that I then have with the heroes, or for humanity. Slow shambling zombies make for tragedy, and fast zombies make for pathos. For you non drama majors out there (and by the way, drama majors can correct me if I am wrong) in a good tragedy, a tragic figure is one who is the architect of his downfall. Overweening pride or some other character flaw causes the person’s downfall. Ned Stark might be called a tragic figure, since his honor lead him to take a huge risk. But I love Ned Stark, so I’ll punch anyone who says he did anything wrong.
Pathos on the other hand is like tragedy but it’s where Shit Happens. The gods don’t like the pathetic figure and it really doesn’t matter much in what they do.
I think fast zombies are super unfair. Slow zombies are bad, but you can take a lot of steps to avoid them, you can prepare, you might make good decisions and survive. Fast Zombies are just too freaking fast to give you a chance to do any of that. Sure, characters survive fast zombies too, but it just seems that they get by more on luck and not by making good decisions (or failing to make bad decisions.)
But the benefit of fast zombies is this: we get a lot of hard hitting impacts from them, in mass. The movie really maximized the cinematic kinetic impact of a mob of hard-hitting fast-moving feral undead.
I liked that. It makes for a better movie experience if you want action rather than a Night of the Living Dead style which makes for a more stuck-in-a-siege psychological horror movie.
Okay, Brad Pitt happens to be a former UN guy who is known for being a cool cucumber in a crisis zone. This gets him rescued a few times. I wish I had that cred. I can only imagine that one day in a global crisis, some intelligence officer with an accent will have a face to face with me.
Intel Dude with Dossier: Ah, Patrick Sponaugle. Born in 1964 in Guantanamo Bay.
Me: To be clear, I was born on the American Naval Base AND I could become President. If I was electable.
Intel Dude: Yes yes. I see here that on at least two occasions, fellow co-workers remarked that you write beautifully clean code.
Me: That’s all you have? No “he cuts a mean lawn except for the lawn edging part?” You could have got that from my About.Me page, you clown.
Intel Dude: Regrettably, our dossier is incomplete.
Anyway, that’s the kind of stuff that happens to Brad Pitt. Besides being handsome, everyone wants to help him out. At great risk. But seeing his hair blowing in the breeze, I get it.
Anyway, Pitt does some globe-trotting, and is trying to track down something that will help out with the effort to protect humanity from the zombies. Particularly the zombie “virus.” See, in the Walking Dead, if you get jumped by zombies, it’s going to be AWFUL. If you end up turning into a zombie from being bitten, it means you are a badass and killed them all but got bit or scratched badly enough. Usually, you get eaten so much that there’s nothing to come back. (There are other reasons why there are so many more or less intact zombies in Walking Dead.)
In WWZ, the zombies are motivated to bite you, pretty aggressively, but once bitten they leave you to writhe around and become a zombie too (pretty quickly.) That’s pretty bad news, super contagious, and you’re left intact. But that’s why I would prefer it. I’d rather be bitten and left alone to become a zombie then be freaking eaten alive. We all have our “Would You Rathers” and this is mine.
Okay, big SPOILER.
While Brad is running around, he notices that some people are ignored by the zombies. They don’t even look at them really. I noticed this from one of the trailers. I won’t elaborate on this further, other than to say…
How is it that zombies can really sharply identify a human vs. a zombie? Except in Zombieland where (SPOILER) Bill Murray had a great zombie disguise that would fool them. I mean, you would think you could shamble about but no, in most zombie movies, they just know.
This kind of plays into the movie to become a dumb action movie plot point. Hooray for Brad Pitt!
Remember, when killing zombies, it’s best to do it quietly.
(I wasn’t done talking. Here’s the Second Part)
Images from World War Z (the movie!)
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved