World War Z

Director: Marc Forster
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof (screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski; based on the novel by Max Brooks)
Stars: Brad Pitt (Gerry Lane), Mireille Enos (Karin Lane), Daniella Kertesz (Segen), James Badge Dale (Captain Speke), Ludi Boeken (Jurgen Warmbrunn), Matthew Fox (Parajumper), Fana Mokoena (Thierry Umutoni), David Morse (Ex-CIA Agent), Elyes Gabel (Andrew Fassbach), Peter Capaldi (W.H.O. Doctor), Pierfrancesco Favino (W.H.O. Doctor), Ruth Negga (W.H.O. Doctor), Moritz Bleibtreu (W.H.O. Doctor), Sterling Jerins (Constance Lane), Abigail Hargrove (Rachel Lane), Fabrizio Zacharee Guido (Tomas)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2013
Country: U.S.
World War Z Blu-ray 3D
World War ZIn World War Z, the world goes to zombie hell, but where it differs from so many other recent zombie movies is that we actually get to see the world—pretty much the whole world—go to zombie hell. Most movies about the flesh-eating undead rising and taking over the world imply that it is a worldwide phenomenon, but focus their narrative attention on a single location (George A. Romero established this quite brilliantly in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, which takes place almost entirely in and around an isolated Pennsylvania farmhouse, but conveys the enormity of the event via radio and television broadcasts). World War Z, on the other hand, takes us on a guided tour through a world that is being ravished by angry, fast-moving, carnivorous zombies that have been reanimated by an unknown pathogen.

Our guide is Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt, who also produced and was one of the primary forces behind the film getting made), a globe-trotting United Nations inspector who has recently hung up his boots to be a stay-at-home dad. Bad timing, it turns out, as he is quickly called out of retirement by UN under-secretary general Jurgen Warmbrunn (Ludi Boeken), who needs him to help lead a small team of commandos and a neuroscientist into the field to find out the source of the plague that is reanimating the recently deceased. Gerry, his wife Karin (Mireille Enos), and their two young daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove) barely escape with their lives when Philadelphia is overrun, and once they make it onto the safe haven of a fleet of U.S. aircraft carriers floating in the middle of the ocean, it is made clear that either Gerry gets back in the field or his family gets kicked to shore (his status as a reluctant hero, begrudgingly blackmailed into action, gives the film an added edge that helps offset Pitt’s movie-star wattage). Thus, Gerry’s mission to find the source of the plague carries with it a deeply personal charge, as he is simultaneously working on the enormous task of saving humankind and the more close-to-home desire to simply protect his family.

The mission takes him first to an air force base in South Korea, where one of the very first reports of a zombie outbreak was made, and then to Jerusalem, which has temporarily kept out the zombie madness by building an enormous wall around the city, and finally to Wales, where Gerry hopes that a World Health Organization research center might help him find the key to curing the zombie plague. The place-to-place narrative structure of the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan (State of Play), Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods), and Damon Lindelof (Prometheus)—the latter two of whom were apparently called in to completely rewrite the final third of the story in the middle of production—gives the film a sense of rhythm, albeit one that starts to become a little too familiar as Gerry ends up having to run for his life from each place he visits, no matter how safe it first appears (that giant wall around Jerusalem is no match for hundreds and hundreds of frustrated zombies who are willing to pile on top of each other like insects to get to the top).

Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, The Kite Runner) proves adept at shifting tones in a way that doesn’t give us whiplash. There isn’t a whole lot of comedy to be found (things are pretty dour, given the state of the world), but he does manage a balancing act of interpersonal drama, action thrills, and straight-up horror (albeit of the relatively bloodless PG-13 variety in which zombie munching and limb hacking take place just off-screen). The film’s early scenes display a good sense of narrative economy, as we are quickly introduced to Gerry and his family, giving us just enough to make us care about them before they are trapped in a traffic jam in downtown Philly that turns into a run-for-your-life horrorshow as zombies start attacking and their victims quickly turn (one of the film’s cleverest gambits shows us just how quick the transformation is by using the sound of a child’s toy counting to twelve while a recent zombie victim changes from a corpse to ravenous undead).

That sequence sets the tone for the film’s best thrills, which almost always rely on the terror of space rapidly collapsing, leaving you no place else to run—the very essence of panic, which is the film’s primary emotional register. Each of the film’s major setpieces involves Gerry and others running from the oncoming zombie hoards that are growing larger by the second, as their victims turn and join them. Interestingly, this particular kind of gutpunch horror works in both the wide open spaces of a major city and in the constrictive confines of an airplane in midflight; in the former scenario, it’s the sheer numbers that are so terrifying, in the latter it’s the complete lack of anywhere to go. Either way, you’re screwed, and the film conveys the gravity of massive loss of life in a way that films like Man of Steel, with all their thundering, deadening CGI grandiosity, don’t.

World War Z has had a notoriously troubled production history, the details of which have been discussed in numerous venues, but suffice it to say that the tensions on the set and creative clashes behind the scenes are not manifested in the film itself, which plays cohesively and feels all of a piece. One of the major changes was the shift to a more action-oriented ethos, away from the political and social issues that were so important to Max Brooks’s faux-oral history source novel, which provides a title and a few characters and not much more. Perhaps a more interesting movie could have been made with a richer subtext than what World War Z turned out to be, but it is entertaining and engaging enough to help us forget that higher aspirations might have been sacrificed to produce something more summer blockbuster friendly.

World War Z Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

Aspect Ratio2.40:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Portuguese
  • “Origins” featurette
  • “Looking to Science” featurette
  • “Outbreak” featurette
  • “The Journey Begins” featurette
  • “Behind The Wall” featurette
  • “Camouflage” featurette
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateSeptember 17, 2013

    Paramount’s three-disc set of World War Z includes the original theatrical cut on a Blu-ray 3D, an extended version of the film on a standard Blu-ray, and the theatrical cut on DVD. The Blu-ray 3D is impressive throughout, with stunning detail that makes the film’s numerous aerial shots of Philadelphia, Jerusalem, and dozens of ships congregating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean look all the more impressive. The film’s color schemes vary widely, as director Marc Forster wanted each major sequence to have its own “look.” Hence, the grayish attack on Philadelphia on an overcast morning looks strikingly different from the sun-drenched attack on Jerusalem in the hot, arid afternoon. Blacks are well presented and shadow detail is robust, which is particularly important in the South Korea sequence, which could have looked terribly muddy. The 3D presentation works quite well, even if the three-dimensionality was done in postproduction. There is a good sense of depth, particularly in the wide shots, although some of the more mundane interior shots don’t fare as well. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel surround soundtrack is superb, with great depth, spaciousness, and aural detail. The screeching zombies, crashing vehicles, and screaming victims surround us on all sides with great intensity and fidelity. My only complaint is that the levels seem a bit off, with the dialogue needing more volume at times.
    I honestly can’t say that I am surprised that there is virtually no mention of the film’s troubled production—creative clashes on-set, major rewrites to the script that changed much of the film’s focus, the discarding of entire sequences, and expensive reshoots that extended the production schedule and pushed back the release date—in the supplements. But, I’m still a bit disappointed. What we get instead is about 45 minutes of featurettes that paint a much tidier view of the film’s conception and production. In “Origins,” several of the film’s collaborators discuss how the film came to be, with particular emphasis on issues of adapting Max Brooks’s novel, while in “Looking to Science,” a number of scientists (including an evolutionary biologist who studies “zombie ants”) talk about how the zombie behavior in the film was influenced by animal behaviors in nature. Under the heading “WWZ: Production,” we get four separate featurettes running about 36 minutes total that focus on different sequences in the film: “Outbreak” looks at the zombie attack in Philadelphia (which was actually Glasgow standing in for Philly); “The Journey Begins” looks at the sequence in which Gerry arrives in South Korea; “Behind the Wall” explores the elaborate stunts and use of massive crowds in the sequence in Jerusalem (played by Malta); and finally “Camouflage,” which looks at the film’s final sequence at the WHO facility in Wales. All of the featurettes are interesting and include lots of good behind-the-scenes footage, but it still feels a bit overly whitewashed, especially since virtually everyone knows that the film had a troubled production history.

    Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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