With the zombie epidemic reaching a saturation point in movies and on TV, Paramount, star-producer Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster are hoping to have the final word in the genre with the upcoming “World War Z.”
Paramount recently invited a group of journalists to the lot to preview 15 minutes or so of the film, along with the unveiling of the latest trailer
. Pitt introduced the footage, noting that he’s excited for his kids to be able to see the PG-13 film. As for the film’s zombie mayhem, Pitt said that he, Forster and the other filmmakers “got a little carried away.” Forster stuck around for a short Q&A.
There are some minor spoilers below, but most of what we saw consisted primarily of action scenes, with little dialogue or plot development (and we saw nothing of the film’s ending, of course).
Based on the book of the same name by Max Brooks, “WWZ” finds Pitt (who also produced) playing U.N. worker Gerry Lane, who is charged with traveling the world during the a sudden zombie epidemic, interviewing survivors in order to help arrive at a solution.
Lane, his wife and two young daughters are eye witnesses to the main outbreak in Philadelphia, where a traffic jam is quickly transformed into a melee in which the undead feed on — and infect — the living. Lane sees a man get bitten and deduces how long it takes for a human to be “turned” (about twelve seconds), which will come in handy later. It’s in this scene where viewers will get a subjective account of how society quickly descends into chaos in the face of a new threat.
After a narrow escape, Gerry contacts his UN co-workers who arrange to have the Lane family brought to the relative safety of an aircraft carrier somewhere far away from dry land. In a hi-tech command center, his higher-ups offer Lane a choice: Travel the globe interviewing experts in the hope of finding Patient Zero — and a cure — or return to the overrun streets of Philly. After a tearful goodbye with his wife (Mireille Enos), Lane heads out to Israel.
As in the book, Israel is the first country to take the rumored zombie threat seriously, and the military has built a fortified wall around Jerusalem, ringed by heavy armament and zombie-sniffing dogs. Soon, however, Lane, his interviewee and everyone else is on the run from the ancient city, after the walls are breached by a massive zombie pile-up (as seen in the trailer).
This is where the bulk of the reel’s action took place, with humans chaotically running through the streets of the holy city (actually shot in Malta) as enormous groups of undead descend on the survivors like a swarm of locusts. Pitt has a few close encounters, although we didn’t see him handle any weapons or take down any walkers. As Forster explained in the Q&A, Lane isn’t a traditional hero figure, he’s more of a semi-regular guy who is “not going to kill unless he’s forced to.”
Another narrow escape finds Pitt and his wounded military escort on a crowded commercial plane, where — the trailer indicates — even more hell breaks loose.
The ghouls in “WWZ” have less in common with the spooky, lumbering traditional zombies of George Romero’s films or Brooks’ book than they do with the hyperactive creatures depicted in “28 Days Later” and Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake; they sprint without tiring, jump impossibly far, and generally act like rabid animals with a testosterone overload.
As Forster explained, the film’s zombies aren’t super-powered, they’re just driven by pure, animal instinct; they don’t know when a roof is ending and that the ground is going to fall out from under them. Likewise, they don’t see windows, doors or walls as impediments, they just keep trying to run and push through them in order to feed. They’re like cannibalistic parkour enthusiasts all jacked up on PCP. And that means shots of them head butting their way through windshields in order to chomp on car-bound victims.
At least in the footage presented, viewers never get a good look at what individual zombies look like, or even a hint that they’re individualized at all. Instead, as Forster explained, the undead are presented as a giant flock or swarm, with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of them essentially acting like an angry, brainless mob. In several shots, we were shown humongous hordes of computer-generated zombies moving like Spider-Men through the city streets and preying on helpless humans.
In this way, “WWZ” is less about surviving a widespread epidemic or hiding from terrifying creatures that used to be your friends and family, and more about dealing with a seemingly unstoppable force of nature, the kind more typically seen in a disaster movie.
Like in most zombie lore, a headshot will terminate them, while a kneecapping will simply slow them down.
“WWZ” appears to be very loosely adapted from Brooks’ book, and may have sacrificed the highly-detailed, reflective — and often overtly political — nature of the book’s fictitious interviews in favor of balls-to-the-wall action set pieces.
Go to page two to read more about changes to the book and the film’s re-shoots.
Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Quantum of Solace”) and his multiple writers (Matthew Michael Carnahan, Damon Lindelof, Drew Goddard) condensed the stories and moved the overall narrative to the beginning of the outbreak.
While the book takes place over a decade or so, from initial outbreak to ongoing clean-up efforts, Forster revealed that the film takes place over just a few days, near the beginning of the outbreak. Therefore, many of the book’s stories about the massive, New Deal-style mobilization of the American survivors, the door-to-door clean-up, and the seemingly endless aftermath won’t be seen in the film, although Pitt has hinted that “WWZ” could be the first film in a trilogy. Likewise, Forster noted that some of the book’s characters will be seen fleetingly or at least mentioned in the film, including Jurgen Waimbrunn.
The relentless scenes we saw at Paramount this week offered very little time to breathe, but Forster assured the press that the film does have some reflective moments, in line with Brooks’ book.
Behind the scenes, “Wold War Z” went through numerous hoops and hurdles on its way to the big screen, including financing troubles, a much-publicized run-in with Hungarian anti-terrorists squads
, and last-minute re-writes from “Lost” alumni Lindelof and Goddard
that led to re-shoots, including an altered ending.
Forster noted that there was a “big difference” between what was originally shot and the new ending, although he wouldn’t elaborate on what the difference was. He called the re-shoot process “refreshing,” adding that Bergman and Fellini often re-worked endings upon reflection. However, Bergman and Fellini never made a zombie movie with a rumored budget of $200 million.
The director also remains unfazed by fans who are prematurely upset by the film’s PG-13 rating and its deviations from the book. “There will always be discussion and controversy on every zombie movie,” he contended. “Some zombie fans you will not be able to make happy, and some zombie fans will embrace it”
“I hope that most of the zombie fans will appreciate all the new things we have in the movie that they haven’t seen before in this particular genre,” Forster added.
He described “WWZ” as “a film about a global crisis. Yes, it is a zombie film, but it speaks about some global issues. It might bring in other viewers.”
“World War Z” also stars Julia Levy-Boeken, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, Elyes Gabel and David Morse.
“World War Z” will be released June 21 in 2D and RealD 3D.