So, the first trailer for World War Z came out, and the Internet pretty much went ballistic that it was an action movie with lots of zombies starring Brad Pitt, as opposed to a romantic comedy or something.
It’s been getting roundly mocked, words we’re pretty sure will be eaten come the movie’s actual release, since Marc Forster isn’t exactly a hack.
Far be it from us to throw the usual “books are not movies” argument at you. And yes, World War Z is a great book, but it wouldn’t automatically make a great movie. Here’s why, instead, a faithful “World War Z” movie would actually kinda stink.
It’d Have To Make A Litany of Legal Compromises
Let’s just pick one section of the book, one where a bunch of fame whores get set up in a secure compound and then discover normal people want to survive too. The scene works because Max Brooks carefully dances around identifying people: You know exactly who they are, but Brooks never names them. It’s a gleefully nasty laugh at the expense of people becoming famous for being unlikeable.
Now imagine that scene on film, with a bunch of crappy impersonators. Or even worse, imagine that scene clumsily updated, since it’s not like Rueben whatsisname from American Idol has made much of a pop cultural impression in recent years and one of the gags is that he blows himself up with a grenade.
That’s just the start: It’s not like most of the governments involved would be happy to be portrayed as incompetent or, later on, willing to leave any of their citizens to die.
The Plot Would Be Tricky At Best To Capture
What makes World War Z work as a book is that there are connecting threads between the different stories. Events in one story are mentioned or come up in another. But that’s harder to do in film. There’s not a connecting throughline. The result would be more of a series of short films than an actual movie, and a lot of detail would be either lost in the translation or become Easter eggs at best.
It Would Likely Be A Found-Footage Mockumentary
Let’s say you did decide to adapt the book straight. Actually adapting each story is financially out of the question: That’s a good $200 to $300 million, right there. So you’d have to fill it with talking heads and have the “action” scenes be found footage. Found footage movies can work: Barry Levinson’s The Bay is a great example of how it’s possible.
There’s a reason we make fun of found-footage mockumentaries: They’re cheap but they’re hard to make into something genuinely convincing. It’d be far more likely to collapse into a cheese fest.
No Movie Star, No Effects Budget
Here’s the hard reality of Hollywood: You need a recognizable star in the lead. World War Z has a few people the book follows throughout its course, but there’s no central protagonist, per se. No star, no budget. That cop getting creamed by a garbage truck and those swarms of zombies in the trailer? They wouldn’t be there without Brad Pitt. In more ways than one, actually: Pitt’s Plan B is heavily involved in the production.
The Book’s Political Messages Are Already A Bit Shopworn
Finally, there’s this problem.
World War Z is a great book, undeniably, but part of the reason it works was that it was very much set directly in the time it was written, which was six years ago.
When this book hit print, America alone was in the middle of two wars, the GOP completely controlled the federal government, the economy was riding the housing bubble, and terrorism was still a major cultural fear.
True, Katrina outrage was hitting new heights and voters would sweep the GOP out of power two months later. But there’s no getting around the fact that the zombie apocalypse starts in a very, very different world than the one we have now.
You can’t really throw the politics out of the book, but in order for a movie to remotely work, they’d have to be either heavily updated or heavily downplayed. Either way, it’d be a compromise that wouldn’t sit well with anybody, fan or non-fan.
We’re not saying the movie will be spectacular, necessarily, although we suspect if that trailer had a different title we’d be seeing Brad Pitt welcomed with open arms. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes, even the most well-meaning have to take liberties with the material.