The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to YA readers. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he has a book and movie twofer review of World War Z.
“The monsters that rose from the dead, they are nothing compared to the ones we carry in our hearts.”
– Admiral Xu Zhicai, World War Z, Max Brooks
Undead zombies tend to bring out the worst in us, the still-living. In the first modern zombie film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, nearly all the conflict was between the trapped humans themselves, not against their shuffling, rotting foes. Since then, the best zombie stories have focused on the often-selfish struggle of humans to survive the attack. Because let’s face it: Warm Bodies aside, zombies aren’t very interesting: they can’t talk and they don’t think. They’re not exactly cunning adversaries.
Max Brooks’ novel World War Z wisely focuses on the man-on-man battles during a horrific global zombie apocalypse. It’s fiction written as nonfiction; it announces itself as an “oral history” of the pandemic, written several years after mankind somehow survives the catastrophe. True to form it’s a series of interviews, with no central protagonist. We hear from military leaders and soldiers, politicians, medical experts, and dozens of other observers as they recount the challenge in understanding the plague and surviving the attacking hordes of undead. Many of the speakers have secrets to hide or are defensive about their choices; it’s clear that our enemies are not just the zombies but human selfishness, pride, and confusion. It’s a gripping, well-researched, and frankly brilliant portrait of a world teetering on the brink of the abyss.
The film World War Z takes place in the same universe as the novel but takes no events or characters from it. We follow suburban dad Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) as he drives his wife (Mireille Enos, The Killing) and kids into downtown Philadelphia. Suddenly a zombie outbreak erupts, instantly converting thousands of citizens (via zombie bites) into walking dead. Because Lane is a former United Nations task force member, he and his family are extracted to a sanctuary aboard an aircraft carrier. But to earn his family’s right to stay, Lane must set off for North Korea and the Middle East to uncover the zombie plague’s origin. Gerry Lane’s thrilling storyline doesn’t appear within the pages of Max Brooks’ novel, but it easily could have. Again, there’s plenty of human conflict as each person Lane visits is suspicious of his motives and reluctant to put himself at risk helping him.
Just to be clear, this is not a horror film, a la the many Living Dead films and most zombie movies. Rather it uses the backdrop of the zombie plague to tell a engaging sci-fi adventure story; the feel is similar to Independence Day. There’s no shortage of action, but most violence takes place offscreen and there’s a minimum of gore (it is a PG-13 pic, after all). And there’s more going on here than massive zombie battles. Some of the best sequences take place quietly in enclosed spaces (a stairwell, a plane, a research lab), with characters moving quietly to avoid alerting the zombies and starting a swarm. (Director Marc Forster isn’t just an action director; he brought us Stranger than Fiction, Finding Neverland, and Monster’s Ball, and this film displays his sensitive spirit.)
I’m not a big fan of the zombie genre (too often it’s used as a way of offering guilt-free violence and gore) but I really enjoyed both the book and the film. And happily enjoying one won’t spoil the other for you, since the stories in each are so different. Both are zombie entertainments with braaaaains (sorry).