If there's anything that's almost as big as superheroes in pop culture right now, it seems to be zombies. The walking undead have been growing in popularity for years, and right now they're dominating film, TV, video games and literature. If one isn't trying to survive a horde of zombies in a special game mode of Call Of Duty, they might be watching the hit TV show The Walking Dead or reading a book like World War Z (or doing all three). World War Z is the latest book to be turned into a feature film, but as most avid fans of the novel would say, the film is far from being faithful to the source material. Still, what World War Z, as a movie, actually is, is a zombie movie made for the popcorn-munching masses.
Director Marc Forster, who has had a wide variety of styles of films in his career, including Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, Machine Gun Preacher and the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, tackles zombies this time around. The film, from the start, feels like it knows who its audience is. There's violence and scary scenes galore, but it's all shot deliberately for a PG-13 friendly audience. (In other words, it never feels like it's been edited down from an R rating to achieve a PG-13 rating... like Live Free Or Die Hard actually was.) Forster is a tremendous dramatic director; he has proven that he can inspire some really great performances out of his actors in movies, as evidenced in Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction. However, Quantum of Solace proved one really painful truth: he can't do action. So many scenes in Quantum of Solace were hacked up beyond recognition, and it ultimately hurt the film's end product. Thankfully, he has either fired the team that helped mess all of that up or has learned from his mistakes, making World War Z work on nearly every level.
If you look at World War Z for what it is -- a popcorn zombie movie and not an adaptation of the book -- you're likely to appreciate it. Taking a less-is-more approach to the violence is something monster movies have done for decades. Leaving some of the horror up to the imagination can really have a greater impact on an audience than really graphic visuals. For World War Z, the zombies here are fast and furious. They run, jump, and swarm like insects. If you've seen any commercials, you know they pile on top of each other to vault over a gigantic wall. Just the fact that you're not safe anywhere in their presence and that they can detect yours from almost anywhere, is a horrifying concept alone. Forster plays up this paranoia a bit, but he also takes the viewer to various parts of the country and even the globe to make the threat feel bigger and more universal. Just one bite from these "turned" humans will make the victim a fellow member of the undead in about twelve seconds. It allows the horde to just continue to grow and grow in incredible numbers at an alarming rate of speed.
Brad Pitt plays the central character, Gerry Lane, a United Nations employee with special skills for investigation who is brought in when the outbreak of zombies happens. The movie gets started almost immediately as we meet the Lane family in their home before they get stuck in a Philadelphia traffic jam. From there, the Lanes are thrown into the chaos and Gerry witnesses a victim turn into a zombie before his very eyes. The story hardly slows for a moment from there as the family run for their lives and Gerry is called in by the government to help find out how this outbreak started and learn how to stop it. Pitt is excellent as Gerry, and Forster really gets a great performance out of him. While I kind of wanted to see more of a build up to the story than just being tossed into the fire minutes after the start, Forster gives a good amount of character moments sprinkled throughout the film, slowing things up just long enough to give the viewer some substance, but in the end, you still might feel that some good character building before the outbreak hits the fan may have been a better way to go. Still, through dimly lit scenes, mystery, and charging bloodthirsty zombies, World War Z is thrilling and compelling.
The content for World War Z is a hard PG-13 just based on subject matter alone. As far as visually graphic content, Forster & Co. play it remarkably safe. For example, we seldom get long looks at the actual zombies and most of the attacks and turnings happen off screen of in a flash. A lot of the emotion and fear is conveyed through Pitt's eyes alone, as well as through the building suspense of not knowing what might happen next. Sure, if you've seen the trailer, some scenes are more predictable, but ultimately, there's a lot left to the imagination. While you won't see any headshots or really gory zombie moments--with some attacks happening in the cover of night to hide some of the potentially graphic content--there are at least two pretty intense injuries that we see in part. The first involves a character who receives a zombie bite on their hand. Before they have the chance to "turn," someone hacks their hand right off. We don't see the actual cutting, but we see the action of the blade coming down and the victim's reaction. We then see the stub at the wrist all wrapped up. Later, the victim's wound dressings are changed and the camera is shaky and deliberately avoids showing what lies beneath the cloths. A little while later, we see a character lift up their shirt to find a large piece of metal sticking out of their side, with blood around its entry point. We soon find that the metal protrudes out of the character's back as well. While there is a lingering shot of the entry point of the metal sticking into their side, we only later see the person wrapped up after it has been removed. The only other gross visuals for people will be the zombies themselves. Some use their heads to smash windows to break into someplace, while others have discolored eyes and emaciated appearances. There are some longer glances at these creepy creatures toward the end of the film, where protruding teeth, glazed over eyes, and basically perfect fodder for unpleasant dreams are shown a little more liberally. There is some language, including several uses of the "S" word and a handful of uses of blasphemy, but it thankfully isn't constant. Finally, there's a scene where the Lanes are in a market in New Jersey, trying to find medicine, and a couple guys overpower Karin on the floor. There has been speculation online as to the intent of her attackers (some call it attempted rape, but it's brief and there's no real visual evidence to support that), but those sensitive to something like that may want to keep that in mind.
I was concerned after seeing the trailer that there would be too much dependence on CG effects to make the zombies come to life. While this is true to a degree, Forster and his filmmaking team do a pretty good job regardless. For example, while the vampire/zombie blend of the monsters in I Am Legend bordered on looking cartoony, they often look relatively convincing here -- especially when they're not vaulting over each other to get to their next victim. The film's creepy climax works very well because a lot of the make-up and effects were more practical.
The movie as a whole, will require viewers to suspend their disbelief. Some things happen a bit too conveniently or "too close for comfort," but it's utilized to bring suspense and keep the film moving at a rapid speed with our central hero intact (for the most part). Now, if you do happen to catch a glimpse of a familiar face in the background while watching, there's supposedly good reason. Actor Matthew Fox (TV's LOST) has nothing more than the role as an extra in World War Z, but after doing some web-serarching, I discovered that this was due to the fact that the latter half of the film had been changed dramatically from its original intent. I'll let you do your own research if you'd like to find out the apparent original direction the movie was supposed to take, but knowing this after seeing it, it explains how his character was supposed to play a much bigger part in a more melancholic finish to the film. The end that it was given for the theatrical release, however, works really well from a more grounded and tangible perspective. You're likely to feel like your traversing the halls of a haunted house around Halloween than experiencing a more grandiose, over-the-top finale that the movie almost had. (Still, as a fan of the show LOST, I would have liked seeing Fox in a more substantial role than just background dressing.)
In the end, I enjoyed World War Z a lot more than I thought I might--and I believe this has a lot to do with Forster taking a serious and not campy approach to the story. But the movie feels like a big screen walk through a haunted amusement park or a thrill ride than the typical zombie flick. Audiences be warned; World War Z is near mindless fun, but not for the faint of heart.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/28/13)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
World War Z is available in an Unrated Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, an Unrated 3D Blu-Ray/2D Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack and on a one-disc PG-13 DVD (and through the usual digital providers). It looks really spectacular in HD, but there are some serious problems with these particular HD sets...
Most noticeably, those who were fans of the theatrical film and appreciated its more PG-13 friendly presentation will be really disappointed to discover that you cannot get a Blu-Ray disc of the movie as you saw it in theaters. We had been sent the 2D Unrated Blu-Ray set for review and only the Unrated version is on the Blu-Ray disc, with the DVD being only the PG-13 rated version. It makes no sense. Even when you look at movies like the Total Recall remake or Cowboys & Aliens and both Taken movies -- these films all included Extended, Unrated editions on the same disc as the theatrical, PG-13 rated ones. To make things even more confusing, you can redeem a Digital Copy (or Ultraviolet - not both) of World War Z, but it's the PG-13 rated version only. However, it IS in HD, so this is the only way to see the theatrical film in high definition then.
World War Z: UNRATED -- In all honesty, I decided not to watch the unrated version. Reportedly, the unrated version includes what was cut to obtain a PG-13 rating in theaters and it otherwise would have made the movie rated R. Director Marc Forster has said that the final version of the movie is his director's cut, but that it had to be censored for the theaters. Personally, I prefer less gore and graphic images in my movies. I adhere to the school of thought that you just don't need to show it on screen. And, to me, I thought World War Z was scary as it was. It's intense, creepy, and not entirely unrealistic. With that said, I scoured the web to see what people were saying and supposedly the unrated version is indeed more gory and violent than the cut shown in theaters.
Along with the feature film are a few bonus features. For those concerned about the unrated cut, only the PG-13 material is covered in the clips used in the bonus features...
Origins (8:21) - Here, we find out that the development of the film started in 2006. Director Marc Forster talks about taking on the project and how the writer developed the novel (which was a collection of testimonies from around the world about the zombie war) into a narrative form. Marc also talks about starting with the characters and building the movie from there. Forster has always been a character-centric storyteller and it's great to see it carried through a film like this.
Looking to Science (7:28) shows how they approached the zombie concepts for this movie from a scientific viewpoint. They looked to nature and ants, specifically, to base the WWZ zombies after. They address their swarming behavior, talk about how zombies first appeared in literature in the 1800s, how Haiti has had records of actual drug-induced zombies over the years, and we see lots of concept art (some of which are a bit gross and kind of graphic), and finally, hear about "zombie ants."
WWZ Production (36:18) - This great behind-the-scenes featurette is broken up into four parts. First, "Outbreak" talks about the beginning of the film. We find out that Glasgow was used as the setting for Philadelphia for 18 days of filming. They also show how they got the look of Philly within the setting of Glasgow via some great special effects passes. "The Journey Begins" shows how they did the rooftop escape on a sound stage, the air carrier sequence and the scene set in Korea. There's some really great on-set footage here with interviews from the cast. "Behind the Wall" takes us to Jerusalem, which Forster said he wanted to use because it's the "birth of civilization." He also reveals that the first sequence shot was this segment. Finally, "Camouflage" is about the finale and the plane outbreak scene. It's all very interesting stuff.
However, diehard followers of the film's process (and resultant labor pains), will know that more was shot than was used for the movie. An entire third act was scrapped and thrown out in exchange for the "W.H.O." sequence at the end. Not a hint of this footage is shown here; there are no deleted scenes. And not a word is spoken about this original ending. I was hoping we would have heard something about it on the disc release.
Overall, I'm terribly disappointed in Paramount for deciding to release the film on Blu-Ray disc exclusively in its unrated form. I suppose they could do a second release in the future for those who wanted to see the PG-13 version on Blu, but it's probably unlikely. Hopefully this doesn't become a habit with studios.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/14/13)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Two men overpower Karin in a grocery store and we see her struggling with them on the floor before Gerry stops them. It's not clear, but it's under speculation by some viewers that they were intending to rape her. (I personally didn't get that impression.)
Vulgarity/Language: Roughly 9 "S" words, 4 "g*dd*mn," 7 derivatives of "G-d," 1 "J-sus," 2 "a" words, 1 "d*mn," 1 "b*tch," 2 "b*stard,"6 "h*ll"
Alcohol/Drugs: A man hands Gerry a beer after they take refuge in his apartment; Gerry pours vodka over a person's hand-less wrist and that person swigs some of it for the pain. Gerry drinks some too.
Blood/Gore: We see teeth marks on a man's forearm and then he quickly turns into a zombie with his body going into seizures of sort; We see blood on a zombie's mouth and splattering on Gerry's face as he tries to hold him off; We briefly see views of a wrapped up wrist missing a hand after a person's hand is cut off. For a split second we catch a view of the bloody stump from a distance. When they have their bandages changed a little bit later, the camera avoids showing direct shots of it; We see some blood around a piece of shrapnel sticking out of a person's side. We then see that it is sticking out of their back as well; Gerry has some bloody scrapes on his face during the movie; We see a man who's mouth is missing all of his teeth as he talks; A science lab has several rooms with either blood on the walls/glass windows or in medical bags, trays, etc Some of it clearly looks more horrific than scientific); Gerry has some black blood on a zombie guard on his arm; We see a room in a facility in North Korea with charred, ash remains of what was once a room full of patients. We then see two dismembered zombie fingers twitching; In a montage of the war, we see tremendous piles of defeated zombies in what appears to be a kind of landfill of "dead" zombies.
Violence: Some SPOILERS ahead... The violence is very intense. It all starts with a traffic jam in Philadelphia. A motorcycle drives by, taking the mirror off the side of Gerry's car. Gerry gets out of his car to see what's going on and a police officer on a motorcycle tells him to get back in his vehicle. That man is suddenly struck by a large garbage truck, which just barrels down the street throwing cars left and right. Panic and pandemonium ensues as we see zombies leaping through the streets, attacking people and ramming their heads into car windows. A zombie pulls a man out of a vehicle and bites his arm. Gerry watches as the man changes into a zombie in seconds before his very eyes. The man writhes a bit and then springs to his feet before pursuing his first victim; The zombies are often shown very quickly and are gray-skinned, milky-eyed, and sometimes have some blood or drool around their mouths; Soldiers are frequently shown shooting at and subduing hordes of zombies; We see a family in an apartment get overpowered by zombies that break in; A boy shoots a zombie that attacks Gerry; Gerry runs to the edge of a building and yells for his family to stay away. He states that he got some of the zombie blood in his mouth and worries that he might turn (he doesn't); Gerry goes on a military mission where he and some other soldiers ride bicycles in the cover of night. We see dead people/zombies not moving on barbed wire fences. A sound alerts the zombies to their presence and a shootout ensues. A soldier is bitten and he shoots himself before he can turn; A scientist runs into a plane and trips, falling and accidentally shooting himself in the head, killing himself (we just see their body lying dead from behind); Gerry goes to Jerusalem where they've built a huge wall to keep the zombies out. The people inside begin singing and making lots of noise which drives the zombies even crazier. They begin piling on top of each other and climbing over the wall to get the people inside. We then see lots of running and people being turned into zombies, soldiers shooting at them, etc; A character receives a zombie bite on their hand. Before they have the chance to "turn," someone hacks their hand off. We don't see the actual cutting, but we see the action of the blade coming down and the victim's reaction. We then see the stub at the wrist all wrapped up. Later, the victim's wound dressings are changed and the camera is shaky and deliberately avoids showing what lies beneath the cloths; A zombie tackles a person on a plane and turns them into a zombie. We then see all kinds of commotion and hear screaming as the plane quickly gets taken over. Gerry grabs a grenade and lobs it at an approaching zombie, which blows a hole in the side of the plane, sucking out the passengers and zombies. The plane then crashes and we see the empty cockpit and empty seats in the wreckage. We find Gerry alone strapped in his chair having survived the wreck, but he has his side impaled by a piece of metal. He escapes the wreckage, however; We find Gerry strapped to a table being questioned by some scientists; Gerry, Segen, and a scientist navigate the halls of a zombie-infested lab. We see them chase them and at one point, Gerry beats a zombie repeatedly with a crowbar. After its subdued, another runs at him, but he struggles to pull the crowbar out of the first zombie's corpse (this happens off camera). He finally does and subdues the next zombie; We see a trapped zombie repeatedly banging its head on unbreakable glass; A zombie stands outside a one-door room, trapping a victim inside; There's some other zombie-related violence as well.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.