Thursday, July 25, 2013

World War Z

Enough is enough! I've had it up to here with these...
**1/2 out of ****

Here's World War Z, an entertaining and intense thriller that seems as if it could have been so much more. It was probably supposed to be. When I first heard that this highly-regarded property would be in the hands of director Marc Forster, I was only compelled to chuckle at Paramount's failure to note that this guy has proved to be good at everything (Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner, Finding Neverland) except for action movies (Quantum of Solace). So I was surprised to see that his Paul Greengrass-inspired handheld kinetic action mostly worked with a zombie movie that aimed for realism.

Brad Pitt plays a former U.N. agent spending the day with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two little girls, when the Zombie Apocalypse starts. After a long struggle to get them to safety aboard an aircraft carrier, he is recruited by his former employers to go on a dangerous mission around the world to find the origin of the zombie outbreak.

It occurred to me while watching, that Forster may have been much more the man for the job than I gave him credit for. If there is something he successfully imposes on this materiel, it is his sense of worldliness, which is obvious when you study his career in film. Right off the bat, this epidemic is suggested to be an international crisis and unlike other zombie movies, this one is about a guy with the resources to give us a globe-trotting perspective on this all-too-familiar genre. 

For the light-on-blood PG-13 movie that a two-hundred-million-dollar horror movie is required to be, I will admit that it is very intense and often scary. Like The Dark Knight, it's a PG-13 that gets away with murder, so don't let little kids see it.

The movie is based on Max Brooks' (son of Mel) bestselling book, and from what I'm told, the adaptation process left very few of his ideas intact. It was said to be in the form of several spoken-word transcriptions of zombie-attack survivors. Making a movie about one of these characters would be understandable, but making up a whole new one and changing the nature of the cataclysmic event makes it obvious that they only cared about a title that would sell tickets.    

The only part where it collides, is in the digital-effects driven set-piece in Jerusalem when the zombies form an ant-hill of people climbing over one another to spill over the wall. There are only a few shots when this effect is convincing. In all the others, it is a beautiful and terrifying image but not something that fools the eye. This would work in another movie. One more escapist in nature. In this one, however, everything up to this moment has seemed terrifyingly naturalistic and serious. All of this hard work done by computer-animators in a troubled industry seems so unnecessary.

That goes for the rest of the movie, which never finds a purpose as deep as atmosphere it creates. It just finds excuses to move from one set-piece to the next with its sense of story on the back-burner. Good entertainment, but was it worth all the effort? 

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