Judge Gordon Sullivan hopes we don't get to twenty-six world wars.
Smooth productions don't always yield good movies, but it's very rare that a troubled production does. Based on the news surrounding the film, World War Z had a very troubled production. Its source novel can't be directly adapted, its director is more used to chamber dramas than summer tentpole films, and, most problematically, the entire final act had to be scrapped and reshot. If you believe the rumors, star Brad Pitt (who is also a producer) wasn't on speaking terms with director Marc Forster by the end of the reshoots. And yet, the film did brisk business; it was never the #1 film, but it had staying power. Despite a late June opening, it was still in my local multiplex the week before World War Z 3D (Blu-ray) was released. After seeing the film, I'm not surprised, as World War Z effectively melds the zombie genre with the kind of spectacular action moments that summer blockbusters are known for. It's not a perfect film, but World War Z is surprisingly watchable and a must-see for zombie fans.
Facts of the Case
Gerry (Brad Pitt, Ocean's Eleven) is a former operative with the United Nations. When the zombie outbreak happens, he gets his family to safety, but he's pulled back in to help assist a virologist with locating the cure. Things don't go quite that smoothly, and with his family on the line Gerry must travel the world in search of a cure.
After World War Z, the zombie genre is done for a while—and that's not a bad thing. Most monster movies are really about metaphors: we use vampires to talk about our fear of gender and sexuality, werewolves to talk about our beastly instincts, and Frankenstein's monsters to fret over scientific "progress." Zombies are about our fears of our fellow man. When Romero makes Night of the Living Dead, a large part of the point is precisely that the people in the house are as dangerous as the "people" outside. Most zombie films follow that model because it works, but also because budgets keep locations to a minimum.
There's another side to the zombie coin: a massive outbreak means that zombies are dangerous, but so are other people. Getting trampled by a mob or crashed into by a fleeing car will leave you just as dead as getting your guts munched by a zombie. Most zombie movies simply don't have the budget to show this kind of mass-level carnage. That is, until now. World War Z is a summer tentpole blockbuster zombie film, something that seems like an oxymoron if you've spent a lot of time watching Romero's offspring. And yet the extra budget (which would probably fund all of the top ten zombie movies combined) allows World War Z to take zombies to outbreak levels of carnage.
That means World War Z gets to open by plunging viewers right into the thick of a zombie outbreak. Following Gerry and his family lets us see how a species-wide extinction event would play out. There's chaos, violence, and massive failure of civil services. Because we care about Gerry and his family, the first third of the film is a great exercise in pacing and action/thriller filmmaking. Once the second third kicks in, and Gerry is off to find the source of the infection, the budget once again allows for numerous locations and action set pieces that smaller zombie pics simply can't match.
The ending is where most reviewers seem to call foul, and the internet is littered with ambivalent reviews of World War Z because of it. This isn't one of those reviews. I loved every frame of the film, and though the final third is smaller in scale than those that preceded it, it's just as effective at building suspense and giving us action. It also helps to know going in that there's no way that a film like World War Z can end with the same scale it starts with. Unless everybody gets killed off (like Return of the Living Dead) or we get some cheap "cure," nothing is really going to satisfy on a grand level. Knowing that, the lower-key ending of World War Z both gives us an arc for Gerry while still leaving room for other stories set in this universe that might be more epic.
World War Z 3D (Blu-ray) gives the film a solid presentation. The 3D aspects of the film feel very unnecessary, but they're rendered well enough on this 2.40:1 MVC-encoded transfer (with a 2.40:1 AVC-encoded transfer on the 2D disc). This is a film with a lot of shaky camera and intentionally un-beautiful shots. With that said, the transfer does a pretty good job with the material. Dark scenes are especially important, and black levels don't disappoint. The scenes in Israel in the middle of the film are especially impressive, but don't go to World War Z for a home theater reference disc. The DTS-HD 7.1 soundtrack, however, is reference quality. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, but more importantly the action and atmosphere come through perfectly in the surrounds. Low end is great for gunfire and the film's excellent score. There are numerous quiet moments where the track's dynamic range is impressive. This is the epitome of summer blockbuster sound design transferred to home video.
Extras are basically three featurettes that total about 50 minutes of material. These include information on the adaptation of the book, a look at the science behind the film, and a four-part documentary that covers the film's production. They're insightful, though one wishes for the excised and reshot scenes for comparison purposes.
This set includes both the film's Unrated cut, which adds a few extra bits of CGI zombies, and the PG-13 theatrical cut. Chances are if you can make it through the PG-13 cut there's not much to surprise you in the unrated version. The 3D and DVD versions have the unrated option, while the included 2D Blu-ray is unrated. The iTunes and Ultraviolet Digital Copies are available as well, and they're the theatrical cut.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Those looking for a typical zombie film from World War Z will be disappointed. Because this flick is trying to tell a global-scale story, that means a bigger budget. Bigger budget means a PG-13 rating, and that means no guts get munched in this flick. There are still some scares, still some jumps, and still some spooky looking undead, but those looking for the chamber-piece style of Day of the Dead will hate World War Z.
If you know what you're getting into, World War Z is a fantastic action blockbuster that takes a certain strain of zombie filmmaking to its ultimate conclusion. The performances are good, the direction solid, and World War Z 3D (Blu-ray) offers a fine presentation, so the flick is at least worth a rental.
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