Meet World War Z: The summer movie that will do well and still bomb

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“Brains”, traditionally what zombies hunger for, are apparently what the filmmakers of Brad Pitt’s latest movie World War Z lack. A movie based off of the ingenious and titillating book by Max Brooks seemed too good not to bring to the big screen, and when Brad Pitt and his fledgling production company “Plan B” acquired the rights to the source material it probably seemed like a sure thing. *Cue lightning and thunder sound effect*

Unfortunately, things quickly spiraled out of control from there. From expensive (and disappointing) rewrites to the script – including some that were made after scenes had been shot that then had to be reshot – to highly publicized fights between lead actor Brad Pitt and Director Marc Forster, this film seemed doomed to fail.

And yet…

Despite it’s reported 400 million dollar budget (far and away the most expensive movie ever made), and it’s on set drama, and it’s troublesome script rewrites, there still seems to be something interesting about the movie. I still really want to see it. It will also probably do respectable numbers at the domestic box office, although that isn’t great considering the cost of the film.

In a trailer that doesn’t really give us a lot of plot to go off of, there still seems to be enough life in the film to drive audiences to the theater seats. In particular, the scene in the airplane has an intensity factor of 10 and could be one of those memorable scenes that you can’t wait to talk about after you leave. These highlights make World War Z a conundrum. At times the film looks formulaic and color by numbers, at others it appears to aspire to something more. The original script drew comparisons to Contagion which may have turned off the masses (and would not be a good idea sinking $400 million into), but would have made me climb over the movie theater lines to see it first.

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Me (400th from left), in line for “World War Z”

I was a big fan of Contagion, and a movie that mixes zombies and geopolitics would be a supreme delight. Unfortunately, that script (I encourage you to read this summary of the unpublished original World War Z script because it does sound just fantastic) was scrapped for a lighter, more extravagant affair that appears to be more action and less depth. Too bad for me, and with a movie that was well over budget already its possible that the powers that be were just being pragmatic, but allow me to play the devil’s advocate.

Risking $400 million on a movie in the already crowded zombie genre (a genre that some are already saying is…uh…dead), seems like a bad idea, and if this watered down version is what we get for that hefty price tag that would be a shame. Talking down to audiences is always a mixed bag. For every Transformers 3 (which did remarkably well for being remarkably bad), there is a Catwoman (which did about as much talking down as could occur and imploded for its troubles). What I wish they had done was instead gone all in. Make the film they had wanted to make, with all of its emotional depth and human drama and just let the film speak for itself. If the movie was good enough, the audience would come. What they didn’t want to do was exactly what they did. By compromising the story for the sake of salvaging some bucks, they may have cost the movie its ”raison d’être”, the reason for it existing in the first place.

My only hope is that inside this lumbering, decaying, primal story is enough of the former goodness and humanity of the original script that those elements shine through despite the outer ugliness. If not, then we are doomed, not to the extinction of humanity, but to another bloated, meaningless summer spectacle film with no heart and that may be the more tragic of the two.

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