There is probably no film that has been talked about more this summer than Brad Pitt’s self-funded World War Z. Plagued with rumours about reshoots and gaining notoriety for potential failure, the film was looking like Costner’s Waterworld or Travolta’s Battlefield Earth.
The story begins with a really rubbish title sequence followed by one of the most painful exposition set ups I’ve seen in a recent blockbuster film. The film opens in Gerry Lane’s (Brad Pitt) kitchen as he makes breakfast for his wife (Mireille Enos) and daughters. A TV that is on the counter is showing footage of global riots and ‘strange behavior’, whilst at the same time Gerry’s daughter is asking him whether he ‘misses his job’ at the UN. If audiences can’t figure out what is going to happen next then they need to watch more ‘90s action thrillers or give up entirely. The plot then bursts into action with the family having to escape a zombie outbreak in New York and then make their way to a safe zone in the Pacific Ocean. Gerry is then told that the only way that the military will look after his family is if he goes on a special UN mission in order to locate ‘patient zero’ and try to figure out the disease.
There is a brilliant moment in Shaun Of The Dead where Shaun has a go at Ed for using ‘the Z word’ because it is ‘ridiculous’.
In WWZ there is something more interesting going on: by trying to be as realistic as possible, the filmmakers have conceded that the characters in their film live in a world similar to the audiences’, and have therefore all seen zombies films – so rather than to downplay references to ‘the Z word’, all of the characters seem to use it as much as possible to highlight their intimate knowledge with zombies and zombie resistance that they must have absorbed from TV…
On a more serious note, the most interesting moments of the film for me were the references to the events of the 1973 Yom Kippur war alongside the present day (post-zombie) Palestinian/Israeli relations. Having little to no understanding of the ’73 conflict, it still seemed a little tasteless to use that tension as the catalyst for Israel’s prophetic isolationism from the outbreak. It seems strange that in the filmic universe of WWZ, everything else is geopolitically the same as our reality, expect for a giant virus-proof wall surrounding Israel (that no-one noticed). There is also a sour moment where the Palestinians are blamed for being too noisy and alerting the zombies… hmm. There is also a reference to the disease being contained in North Korea because the government have removed the teeth of all of the citizens. Is that supposed to be a dark joke or biting political satire?
As is to be expected from an American blockbuster film, the level of cultural imperialism is spectacular. The American military are immediately put in control of the rescue operation for the whole world and, much like in earlier apocalypse films such as Independence Day and 2012, all other cultures are side-lined or ignored (Africa and South America never get a mention). The strange exception in this film is that the final third of the movie has Gerry relocate to Wales in order for him to visit a World Health Organisation facility in order to try and understand the disease better. I haven’t read the book (although I am now tempted) but a quick skim of the Wikipedia page offers no clue into any Welsh references in the source material – could it be that the film was filmed in and around Britain to save money so by using Wales they fulfilled to vital functions for the production: 1) by using Wales they saved money 2) by using Wales they gain credibility for filling the screen with somewhere other than America / American army bases abroad.
The strangest thing about this film is that the pacing seems to be in reverse of most blockbusters. The film doesn’t really bother with a beginning and has the zombie outbreak in the second scene, and the most frenetic and exciting part of the film plays out for about half an hour. Then the plot kicks in and Gerry has to travel the world talking to people, which is punctuated with moments of excitement but is mainly conversations and trying to undercover the genesis of the disease. Then a large section of the end of the film is spent trying to creep past zombies and stay quiet. This seems to be the exact opposite of what you would expect from a tense action/thriller, yet it somehow seems to work.