Wednesday, June 26, 2013

why I'm not interested in watching Brad Pitt's World War Z

I like zombies. I'm a big fan of George Romero's movies, and Simon Pegg earned a special place in my heart with Shaun of the Dead--a place that continues to flow forth goodwill despite the fact that most of the other movies he's been in have been pretty disappointing (the new Star Trek movies being an exception). But I'm not at all interested in going to see Brad Pitt's World War Z. Why? Let me tell you why.

It's not a zombie movie.

Zombies, in my mind, are compelling subjects for very specific reasons:
1.) they represent the inevitability of death
2.) they represent the triumph of oblivion over thought and consciously directed will
3.) they are human in form, but possess no humanity.

When you take those things away, when you feature a zombie that doesn't have those characteristics, you remove the essence of what makes the zombie concept interesting. And, from everything I've seen or read about the World War Z movie, it looks like they've failed to incorporate all of those crucial things.

First of all--and this is a problem that many recent zombie movies have fallen into--the zombies move way too fast. Crucial to the George Romero portrayal of zombies is the fact that his zombies are slow, lurching things. They're corpses, reanimated bodies in various states of decay. It makes sense, therefore, that their bodies are not in optimum athletic condition. It makes sense that they aren't capable of outrunning an Olympic sprinter.

And that reduced ability highlights the first point I mention above: zombies represent the inevitability of death. Despite the greater physical condition we possess, zombies are inescapable because of their inevitability, which is like death itself. The knowledge that our physical condition, even when we're in the prime of our lives, is a temporary thing--that's a compelling thought. And zombies represent that thought in a carnal form.

Now on to the next problem: the zombies are displaying organized, cooperative behavior. I read an article about the making of World War Z, and in the article the film-makers say they wanted to do something "new" with zombies. So they drew from natural phenomena--salmon swimming upstream, animals hunting in packs, ants swarming onto each other until their bodies create a rising column (like in the picture). And this detracts from the second point above: zombies represent the triumph of oblivion over thought and consciously directed will.

In certain ways this second point actually just builds on the first point. Zombies show us, by their mindless action, that our cleverness and our determination--just like our physical ability when we're in the prime of our lives--don't make us safe. We're smart, we're capable of concentrated effort and deliberate action, and yet such things pale in the face of a relentless, mindless horde of zombies. The Brad Pitt movie--by having the zombies show the ability to work together, by showing that they can think--removes that feature too.

And finally, zombies are compelling because they look like humans, but show no sense of humanity. The George Romero movies highlight this aspect beautifully. They show people struggling to come to terms with the fact that a zombie, while it has a human body, has no human sense of compassion or sympathy or fraternity with other humans. All they have is a desire to kill. And when the zombie used to be a friend or family member, dealing with that lack of humanity becomes even more difficult.

But in the Brad Pitt movie, at least what I've seen of it in previews and commercials, the zombies are running around so quickly, in such great numbers, that you hardly get a sense of them as individual things. And so there isn't time to face the idea that they used to be human.

So all in all, it looks like an Epic Fail to me.


  1. Good post. I agree with much that you said here. There's a lot of symbolism behind the humble zombie, and much of what makes them scary is being lost in the "special effects" versions. BTW, I followed you here from Konrath's blog. Just want to say that I also agree with you on the comment that you left there regarding the speed of writing and the resultant quality. Generally the more I ponder my words the better the end result. That, or much re-writing is needed. I'll bookmark your blog for future reference. Cheers - Bruno