Sunday, June 30, 2013

World War Z is not World War Z

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is one of my favorite books. I've read it three times and I'm sure I'll read it three more times. It chronicles the global invasion of zombies and how each country responds to the crisis. Each of the book's dozens of chapters is narrated by a different character who tells of their terrifying experience . We hear from a doctor in rural China, a Russian soldier, an English historian, a Brazilian surgeon, and others in the U.S., Canada, Iraq, South Africa, France, India, etc. Brooks' novel truly has a global scope with characters you'd willingly follow much further than the several pages each is given.

The book is fast-paced and riveting because each character is telling the heart of their experience with "Zack" (as the U.S. military refers to the zombies). Some characters tell of the very beginning of the outbreaks, others describe the worst of the panic, and by the end we're hearing how nations manage the onslaught and start to rebuild civilization. It's a gripping story and one of my favorite aspects is the nightmarish ruthlessness that governments must show their own populations in order for the human race to survive. Their ultimate way to fight the zombies is a horrible, yet fascinating solution (you've gotta read it).

But none of that is in the movie. In fact the only thing World War Z The Movie has in common with World War Z The Book is that they both have the words "world' "war" and"z" in their titles. It bothers me that the incredible movie that Max Brooks' story could have been, isn't going to happen because the rights to the script have been legally secured by the production company that created the film starring Brad Pitt.

Compared to the book, the movie is boring. It contains none of the characters or story lines from the novel. The movie focuses on Mr. Everyman, a guy named Gerry (Pitt) as he endeavors to solve the zombie problem so he can save his family (I'm so tired of movies that star a man trying to save his family). The movie spends its first half hour just establishing that this is a happy family, now they're facing trouble and now the man is forced to leave his family to go fight the monsters. We see the standard resistance from the wife who ultimately agrees that the best thing is for the man to go save the world. Yawn. Let's get on with it.

Because the movie follows Gerry (Pitt), it can give only a limited view of the panic and slaughter. It doesn't show the solutions different countries try, it doesn't show the extent to which humans turn on each other, it doesn't show dozens of instances of people at their best and their worst and it doesn't show zombie-horrific snapshots of the lives of military, astronauts, children, entrepreneurs, celebrities, dog handlers, cybergeeks and regular people all over the world. Brooks' novel is incredible in its scope and sobering in its commentary on human nature. The movie is your basic regular-guy-saves-the-world, although it does have a surprisingly original climax and a very creative solution to the zombie problem (that has nothing to do with the book).

If you want a blockbuster thriller with characters you don't have to think about, big dramatic explosions, a race-against-the-clock premise and lots and lots of gore, Brad Pitts' movie is it. It's definitely a fun way to kill a couple of hours in an air conditioned theater. I'd even go so far as to say it's a good movie because it really did impress me with its originality at the end. It's just not Max Brooks' World War Z. I'm still waiting for that movie.


Anonymous said...

I knew little of the book before I saw the movie. I agree with your appraisal of the film--above-par summer fare--but your description of the book makes it sound quite compelling. I will add it to my ever-growing "to read" list.

Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

Excellent! I'm glad to encourage another person to read the book.