World War Z (2013)

(Video on Demand, December 2013) Historically, zombie films were popular because they allowed filmmakers to do big horror on a small budget: Find yourself a secluded location, a few shambling extras and you had yourself a movie.  Now, thanks to the current craze for all thing zombies, a studio can end up spending nearly 200 million dollars to produce a large-scale globe-spanning zombie thriller.  With this budget comes the freedom to do things that haven’t been seen over and over again: a wide-screen takeover of an American downtown; a wider-screen zombie fighting sequence set in a middle-eastern city, and zombies taking over an airplane.  Add to that a rapid opening and two unsettling visual motifs (raining zombies, and people being thrown to the ground by a CGI zombie jumping from the left edge of the screen) and the result is a zombie film that warrants viewing despite the genre’s overexposure.  The quasi-legendary production problem encountered by the film (including star Brad Pitt reportedly not speaking with director Marc Foster and a third act that was completely re-written as the film was shooting, leading to the cutting of an entire large-scale action sequence) are still visible in the more restrained third act, but the result hangs together relatively well, even despite a spectacularly dumb “vaccine” plot running throughout.  Brad Pitt is fine as the hero jack-of-all-trades; he escapes unscathed from the film’s more serious issues.  World War Z (which, perhaps thankfully, has little to do with Max Brooks’s epochal source novel) is best seen as a collection of four big set-pieces rather than a coherent whole.  While one may regret the film’s wasted opportunities to tie those exceptional action sequences to more serious geopolitical themes, as was the case with the original novel, World War Z still manages to fulfill the most basic expectations of viewers, and should be hailed for that.  While we all wait for a tenth-anniversary Blu-Ray edition that will unlock the deleted sequences and detail the film’s production problems, unsatisfied viewers will probably want to go read Brooks’ novel for more context and substance.

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