Sinister Cinema: World War Z, No Doubt with SPOILERS


Okay, after blurbing it on Cheese Theatre, I had to give the movie World War Z a shot. First, I must congratulate Max Brooks for selling them two words and the letter “Z” —nabbing around a reported $100,000 per letter or thereabout.

Sweet . . . . Got to love it.

Bet he got a premium for the cap Z.

The title of Brooks’ great novel is about all they used, plus some effort to jump around the globe to exotic locales. Otherwise, nada.

Which perhaps leaves the novel as such open to a version on cable TV someday, where it could run for a season or two, or three, each chapter serving as an episode. Or two, or three. So much stuff untouched, from zombies hanging around underwater in lakes and ponds and oceans (one of the best moments near the end coming from that angle) to the tribute to Zatoichi the blind swordsman.

Brooks is young enough, I hope he’ll get those rights freed up at some point, and give us the visual version of the epic zombiefest laid out in the novel.

As I was telling everyone when I first read World War Z a few years ago, it’s as good as the best zombie movies — which for me would be Dawn of the Dead, original and fast zombie remake, Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead, original and remake, Shaun of the Dead. And it has the scope and feel of a real novel (it is a real novel, but you know what I mean) — War and Peace, or Something, with Zombies. Unless you just can’t stand the walking dead, I cannot recommend it enough.

For what it is, I didn’t hate the Brad Pitt version, and figure it was worth catching on the big screen. It’s got the super-fast swarming zombie hordes to give it distinct niche status, nice Big Canvas set pieces, occasional good bits of action.

Yeah, I could have done without the family (compared to the irritating Tom Cruise family in War of the Worlds by pals who couldn’t wait to see it, either) — but I will note that every apartment, however briefly seen, looked like a real place people live (one of my sub-specialized standards of film appreciation, going back to Suicide Club days and the 1981 film Diva, the first movie I recall where the apartments looked like the lairs and cubicles of people I knew — also the first time I saw Dominique Pinon, who went on to appear in several of my favorite films).

And the fast-cut, extreme close-up editing — sure, I get how, arguably, that conveys the chaos and confusion of the massive zombie swarms, but it gets old pretty fast and you want to see some cleanly defined action.

(I spent all my outrage at this editing style back in 1995 when I saw Jade — what a dud. Looked good, in theory. Directed by Friedkin, still on top of my list from To Live and Die in L.A., and earlier Sorcerer, The French Connection, etc. Had Michael Biehn in it, and wasted him, as often happens. But the killer aspect was that it was shot in San Francisco, and so of course had to have a car chase over the hills. They even ripped down the block of Filbert off Hyde that is pretty close to being a cliff. And the camera sat so close to the fender that you couldn’t really tell what was happening. Give me cinema technique that you can see, any day. If the camera is that close, I figure the stuntmen can’t drive, the actors can’t stage a convincing fight scene, and the director enjoys mush for breakfast.)

No wonder they decided to reshoot the original ending, another massive zombie swarm attack in Russia, and replace it with the more suspenseful sequence in the medical lab, where Brad is sneaking solo past the undead to get to some vials. That whole bit, with the corridors, listening zombies creeping around, really reminded me of the end sequence in the control booth and cafeteria in Jurassic Park.

The fact that the undead cawed like raptors clarified the impression, if anyone was in doubt about the origins. (Several people in the audience laughed aloud when the main zombie stalker did his cawing, and it was unexpected and kind of goofy — I let it go, an attempt to further deferentiate these zombies from all that have gone before, but definitely kind of funny.)

It is supposed to be a summer blockbuster, so sticking to a tried-and-true formula helped pull that fat out of the fire — and the epic Product Placement to cap off the sequence must have pleased the bean counters. Yeah, pop in a surefire crowd-pleaser moment and fire up some more popcorn. The point where it is business, not art.

And even if World War Z is not the best zombiethon ever, it is better than most, high second tier, like Zombieland.

Compared to the usual zombie movie — for example, the recent Rise of the Zombies, shot in San Francisco, featuring faves of mine such as Danny Trejo, Ethan Suplee — it’s not just a slick summer flick, it’s the Mona Lisa. (Rise almost gets going a few times, but never does, and I figure the director must be to blame — I watched it off Netflix in short installments, and I suppose it might be worth your time, if you’ve got lots, to see completely empty San Francisco streets and a zombiefied Trejo make zombie urr/uggh sounds. But it’s not an easy watch.)

The best part of rolling out to the multiplex to catch WWZ?

The previews.

I got my first glimpse of the trailer for R.I.P.D., which I’d heard of but hadn’t paid attention to — and thought, okay, here’s something else I’ll go for Big Screen. Jeff Bridges in Wild Bill mode, kind of a Ghostbusters thing happening — and James Hong as the visible incarnation of ghost cop Ryan Reynolds.

James Hong in a movie that could be as much fun as Big Trouble in Little China? Sure, sign me up. Push comes to shove, I’d rather see James Hong flex his comedic wings than see Brad Pitt fight zombies — hey, I’d rather see James Hong fight some zombies! If Danny Trejo can do it, maybe James Hong can, too. . . .

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