The word “unfilmable” gets thrown around a lot. Countless writers and directors have struggled for years to find the way to translate certain iconic pieces of literature to the screen. The methods chosen and their respective levels of success have been… varied, at best. How, then, did Marc Forster adapt Max Brooks’ near-instant classic zombie novel World War Z, with its total disregard for familiar narrative structure? By deciding to ignore what made the novel so different in the first place and making a hero’s journey-based zombie horror/infection epidemic film. Does it work? That depends on what you’re looking for.
I’ll tell you right now, if you’re a gorehound then World War Z is probably not for you. Its well-publicized PG-13 rating is due in large part to it being a mostly bloodless affair. While we do see the film’s insane number of zombies (I honestly don’t think any film ever has, or ever will, top this one in terms of sheer amount of undead on-screen) tear into quite a few screaming victims, it’s usually in the distance and rarely the focus of the shot. However, possibly because of the limitation of not being able to rely on guts, this is one of the tenser zombie films I’ve seen in quite some time. I didn’t expect to, but I really did spend much more time on the edge of my seat, clutching my armrests than I’d like to admit. I think the last thing I saw on this level was the first few episodes of High School of the Dead (before they left the school and the show went completely to shit).
What World War Z is not, though, by any stretch of the imagination, is a literal adaptation of the novel. It is a very loose interpretation. In the film, Brad Pitt plays Brad Pitt, devoted family man who used to work as some kind of vaguely-defined badass for the UN. When the zombie outbreak happens (and yes, they absolutely are called zombies in the movie so relax about that) he’s called in by his former employers to help a scientist and some special ops guys find Patient Zero. Of course, his whole team gets wiped out pretty quick so it’s up to him to figure it out on his own. Pitt then goes from location to location trying to find where it all started to stop the zombies (instead of after-the-fact to find an explanation, as in the book).
Much has been made of the troubled production, especially the third act that was such a mess that Damon Lindeloff and Drew Goddard were brought in to write a completely new one after the movie had already finished filming. This, despite Lindeloff’s mixed reputation, was probably for the best as the third act (while a bit rushed at the very end) is actually very good. Even if it is really little more than a Resident Evil fetch mission. Forster has said repeatedly that he hopes for World War Z to be a trilogy, and I can definitely see how this film leaves room for that and even sets up something more like the original novel in later installments.
At the end of the day, would I recommend the movie? I would, but with some slight reservations. Again, it is not like the book and if that’s what you’re expecting you will be disappointed. If you only go to horror movie to see splatter then you will not like this. However, I thought World War Z was significantly better than it had any right to be and it was a legitimately tense and, at times, genuinely scary film. If you can look past the changes and the lack of gore then you’ll honestly be surprised by how much you like this movie. I was.
I give it 7.5 PILES OF ZOMBIES out of 10.