Daniel W. Drezner
Why World War Z scares me — and not in the good way
We might live in an era of globalization, but its is nevertheless true that travel abroad leads to some odd news gaps when one returns. Last year I took a transatlantic flight and while I was incommunicado, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as the President of Egypt. During yesterday’s trip, David Petraeus resigned after… after…. well, ...
We might live in an era of globalization, but its is nevertheless true that travel abroad leads to some odd news gaps when one returns. Last year I took a transatlantic flight and while I was incommunicado, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as the President of Egypt. During yesterday’s trip, David Petraeus resigned after… after…. well, insert your own pun involving Petraeus and Paula Broadwell here, but only if you think you can top the New York Post.
Still, I think the biggest shock I encountered upon my return was the new trailer for World War Z, starring Brad Pitt and based on the best zombie novel ever written (by Max Brooks).
I once asked Max — yeah, I know him, I get to call him Max, just f***ing deal with it — how he was handling the movie version of his book, and he told me that his strategy was to simply sign over the rights and then not pay an iota of attention to what happened. Once it became clear that the producers weren’t interested in his input, he figured that it was the only way to stay sane.
After watching the trailer, I think his strategy is sound, because it looks like what they’re doing to World War Z is a travesty:
Now, let me preface my reaction to this trailer with the following caveats:
1) All movies that are inspired by books will deviate from their source material. That doesn’t make the films bad (see my review of Argo, for example).
2) This is a trailer, and very often trailers are designed to misdirect your perceptions of how the film will play out. So maybe the movie will play out differently.
3) Even this trailer has hints of the book I love — there are suggestions of the sweeping global canvas that made the book so great.
All that said, this looks pretty bad.
First off, there’s the fast CGI zombies. One of the great pleasures of World War Z the novel was the way in which the degree of threat slowly creeped up, just like the walkers that Brooks used for his zombies. Switching to the 28 Days Later style of ghouls changes the nature of the threat in ways that undercut one of the central pleasures of Brooks’ novel. The trailer looks like a globalized version of 28 Days Later. Which would be OK if the zombies in the movie version of World War Z were as scary as that movie’s Infected. Which they ain’t. You know a movie’s Big Bad is in trouble when the Dark Seekers from I Am Legend look positively life-like.
Second, the trailer and the casting make it seem pretty clear that the movie is about how former government badass Brad Pitt reluctantly decides to leave his family for a spell to save the world. Which is pretty much the total friggin’ opposite of what happens in the book.
Again, one of the pleasures of World War Z was the almost-pointillist way that Brooks told dozens of small stories about what happened across the world — and how the sum of myriad small actions paved the way to victory. Indeed, the closest thing to a strategic savior in the book is a despised Afrikaaner who modified a decades-old plan to preserve the apartheid government into a ruthless strategy to retrench and then defeat the undead hordes. Brad Pitt ain’t that guy. So instead this looks like your standard reluctant-hero-saves-the-day narrative.
Finally, over 90% of the trailer looks at the U.S. Again, the best thing about the book was how it started with a global perspective and how it managed to keep a global perspective (as opposed to, say, Contagion).
In the course of writing Theories of International Politics and Zombies, my admiration for what Brooks pulled off in his book only grew with time. I hope I’m wrong about how the movie version of World War Z turns out. At this point, however, I have more optimism about Star Wars Episode VII than this bastardization of Max Brooks’ magnum opus.
Am I missing anything?