Friday, June 21, 2013

‘World War Z’ is ‘A’ budget zombie flick deserving ‘B-’ rating

By Steve Crum

It used to be that a make believe foot race between a mummy and a zombie would pretty much be a dead heat, per se. Now, thanks to the zombie-redux thriller World War Z, any zombie could beat a slow shuffling mummy, gnarled hands down. In fact, a WWZ zombie can run, dodge, and jump as fast or faster than its terrified human prey. Talk about motivated flesh eaters! 

Understand from the outset that I have never been a zombie movie fanatic. However, I consider 1968's Night of the Living Dead a genre classic, and it still elicits chills groping down my back. Zombie productions, including the mega popular TV series The Walking Dead, dwell on blood and gore close-ups of the many ways to kill a zombie. The bashing and slashing of a zombie’s cranium resembles comedian Gallagher’s Sledge-O-Matic crushing of a ripe watermelon. It’s not my cup of joy juice. 

World War Z certainly includes its share of zombie violence, but it is lighter on graphic imagery such as gray matter spattering. Its director, Marc Forster, has made his reputation at the helm of such diverse, non-horror titles as Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner. Based on Max Brooks’ best seller of the same name, WWZ has a narrative that emphasizes the central human characters, particularly Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane, during the race to contain and hopefully eliminate the worldwide zombie takeover. 

Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof have restructured Brooks’ anecdotal novel into a cohesive, traditional story line. Whereas the book borrowed its segmented style from Studs Terkel, the film is structured with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It all works quite well with enough jumping out of the shadows, teeth chomping scenes that should satisfy the mainline zombie fan. Ultra zombie-ites, however, might be disappointed with the lack of grossness. 

One of the half dozen set pieces, in fact, includes a nightmarish scene directed at viewers’ nerve control center. It takes place in the World Heath Organization’s building, wherein Pitt’s Lane is entrapped inside a lab while an especially obnoxious zombie guy leans outside the door glass. He wants to get at Lane so much that he makes rapidly chattering bites with his disgusting front teeth. It is horrifyingly funny. 

My favorite sequence occurs aboard a packed airplane, and our hero and central character Lane is aboard. (His wife and two young daughters have been left on a military ship, sailing the ocean, for safety reasons. Don’t zombies swim?)  Without ruining any surprises not already divulged in the previews, let us say that WWZ  segues into Zombies on a Plane. No doubt other critics will make the same reference, which proves we have no shame. The scene, however, is pretty terrifying, relying on innate fears for many of us: airplane flight + claustrophobia. Mix in a heap of zombies for bad measure.

Not that it greatly matters, but Lane is an agent of the United Nations assigned to find a reason and cure for the world’s zombie pandemic. Not only do these living dead things run, but they have super sensitive hearing, which makes hiding from them daunting. Immediately after being bitten, the victim transforms to zombie and so on and so on. Scenes of thousands of zombies on the move, even climbing on top of each other, to form a squirming ladder to scale high walls, are disturbing, memorable visuals.

Seeing WWZ in 3D will add little to the overall viewing experience. In fact, it is hard to recall any particular scene that pops into one’s eye space. 

As for acting notables, it is pretty much a draw between Brad Pitt and the zombies. Extraneous cast members Mireille Enos (portraying Lane’s wife), James Badge Dale (as Captain Speke, Lane’s friend and boss), and David Morse (a psychotic prisoner) are given sparse scenes and lines. 

Pitt plays out as the cool hero who steps up to battle zombies when necessary, while never exhibiting much fear. His character could use some Kevin McCarthy/Invasion of the Body Snatchers frantic demeanor.
GRADE on a Scale of A to F: B-
Zombies live! Proof is in this trailer:

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