- World War Z by Marc Forster
Monster movies have been popular ever since the earliest days of cinema. The Edison Studio’s 16-minute version of Frankenstein (US 1910), possibly produced by Thomas Edison himself, was one of the first. In 1932, White Zombie (Halperin US) was the first horror movie to feature a zombie. However, the modern zombie movie featuring mindless re-animated corpses with an insatiable hunger for human flesh, especially brains, began with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (US 1968) and has become so popular that zombies have surpassed vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein monsters and other creatures as the leading movie monster of the 21st Century.
The concept of zombies is attractive to artists because they can serve as metaphors for many things, from the national debt to unemployment, class struggle or isolation. World War Z’s director, Marc Forster, considers zombies to be a metaphor for overpopulation and consumerism. Another possibility in this particular movie is that since zombies are victims of a disease, the zombie plague can be considered a metaphor for a global pandemic, such as the one depicted literally in Contagion (Soderbergh US/UAE 2011).
World War Z takes its title and basic premise from the 2006 novel by Max Brooks, who also wrote the satirical, pseudo-reference book The Zombie Survival Guide (2003). However, the movie discards the most original feature of the novel, which was written in the form of an oral history modelled after The Good War (1984), in which Studs Terkel interviewed survivors of the Second World War. In Brooks’ novel, several years after the zombies are defeated in a global war, an unnamed historian, based on Brooks himself, travels around the world interviewing survivors and, through their individual stories, an outline of the history of the war emerges. Brooks uses the novel to comment subtly on politics and business, and some critics have argued that in the novel the zombie plague is a metaphor for natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. To be fair, a faithful adaptation would have to look something like the films Contagion or Traffic (Soderbergh US/Germany 2000), but without the skill of an exceptional director, which Forster, the director of Quantum of Solace (UK/US 2008), has not shown himself to be, it would be incomprehensible to an audience. Instead, the filmmakers turned the story into a conventional sf movie.
A conventional sf story has three features. The first is that the protagonist, usually male, is intelligent, good-looking and a natural leader, like Star Trek’s Captain Kirk (William Shatner). World War Z serves as a star vehicle for [End Page 445] superstar Brad Pitt, who was also one of the film’s producers, and it has become the highest grossing film of his career. His character, Gerry Lane, is a former investigator for the United Nations living in Philadelphia with his wife Karin, played by an underutilised Mireille Enos, and their two daughters. He and his family survive the onslaught of zombies in Philadelphia and flee to Newark, where a Special Forces unit (led by a barely recognisable Matthew Fox in an unnamed cameo) rescues them. Lane is drafted by either the United Nations or the US Department of Defense (the film is not clear which) and leaves his wife and two daughters on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean to travel around the world to Korea, where he meets a CIA agent, played by David Morse, then to Israel and finally to Wales where he looks for a cure for the zombie plague. The movie ends when he is re-united with his family in Nova Scotia. Lane is in the vast majority of the scenes and is one of the few characters the viewer gets to know somewhat, but he did not actually appear in the book. (He was invented by J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5 (US 1994–8), the first of five writers to work on the screenplay.) Most of the scenes without...