The back story of director Marc Forster’s “World War Z” should have been the recipe for a calamity of the kind that would replace “Heaven’s Gate” as the shorthand for bloated, way-over-budget, star-driven box office disaster. But moviegoers didn’t watch star and producer Brad Pitt’s years-long battle to bring his zombie epic to the big screen. The customers see only the end product, which they turned into a worldwide smash — and for good reason: “World War Z” is an intense and intensely satisfying entry into the zombie genre.
WWZ opens with a short, well-crafted scene that sets up the dynamic of the Lane family: Gerry (Pitt — who is superb) is a former United Nations investigator who retired to make pancakes for his wife and two young daughters. Within minutes (on screen), this loving family is thrown into an apocalypse. A virus that turns humans into a virus is desperate to spread and does so like a flood of water across the globe. The only thing that ultimately save the Lane family is that the UN needs Gerry.
Promising his family safe shelter if he’ll agree to track down the source of the virus (which might result in a cure), the UN pretty much blackmails Gerry back to work. What follows is a globe-trotting mystery in a world filled, literally, with billions of relentless bad guys.
On every level — story, character, pacing, intensity, suspense — “World War Z” works. The story is compelling for every one of its lean 116 minutes and the individual set-pieces are not only frightening, they keep a surprisingly intelligent (for the genre) story moving. Especially enjoyable is the visual conception of zombies that — depending on what is necessary — either attack like a rabid pack of dogs or insects.
As far as all that behind-the-scenes retooling, you do get the sense that the original idea was to make an “important” film that “said something” about the world. If true, thankfully, none of that survived the final cut, which is interested only in a humanist theme about the importance of life and family.
Special kudos to the filmmakers for their treatment of the American military and Israel. No sucker punches here, just a simple story told in an epic, smart, frightening, and compelling way.
“World War Z” is also a zombie flick for those who don’t normally care for zombie flicks. With a PG-13 rating, the gore is kept to a minimum, which in no way takes away from a superb addition to a genre I have been in love with for forty years.
Below is a video Paramount sent celebrating Tuesday’s home video release:
World War Z is available for sale at Amazon.com.