Why World War Z Doesn’t Translate as a Summer Blockbuster



My boyfriend and I somehow managed to pack 3 different movies into our weekend.  We saw The Purge (Which we both agreed would have worked better as a novel due to too many ideas.), World War Z and Monsters University (Which was the cutest and best movie of the weekend.).  Of these three the one I was looking the least forward to was World War Z. In fact, by the time we bought tickets my expectations were extremely low.  So I was happy when the movie was over to realize that it was not the worst movie I’d ever seen but I wouldn’t describe it as “great” like others I know.  I had already resigned myself to the fact that the movie would not resemble the book from which it steals its title, so here is why I thought World War Z was only an OK summer movie:

  1. It was generic– I am a huge zombie fan. I probably would have seen this movie even if the title hadn’t brought back memories of a book that I adored.  Being a huge fan of something makes you more critical when you view/read an item that fits the genre you’re obsessed with.  Was this movie fun? YES. Was it explode-y and loud? YES.  Did it add anything unique to the zombie subgenre that is quickly becoming over saturated? NO. My biggest problem with this movie is that it took from a book that was unique and added something new to the subgenre and became your stereotypical summer movie. Great escapism that will be forgotten come the time the leaves start to fall.
  2. Too much Brad Pitt, not enough zombies-So many of the articles, like this one, I have read about the movie have described it as “passion project” for Pitt.  My brain translates this to “vanity project”. This was obvious to me from the first preview. I actually asked, “Where are the zombies?”  I still feel like I am asking this question.  World War Z isn’t about one guy saving the world from zombies, its based on “recollections” of a war that the entire world fought.  The zombies in this movie go back to my complaint about things being generic. There aren’t enough of them, the makeup is stuff I’ve seen in a dozen other zombie movies, and the “flocking” movement makes it hard to distiguish the zombies from the people running from them in the bigger action sequences.  The generic zombie makeup bothers me because I have watched plenty of bad zombie movies because they do awesome things with make up.  I will say that Brad Pitt (who I do think is a great actor) is a good choice for the only guy we follow, mainly because he is one of the only men I can think of who could not shower for over a month and women would still swoon.
  3. The action is kinda lame.– I actually like Marc Forster but my favorite movie from him is Finding Neverland, a movie with lots of heart but no action. I literally saw this movie 7 times in the theater. I also don’t remember hating The Kite Runner or really thinking that the movie destroyed that book so he is capable of making movie adaptations.  BUT, I also saw Quantum of Solace in theater and thought it was kind of lame. At the time I thought it was because I am not a Bond fan. But others who are have told me they thought it was full of boring action sequences. World War Z is full of lots of running and shooting and has some tense sequences. But there are no real scares. Ok, maybe one jump scare.  I get that studios want to get as big an audience as they can in theaters for summer blockbusters but this movie would have been better rated R than PG-13.  As a PG-13 movie, it just feels watered down and I do not like my zombies watered down.  In fact, this movie is more of a thriller than a horror film.

 World War Z, as it was written, is a horror story and not just because the world is fighting the undead. It has gore and elements that are genuinely scary.  It is also unique in the way it takes itself completely serious and reads to some like non-fiction.  I think this is why some people put the book down.  Some parts are a little slow and dry.  But the overall affect is to make the book read like an oral history.  This tone is why I had my doubts years ago, when they announced the movie adaptation, that any studio would ever get this book right.  The closest movie I can compare in tone to World War Z  as a novel is Contagion.  Steven Soderbergh creates a scenario that is both realistic and scary.  But that movie was released in September because of its more serious tone.  You can’t use it to sell other things (except flu medication). It has human emotion in it, but no gun battles or people running.  It’s not escapism in the way we think of our summer blockbusters. The novel World War Z, while being about a zombie war, has more serious things to say.

Another reason World War Z would never work as a summer blockbuster, or really as a movie, is that there are too many memorable scenes and characters and too many locations.  The Brad Pitt movie calling itself World War Z is as global in scale as a two hour movie can get.  I own the audiobook adaptation of World War Z and, while it is amazing, I was disappointed to find out it was abridged. I think there is an unabridged version out there but I cannot find it.  Still, in editing the novel down, I missed some of my favorite characters and scenes. This would’ve been inevitable for any movie adaptation. There’s something about the structure of this novel that makes you miss those excised pieces more.  This novel, while not a doorstopper in length, just feels too big to have ever succeeded as a movie.   Still, a better effort could have been made to include some elements from the book. A  character or two, the name of Patient Zero, or the way the world fought back against the zombies at the end. No spoilers here, but the end of the movie was just completely unbelievable.  I wish I wasn’t hearing sequel talk about this movie, but that’s maybe the one reason why this book would’ve worked as a summer blockbuster, if they had done it right.  With any good book you don’t want it to end. With any (even bad) summer blockbuster, as long as the first makes enough money, there will be a guaranteed sequel.  I just hope that the next movie focuses more on the zombies and the world as the title suggests and not Brad Pitt.

And if my point hasn’t already been made, here it is a Venn diagram, from the Oatmeal.



One thought on “Why World War Z Doesn’t Translate as a Summer Blockbuster

  1. Angie says:

    I will be seeing this movie this week so I can’t comment yet on what I thought about it. But I understand what you are saying. Honestly I could never imagine this book as a movie.. and they have taken what is a fantastic book and turned it into something completely different. I have heard good things and bad. So we’ll see!!!

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