The Dead Don’t Shuffle (They Run)

The above title is taken from a rather excellent Miracle Of Sound song. I suggest you listen to it, not least of all because it makes what I’m about to dissect here seem even more appalling by comparison.

So the new trailer for next year’s World War Z film adaptation has gone live. To say it disappoints me is grossly selling the point short – it looks like a fetid, congealed piece of Hollywood garbage, and a quite possible contender for worst film in the history of existence. That might sound a bit over-the-top even for me, but I’m not exaggerating when I say the World War Z trailer got me really goddamn angry.

You might say it’s a waste of time being angry at a film, especially one which many people predicted years ago would turn out to be rubbish. You might also say that I shouldn’t judge this book by its cover, but the problem is that the book this is a cover of (see what I did there?) is freakin’ excellent, and easily one of the best zombie fics ever written. But really, how many people mouth off at Gavin Hood because he raped beloved Marvel characters in Wolverine? How many slews of fans took some chunks out of Julie Anne Robinson after One for the Money turned out to be a crapshoot? I feel I’m well within my rights to rail on Brad Pitt’s newest feckless addition to his CV, despite the fact it ain’t out yet, as both a fan of the book and a fan of zombies in general.

First, let’s examine this as a fan of the book – the original World War Z was a documentary-style text that compiled a series of enlightening interviews with survivors of the zombie holocaust that befell an Earth not too far removed from our own. Max Brooks, son of legendary comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks, did painstaking research to add as much realism and believability to the story as possible, making this zombie threat something that could conceivably take humanity on and entrench itself in every level of our society – political, environmental, military and anything else you care to name. The book was a damn good read and genuinely horrifying quite a few times throughout, and didn’t feel the need to resort to using a heroic protagonist on an epic quest to rid the world of undead shamblers. The only real main character (for lack of a better term) is the omnipresent journalist who documents everyone’s experiences during the war, and who deliberately stays out of having a characterisation or a purpose beyond expositing backstory for the inteviewees. This makes the ensemble cast stand out more as universal entities rather than satellites orbiting an action hero protagonist.

Instead, Brad Pitt has now given himself a character (and a name) with a familial element to his story that will no doubt be so pumped full of cheese and sap I’ll need a tarpaulin to stem the flow. He’s also no longer a held-back entity merely providing a framing device for the narrative, but is instead presented in the trailer as an action hero protagonist with apparent knowledge of how to kill the shamblers. The Wikipedia article claims that Pitt’s character goes around interviewing people about how to hold back the undead, but I saw absolutely non of that in the trailer besides Brad Pitt being how Brad Pitt usually is in an action film. This either means the press release is lying its ass off or the trailer does an incredibly poor effort at dissuading the notion that this has been turned into Dawn of the Dead 2.0.

Speaking of, they’ve made it an action film – it never was an action story. There was plenty of action, certainly, especially in the military recaps of events like the Battle of Yonkers, but it was not presented as a strictly linear action film the way something like Transformers is. They don’t even make it appear to have the horror elements needed for a good serious zombie film, like in 28 Days Later. It’s just action. Don’t we have enough of that already? Isn’t Michael Bay good for that kind of shit? Just saying.

Also, by the look of the cast list it’s a predominantly-American gig. The book was incredibly multicultural, going out to places like India, Pakistan, Israel, China, Russia and even my dear old Oz to interview natives who’d experienced the terror firsthand. Here we just seem to have Brad Pitt, a bunch of Yankees and a few (being the operative word) other ethnicities. I can’t help but feel the filmmakers are going to take an ‘America save the day’ angle if that’s the case, which, while they did certainly help in the book, didn’t happen that way. The victory was only assured through a collaborative effort between a variety of nations, not the Americans riding in on their tanks and Bradleys and turning the zombies into plant food. The implied jingoism there makes me uneasy, and possibly speaks volumes about what the filmmakers thought about the original text’s solution to the zombie problem. Does that mean if America falls first in a zombie invasion we’re all screwed because we’re clearly not as advanced or heroic as our Western comrades?

Now, looking at it as a zombie film – THE ZOMBIES RUN. And I don’t mean the way some of them rush forward in The Walking Dead or Zombieland, I mean they’re the frikkin’ Usain Bolt of the zombie pantheon. The trailer barely even gave us a look at them since they were moving apparently faster than the speed of light, like an unholy combination of The Flash and Solomon Grundy. In fact, for a while I wasn’t even sure I was watching the right trailer since there seemed to be no sign of zombies when trucks started taking Brad Pitt’s car door off and the streets turn to chaos.

Then it was revealed that they were just moving really super-fast. A later scene in the trailer had piles of them trying to climb up what looked like a dam wall, dogpiling on each other like monkeys chasing a balloon. That was the point I slammed my hands down on my computer desk and cried “F**K OFF. NO F**KING WAY.” That, for me, was the moment the trailer did a nice little hop over the shark and entered the territory of utter garbagey bullcrap.

Not to sound too much like a purist who’s as open to innovation as the Tea Party, but zombies do not run that way. And even if they did, they wouldn’t move at a speed that’d make Cathy Freeman hang her head in shame. Something like the 28 Days Later movies work because technically they’re not zombies, or at least not presented as zombies in the traditional sense. This just makes them look superhuman, undefeatable and completely Hollywood. What, did the producers not think a horde of millions of slowly-infected shambling corpses was enough of a stake-raising threat for Brad Pitt’s action hero? God forbid they decide to include latent superpowers in Pitt as the only method of their eventual defeat.

As I said earlier, there’s little to no horror presented in the trailer. I understand it’s only two and a half minutes of footage, but part of the purpose of a trailer is to present an idea of what you can expect in the final product. Something that is universal in the majority of good serious zombie pieces is the horror factor, the scary element that really augments the sense of isolation, hopelessness and real struggle that things like The Walking Dead pull off nicely. All I really got out of this was a bit of Cloverfield-esque city-wide panic and a bit where Brad Pitt and family attempt to get through a door, praying there isn’t anything on the other side. The rest of the trailer was just explosions, helicopters and Americans. If this is an indication of the finished product, I’d probably get a more fulfilling zombie experience playing Resident Evil 6 instead. It’d certainly have the aforementioned real struggle element, at least.

As always, I’m happy to be proven wrong. I had someone come down on me the other day for condemning the Star Wars Episode VII announcement as a bad idea, but I emphasised I’d be quite open to both seeing the film and having all the things I’ve just whinged about be thrown aside like banana peels. While I admit I’m significantly more pissed off about this than Star Wars (especially when you consider the fact that World War Z‘s writer has had middling reception to his previous work, and the director made Quantum of Solace), I’ll still give it a go. As with Fifty Shades I can’t really condemn a work until after I’ve experienced it, so if nothing else I’ll probably check it out to make a follow-up post either proving my incredible prescience or my lack of open mindedness. But on paper, and based on the stupifyingly awful excuse for a trailer it squeezed out, World War Z‘s filmic adaptation looks like an absolute mound of regurgitated fail. Hell, it might even be so bad that Transformers 4 beats the crap out of it.

Though if it does, enjoy your last days since the apocalypse will be nigh.

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