News Column

End of the World as We Know It, With Zombies

June 24, 2013

Gary Rotstein

Decisions, decisions. As always, when contemplating a trip to the movies over the weekend, we were faced with impossible choices:

Should we go see the funny movie where Seth Rogen and friends are facing the end of the world as we know it today, or the more sober one where Will Smith and his son are visiting the Earth 1,000 years after a cataclysm already ruined it forever?

Either way, it should be rollicking good escapist entertainment. There's nothing like a doomsday scenario captured on film to put the petty travails of the real world into perspective.

Is that little odd-shaped, discolored, never-before-noticed clump of skin of yours seeming potentially tumorous? Oh well, let's go the movies and watch society fight for its life and forget all our troubles.

"The Purge" should provide some merriment, after all, by showcasing the one day a year in the future when no one has to obey any rules or law and you can commit all the sick acts you want for 24 hours. Chortle, guffaw.

And oh wait, look -- there's another zombie pic, just when you thought you'd seen the last! (Wasn't that three weeks ago?)

Brad Pitt is starring in "World War Z," in which the world is overrun with flesh-craving, living-dead hordes that -- worst of all for mortals -- move about a thousand times faster than George Romero ever imagined a zombie could run. These zombies apparently could leg out a triple faster than Andrew McCutchen, even if pausing just past second base to chomp on Clint Barmes (oh please, please) along the way.

We read in the Chicago Tribune that there's actually a bit of debate right now over what the proper speed of a zombie should be. Mr. Romero and the folks associated with AMC's "Walking Dead" find them a rather languid lot. The "World War Z" crowd, following in the fast footsteps of "28 Days Later" from a decade ago, give the undead a lot more credit for keeping in jogging, or even sprinting, condition.

"The audience has grown so used to interpreting a lot of visual information quickly," Columbia College Chicago assistant professor and film editor David Tarleton told the Tribune. "The speed of zombies is probably a side effect. ... We live in the fast zombie era."

Oh, great. As if we didn't already have enough to worry about for not exercising to a perspiration point five days a week to stay in shape. Now we won't even be able to outrun a freakin' zombie when the time comes. Eat me.

Meanwhile, Ann Hornaday, film critic for The Washington Post, is mourning the demise of the Hollywood rom-com amid the action-packed summer blockbusters. There seems to be no room anymore for a scatter-brained Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock or Zooey Deschanel to have some dreamy, on-again, off-again, frustrating but ultimately fulfilling relationship with Tom Hanks, Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Reynolds et al.

Ms. Hornaday comments that in a modern era where economic circumstances and the variety of sexual relationships have changed, old-fashioned stories about heterosexual couples and their kooky romantic struggles can seem a bit retro.

And she adds, "If the current absence of big-screen romance reflects trends at play in society at large, it also reflects a broader realignment in Hollywood, where in a desperate attempt to minimize risk and maximize profits, studios are throwing everything overboard that isn't based on a bestselling novel or game or comic book."

(That would explain how new films like "The Great Gatsby" and "Much Ado About Nothing" are getting made. Sheesh, some guy writes a story that gets a few positive reviews a century or four ago, and Hollywood just can't keep its money-grubbing hands off it.)

It's unclear to us why the film industry ever bothers to fictionalize things anyway, considering the great real-life stories out there.

For instance, a story from The Associated Press last week noted that an effort is under way in Kansas to convert caves once used for storage by the Army into a massive shelter. A few thousand people there who pay the right price will be able to survive whatever apocalyptic event actually awaits us. (And gosh, there are so many to choose from, thanks to the film industry.)

They would do this, of course, by living in as many as 1,000 RVs parked next to one another. It would be like "Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park for Those Who Will Not Die."

Now there's a movie we'd like to see.

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.

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