News Column

'World War Z' Is a Ton of Brain-eating Fun

June 29, 2013

William Kerns

I had a ton of fun watching "World War Z," and was often lured to the edge of my seat.

It is the last place I expected to be.

After all, for some time it was even considered a spoiler to express what the Z in the film's title stood for. (I'm going to guess that most have seen the trailer and know that the word zombie works.)

So much had been written about script problems beforehand that one could hardly walk into the theater on opening day feeling confident. Even now, it is tough to write about the film without nearing spoilers. So what I plan to focus on is the script that was not used, and thus not give away the present film.

Vanity Fair reported in a lengthy feature that the filmmakers threw out a 12-minute battle scene as the budget passed $190 million.

Just do not assume that the movie follows the book.

Screenwriters Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof were paid at virtually the last minute to save the movie, in essence rewriting the final 40-plus minutes.

Gifted director Marc Forster then was able to deliver a cunningly visualized PG-13 movie and dispose of the R-rated gore fest that zombie fans had relished.

The film works. At one point, Rotten Tomatoes graded "World War Z" at a fresh 73, dominating the 56-percent approval rating then earned by "Man of Steel."

Mind you, Hollywood's media often have written about film problems, overages and unhealthy set morale.

Recall how James Cameron's crew hated his arrogance while making "Titanic," predicting a bomb. George Lucas' crew made fun of his script and openly pitied actors who had to say the lines in "Star Wars."

Many assumed "Jaws" would flop after countless stories about problems filming on water or the performance by Spielberg's mechanical shark, Bruce, who would neither swim nor eat. Just sink.

Spielberg, as it turned out, would not reveal his shark until deep into the film. But his only story changes involved human characters. Spielberg realized no one cared about human problems when a killing machine was swimming just off the coast.

Whereas in "World War Z," changes went far deeper than simply considering a possible reunion. The original script is an almost completely different movie. Thus, I'm not certain it can simply be referred to as an alternate ending when the movie comes out on DVD.

Those who have seen "WWZ:" Prepare to be astounded.

Here is the teaser I wrote for Friday's Go:

"Director Marc Forster defies all naysayers, not to mention all those reports about script problems and finale changes. 'WWZ' is an intense thriller that glues everyone to the edges of their seats, while United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (a fine performance by Brad Pitt) barely catches the last flight out of seemingly everywhere in an attempt to find the source of a zombie pandemic that appears to find humanity doomed.

"The opening introduction to zombie attacks in heavy city traffic is intense and horrifying, directed with a stunning eye for detail. Killing is far more gory and gruesome on television's 'The Walking Dead;" yet viewers rarely close their eyes while 'World War Z' is on screen.

"True, the ending is somewhat of a letdown. But the movie as a whole is so good that one almost wishes for a follow-up.

"Andre Kertesz also shines as wounded Israeli soldier Segen."

I originally had added that Pitt leaves the story open for a sequel by telling us that the conflict is nowhere close to over. At the time, I was not sure that everyone even liked each other enough to return. Paramount, however, has seen the box office figures and is committed to a sequel; so is Pitt.

Nevertheless, much as Bruce Willis was sent back in time to search for the source of a virus in superior drama "12 Monkeys" -- which, by the way, earned Pitt a much deserved Oscar nomination -- the new film finds Pitt searching for the source of an undead pandemic that seems to have humanity doomed.

However, look closely and notice that Matthew Fox has the bit part of a soldier who helps Pitt's family onto an escaping helicopter in an early scene.

Why?

Pitt's telephone later is stolen and so, in a way, is his wife in the first script.

Suffice it to say that she had a much bigger role in that story. That first script finds Pitt captured by the Russian government. He realizes that the undead are slowed by cold weather, which helps him become an even more deadly Rambo-esque warrior, leading Russia in a huge, bloody battle against thousands of zombies in the middle of Moscow's Red Square (the lost scene).

Naturally, the Reds expect him to stay.

Pitt's Gerry Lane instead sails around the world, only to wind up on the opposite side of the United States from the wife and daughters he plans to rescue as the original story ends -- thus guaranteeing a sequel.

That's how the original ended.

And by now, I am positive that those who have seen "World War Z" have dropped onto the nearest sofa, asking aloud, "Say what?"

Or they may be ready to accuse me of making this all up.

Los Angeles Times writer Kenneth Turan summarized it best, saying, "Unless you knew about the film's troubled past, you'd never guess it even existed."

My advice?

Go with the flow. Enjoy what made it on screen, and hope that Forster and Pitt are handed a much stronger story in the now inevitable sequel.

Chat about movies, theater, music, dance and visual arts at my blog playBill by Kerns at lubbockonline.com -- or check out Twitter at AJ_WilliamKerns.

william.kerns@lubbockonline.com

-- 766-8712

Follow William Kerns on Twitter

@AJ_WilliamKerns

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