“World War Z”: Brad Pitt’s Sell-Out Vanity Project

“He just wanted it to be cool,” someone (unnamed) told Vanity Fair, about Brad Pitt’s priority during the troubled development of “World War Z.” Poor Brad Pitt . . . so handsome, yet so oblivious. If he really wanted it to be cool, he should not have traded an R-rating for a $200-million budget and a horde of weepy Hollywood producers.

“World War Z” is kinda cool, as two hours of dumb entertainment. So mission accomplished, I guess. But it’s not very good. It worships Brad Pitt, but it doesn’t like zombies.

There are lots of interesting takeaways from the backstory. “Prometheus” writer Damon Lindelof and LOS ALAMOS HIGH SCHOOL grad Drew Goddard were brought in to rewrite the ending because producers, including Brad Pitt, thought the movie’s original ending—a huge fight scene they filmed in Russia—wasn’t right.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

You know those little graphic studio stamps at the very beginning of movies, like Dreamworks’s kid fishing off a crescent moon, or the Paramount mountain, or the Bad Robot zooming through a field? “World War Z” has five of those. The infestation here isn’t undead, it’s studio suits.

“World War Z” was a disaster, budget-wise, but it was always supposed to be expensive. To recoup costs, the movie was contractually obligated to be rated PG-13, and this is where it sold any shot at a soul. It needed to be R. The tenets of zombie ethos demand it.

You gotta have gore for a good zombie movie, and the “WWZ” source material is loaded with spectacular gore. The book saw soldiers developing this great machete-style weapon to brain zombies easily. Stage a movie battle with living armies wielding lobotomizers (“lobos”) and you’ve got the potential for some awesome action.

There’s no gore at all in Brad Pitt’s “World War Z.” Its zombies are the fast kind. “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later” had the fast zombies, who were gory and totally terrifying. (But not actually dead, which helps us understand why they are fast—they’re like us, but with only one thought: rage. George A Romero’s zombies are slow because they’re dead. The distinction is interesting.)

In the “28 __ Later” universe, survivors had to stay hidden because the moment a zombie sees you, you’re probably getting killed or, worse, infected. It’s gonna chase you through anything for the chance to gouge out your eyes and smash your head into chuck. The circumstances are so scary that the actors do amazing work and we, in turn, get freaked out just sitting there watching them.

day-of-the-dead-spill

Day of the Dead (1985)

The suits’ problem with Brad Pitt’s version was his character, Gerry Lane, not getting home to his wife and children at the end. From Vanity Fair: The Russian battle set up Brad Pitt as a warrior hero hacking his way through the bodies of the undead, not as the sympathetic family man he had portrayed earlier in the filming, fighting the zombies so he could get home to his family. “Russia never worked,” said a person with knowledge of the film. . . . “It wasn’t character-driven anymore.”

You morons know this is all made-up, right? Brad Pitt is acting. Are you making a zombie movie, or a friend?

What those “28 Days Later” movies captured so well, and what the “WWZ” book also conveys pretty brilliantly, is the feats of cunning and athleticism required to survive a zombie attack. Luck, too. And bravery.

Brad Pitt has several close calls with the zombies in his movie, but you never feel scared for him. For one, he’s the star and we know he’s not gonna die. For another, the zombies are mostly digital special effects, and they look it. No dangling eyeballs or guts hanging out. There’s a reason those kids are making a zombie movie on Super-8 film when the train crashes in “Super 8.” Makeup effects are supposed to be fun. Zombies are supposed to be fun.

The best way to tell the story of the zombie world war is to craft a series of different scenes mixing important political events and survivors’ tales. (For my personal favorite from the book, featuring a samurai sword, Click here.) This movie version is all about Brad Pitt. And Brad Pitt’s awesome, don’t get me wrong. He has kicked ass in great movies, especially “Snatch” and “Fight Club.” But he is not awesome enough to salvage a zombie movie that doesn’t like zombies. No one is that cool.

Except maybe Daniel Day-Lewis, but he would never get involved with something this shallow. Zombie flicks used to be about us; “World War Z” is about behind-the-scenes suits making money. The only scary thing about it is how it epitomizes a greedy studio system making movies worse. Not cool.

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One thought on ““World War Z”: Brad Pitt’s Sell-Out Vanity Project

  1. Pingback: Omar Comin’ to “12 Years a Slave” | The Flip Side in Santa Fe

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