November 12th, 2012, 9:23 am

Is World War Z Losing Its Bite on the Big Screen?

I know a lot of people are excited about "World War Z" after seeing the trailer. But, as a big fan of the Max Books book on which it was based, the differences look practically night and day. Yes, I know the old adage "the book is always better than the movie", but hear me out on why I'm afraid this world war may be lost before it even begins.

Okay, the trailer begins with protagonist, played by Brad Pitt, playing a guessing game with his family in deadlocked traffic in NYC. First off, I have no problem with Pitt as the protagonist - I think he'd make a great narrator, which is basically the role seen in the book. Of course, within one minute, the crap hits the fan.

The first action shot we see is a cop getting hit by a speeding garbage truck. Okay, am I the only one wondering where this garbage truck came from? Everyone is stuck in deadlocked traffic - you can see at least six or seven vehicles behind the cop. Even a garbage truck would have a hard time plowing through an entire lane of traffic, especially in New York City. At best, an out-of-control garbage truck would just make one heck of a fender bender.

What follows is a lot of people running, with no real indication what they are running from. On the plus side, we do see a lot of military hardware in these scenes, as A-10 Warthogs and gunships soar above the city. I think that's what a lot of people are excited about the film - because it's one of the first truly big-budget zombie films (the cheesy Resident Evil movies aside). But will it do Max Brooks' source material any justice?

It does appear Pitt's character is, like the narrator of the book, some sort of government official, as he calls one of his friends, who briefs him on the worldwide outbreak. The shot of several soldiers carrying out the Constitution and other government documents is pretty striking, but with the exception of soldiers firing upon hundreds of zombies toppling a bus, the rest of the worldwide shots look pretty similar to those seen in "28 Days Later" and "I Am Legend", with riot police fighting with people in grainy stock footage and jet fighters blowing up bridges.

There's also the question of just what kind of zombies these are? They are clearly fast zombies, a far cry from the shambling stench-piles of the book. We only actually see one zombie up close in the entire trailer. He looks more like a Rage victim from "28 Days Later" than a full-on zombie. "Dawn of the Dead" had fast zombies who were both dead and very, very fast. But the zombies in this trailer don't seem very decayed. Are they really dead or just "infected"? It changes the situation dramatically. Brooks showed the military of the world struggling to counter an enemy who could only effectively be killed by a very precise headshot, rendering most shrapnel-based explosives and automatic weapons almost useless against the legions of the undead. But if they are just "sick", they can pretty much be killed by a normal gunshot to a vital organ, making them far less threatening. Whatever their status, they seem to have trouble putting on the breaks - as they run right off the building after Pitt and his family are airlifted. This makes me wonder if the movie's shouldn't be changed from World War Z to World War L - for Lemmings.

It's not until three-fourths away through the trailer that we even see the core of the story - as Pitt's character is asked to go on a fact-finding mission to discover the origins of the zombie outbreak. In the book, the narrator is collecting accounts from the survivors ten years after the end of the crisis. The outcome is the same, though, as the main character is sent on a globe-trotting mission in search of answers to the undead. The problem is the movie, at least from the trailer, seems so centered on the main character's family. Yes, I think it's good that the movie establish who the main character is and what he fighting for, but the Escape from New York sequence looks to take 20-30 minutes of time the movie could have used elsewhere.

We only see Pitt's character in one other setting, in the Middle East, and he and his team face hordes of zombies at every turn. The one shot which has gotten the most criticism can best be described as a "zombie ant pile" threatening to overtake a fortress. But of all things, this is actually from the book - not "World War Z" - but instead Brooks' previous book, "The Zombie Survival Guide", which states, "Several thousand, however, crawling over each other in a writhing, growing mound, would eventually rise high enough to topple the first fence, then the second, then come swarming into the compound." It seems that at least here, the filmmakers have read the source material, giving me some hope.

Ultimately, I suggest going out and reading the book. Since the book and movie seem so differently, I doubt you'll be spoiling anything from the movie. And at the very least, you can make an informed decision on which one is better. And though it 180 degrees from World War Z, "Warm Bodies" is another zombie movie whose trailer was released this week. It's also based on a book, and as I understand, actually accurate to the source material.

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder Wednesday.)

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