Skip to content

Essays World War Z

We might live in an era of globalization, but its is nevertheless true that travel abroad leads to some odd news gaps when one returns.  Last year I took a transatlantic flight and while I was incommunicado, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as the President of Egypt.  During yesterday’s trip, David Petraeus resigned after… after…. well, insert your own pun involving Petraeus and Paula Broadwell here, but only if you think you can top the New York Post

Still, I think the biggest shock I encountered upon my return was the new trailer for World War Z, starring Brad Pitt and based on the best zombie novel ever written (by Max Brooks). 

I once asked Max — yeah, I know him, I get to call him Max, just f***ing deal with it — how he was handling the movie version of his book, and he told me that his strategy was to simply sign over the rights and then not pay an iota of attention to what happened.  Once it became clear that the producers weren’t interested in his input, he figured that it was the only way to stay sane. 

After watching the trailer, I think his strategy is sound, because it looks like what they’re doing to World War Z is a travesty: 


Now, let me preface my reaction to this trailer with the following caveats:

1)  All movies that are inspired by books will deviate from their source material.  That doesn’t make the films bad (see my review of Argo, for example). 

2)  This is a trailer, and very often trailers are designed to misdirect your perceptions of how the film will play out.  So maybe the movie will play out differently. 

3)  Even this trailer has hints of the book I love — there are suggestions of the sweeping global canvas that made the book so great. 

All that said, this looks pretty bad.

First off, there’s the fast CGI zombies.  One of the great pleasures of World War Z the novel was the way in which the degree of threat slowly creeped up, just like the walkers that Brooks used for his zombies.  Switching to the 28 Days Later style of ghouls changes the nature of the threat in ways that undercut one of the central pleasures of Brooks’ novel.  The trailer looks like a globalized version of 28 Days Later.  Which would be OK if the zombies in the movie version of World War Z were as scary as that movie’s Infected.  Which they ain’t.  You know a movie’s Big Bad is in trouble when the Dark Seekers from I Am Legend look positively life-like. 

Second, the trailer and the casting make it seem pretty clear that the movie is about how former government badass Brad Pitt reluctantly decides to leave his family for a spell to save the world.  Which is pretty much the total friggin’ opposite of what happens in the book.  

Again, one of the pleasures of World War Z was the almost-pointillist way that Brooks told dozens of small stories about what happened across the world — and how the sum of myriad small actions paved the way to victory.  Indeed, the closest thing to a strategic savior in the book is a despised Afrikaaner who modified a decades-old plan to preserve the apartheid government into a ruthless strategy to retrench and then defeat the undead hordes.  Brad Pitt ain’t that guy.  So instead this looks like your standard reluctant-hero-saves-the-day narrative. 

Finally, over 90% of the trailer looks at the U.S.  Again, the best thing about the book was how it started with a global perspective and how it managed to keep a global perspective (as opposed to, say, Contagion). 

In the course of writing Theories of International Politics and Zombies, my admiration for what Brooks pulled off in his book only grew with time.  I hope I’m wrong about how the movie version of World War Z turns out.  At this point, however, I have more optimism about Star Wars Episode VII than this bastardization of Max Brooks’ magnum opus.   

Am I missing anything? 

Tags: Culture, film, International Relations, popular culture, zombies

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola

These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.

World War Z tackles the manifold manifestations of the theme of fear and not just primal fear of being eaten alive. Fear also serves as backdrop for the author to get into the discourse of social dynamics and human nature and serves as the binding theme for the whole story. The theme of fear though is united under one underpinning concept, fear born of uncertainty. The relative safety that humanity takes for granted, the ebbs and flow of life, the notion of normalcy, as people have known it has been flipped on its head by the ravenous undead. Even towards the end of the book this theme of fear born of uncertainty becomes the lingering collective question on everyone’s mind as the question of “how will we survive?” to “what will happen to us now?” This complete reversal of all the norms of human life is what is most frightening and that fear lingers long after the book has been put down.

It should come as no surprise that survival and disaster preparation are pervasive themes in the novel, perhaps as a response to the theme of fear and uncertainty. Likewise, similar to the theme of fear and uncertainty, the theme of survival and disaster preparation also becomes a launching point for social commentary and critiquing of human nature--especially the complete lack of readiness the average person has to respond to crises. In the novel survivors of the zombie apocalypse change priorities from being “lucky to be alive” to conscripts for the zombie fighting force to rebuilders of human society. There is a massive shift in needs as well as perceived value that happens as society pieces itself together after the zombie hordes all but destroy modern society. All of a sudden butchers, weavers, and welders are now more important than the silicone valley start-up hotshots and the social strata is suddenly reversed. This takes a hard toll on the remnants of the old world order but the wheel of change is relentless and pauses for no one. There is a constant reminder throughout the novel of how crucial physical and mental toughness is needed to survive a disaster and how ironically, modern society and conveniences turn that from necessity to frivolity.

The human factor has always a great importance everywhere. Actions and their consequences depend on it. The human factor connects characters so deeply to their past. By excluding the human factor, people are risking the kind of personal detachment from a history that may lead them one day to repeat. The human factor is also the only true difference between people and the enemy (“the living dead”). Only the human factor can show kindness and a desire to help other people. Zombies do not have this desire. For example, Dr. Kwang Jingshu risked his life to save the infected people. Nury Televaldi helped many people to escape from infected countries. The human factor should always be developed in a person despite different occasions.

The war is a heavy word and a difficult time. Everybody can say the definition of this word, but only one, who saw this sorrow and its consequences, can say what the real war is. The main characters survive the war with zombies. It seems that they are infinitely happy, but all characters met greed, fear, stupidity and hatred. The war took away their freedom, loved people and future. As, the main characters say, consequences are terrible despite the fact that many zombies still exist. Many cities and countries were destroyed. It will take many years to rebuild everything. This grief destroyed everything.

Humanity met many different diseases such as plague, fever, Ebola, atypical pneumonia, avian influenza. People infected and died. Nevertheless, the infection that faced the characters of the book is not comparable to other diseases. Zombification is worse than any kind of flu and even death. Being infected with this infection, a person turns into a monster. The main characters saw all terrible consequences of zombification. People cannot even feel the transformation into a zombie. This disease makes a person an animal, which has no mercy.