Wednesday, June 19, 2013

World War Z: Should You Take the High Road or the Low Road?

by Sara N.

Brad Pitt's new zombie movie, World War Z, opens on Friday, and it's a bittersweet occasion for the many fans of the book that shares its title. Max Brooks' bloody brilliant 2006 novel is ostensibly the basis for this new film, but anyone following the movie's road to the big screen knows that the finished product bears no real resemblance to the novel.

We're not talking "They took out Tom Bombadil!" or "Why is Shae saying she loves Tyrion when she was clearly in it for the money in the books?"-type changes. Those are small tweaks in Hollywood versions of novels that hew fairly closely overall to the original characters and storylines. But the WWZ book is written as oral history that tells a patchwork tale of the global fight against the zombie hordes a decade after the events took place. It doesn't have a main protagonist or location, instead hopscotching around the globe to give a deeply personal look at the moral, political, religious, economic and social repercussions of humanity's last desperate stand.

The WWZ movie seems to take the opposite approach: The ever-handsome Brad Pitt tries to save the world during the early days of the zombie crisis. Now, I haven't seen the film yet, but everything I've read and seen (in trailers, news reports, IMDb cast lists, etc.) shows very little overlap in characters, locations and story lines.

So as I see it, there are two approaches to take when it comes to World War Z. The first is to take the high road and behave like a grownup, acknowledging that the movie has nothing much to do with the book and accepting it as a separate and basically unrelated property to be judged on its own merits. The mature book fan won't get bogged down in bitterness at the missed opportunities and what might have been.

Then, there's the low road. The immature response would be to do a spite re-read of World War Z over the next few days so you have even the most minute plot points lodged in your head when you go into the movie theater. Then, you can fidget and sigh and whisper harshly to your long-suffering spouse, "Why in the world are they choosing not to show the battle of Yonkers? Who in their right minds thinks that was a good decision for a tentpole summertime movie? The Yonkers battle in the book is AWESOME. WHAT is WRONG with HOLLYWOOD?"

I'll be honest: I'm not sure yet which road I'm going to take. Because don't get me wrong, I'll be seeing the movie this weekend. I mean, it's Brad Pitt and zombies. Allow me to repeat: Brad Pitt and zombies. And if the reviews are correct that it's a pretty standard action-packed zombie flick, that's OK. By leaving the novel's storylines basically untouched, maybe in a few years some smart HBO exec will turn the book into a cable drama series that can showcase its vast and compelling narrative sprawl — the way it should've been from the very beginning.

What about you, dear readers? Will you be seeing the movie? Or doing a spite re-read of the book? Or possibly both?
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  1. I have been very, very disappointed that they aren't following the book's lead, ever since I found about it. However, making myself depressed and complaining loudly to others isn't going to help anything. I'm getting around it by just treating it as another zombie movie--so I will be seeing it as well!

  2. I'll probably see it, but I'm going in prepared for it to be totally different than (and not nearly as good as) the book.

  3. I suspect I'll choose to see the book and the movie as two unrelated artifacts and enjoy each according to its own merits. Having said that: I loved the book. But I also loved the book Brooks based it on: THE GOOD WAR by Studs Turkel, which is an oral history of WWII. There's a reason Turkel won a Pulitzer Prize for it. If you can read it without occasionally getting verklempt, you are a stronger person than I am.

  4. I will probably see it eventually. I will not be seeing it in theaters (I have to do too much to get an evening out of the house - not wasting it on this movie). I will likely complain loudly throughout large portions of it and cry bitter tears in my beer while I hope that someday someone makes a faux doc out of the book (AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN).