Can World War Z turn the negativity around?

Feature Simon Brew 26 Apr 2013 - 06:38

The grumbling still continues to surround Paramount's World War Z. But surely, Simon argues, we need to see the film before we judge it...

Heading into summer blockbuster season, there's usually a film or two that appears to have a target on the back of its head. Said target thus attracts a degree of justified and not so justified internet 'feedback', and it means that the film in question has to do something extra special to turn things around.

Head back to 2009, and the film in question was Avatar. It may be puzzling to think it now, but in the months ahead of the release of the biggest box office hit of all time, there were serious doubts. A lacklustre first trailer didn't help, and the numerous and oft-repeated Ferngully gags weren't far behind. Avatar, we were told, was in serious trouble. You know what happened next.

But then you probably know what happened to Green Lantern as well. The Martin Campbell-directed blockbuster was garnering negative buzz for some time ahead of its release, and sadly, in this case the final print justified the vast bulk of it.

This summer? If you put aside The Lone Ranger for the minute, a tricky sell of a film but with some intriguing ingredients, the target for the internet ire is the film of Max Brooks' World War Z.

And, to a degree, you can see why. Few people got to the end of the book and thought one of these two things: that it was a logical film adaptation, and that it would be suitable material for a mega-money, mainstream summer blockbuster. 

But Paramount Pictures has heavily backed the project, reportedly spending the best part of $200m to bring World War Z to the big screen. It was originally scheduled to be released in December 2012, but the studio shunted the film to its current June 2013 release date instead. Interestingly, both films that Paramount delayed from 2012 to 2013 thus far - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and G.I. Joe: Retaliation - have performed really well, to the point where sequels to both are in the works. So the delay in itself is perhaps nothing to be overly concerned over, at least on a commercial level.

World War Z, though, has challenges. This week, it was confirmed that the film had been given a PG-13 rating in the US. Talking to Empire magazine for its latest issue, director Marc Forster said he had no problem with that, and you'd have to imagine, given the money that's been lavished on the movie, that it was probably part of the deal from day one.

Forster also defended, in the same Empire piece, the loudly reported stories of reshoots. Damon Lindelof, a writer who must be getting just a little tired of painting targets on his own back, reportedly came on board last June to rewrite a good chunk of the final act, even though initial production had been completed. Forster confirmed that a new ending was crafted for the film, which took just shy of five weeks to shoot. Again, he argued that reshoots were always part of the process. He used a persian rug analogy, but we'll let him off that.

The one alarm bell for us, aside from the fact that the book really isn't a natural and logical fit for a traditional movie screenplay (and that's not us being pissy: the structure of the book doesn't seem to lend it to a film at all), is how shy the promotional material appears to be about the 'Z' part of the title. Paramount, and it's better than marketing movies than we are, has opted to push the 'World War' element very hard, and the scale of the film. It's also pushed the fact that Brad Pitt is starring, which is logical. But take a look at the trailers and posters for the film, and there's nothing remotely approaching a close-up of a zombie. Given that they're such a component part of the movie, why is Paramount trying to hide them? 

Furthermore, is a film about zombies and global war really PG-13 material? And if it is, should it be? Inevitably, that's where the debate has been this week, even appreciating that PG-13 allows you to get away with a lot more than it once did.

But are we overlooking a trump card in World War Z's corner? Notwithstanding the fact that director Marc Forster is capable of making excellent films (Quantum Of Solace aside), Brad Pitt is nobody's fool. He's not just star of this film, he's produced it and shepherded the project as well. And you'd have to imagine he's the one who initially bought into the material, and has every incentive to protect it.

Because there are terrific filmmakers at work here, and appreciating there are concerns - as we've outlined - you can't accuse Paramount, Forster and Pitt of doing things by halves here. It might not all hang together come the final cut, but you simply won't be able to accuse them of not giving it a good go.

The shroud of negativity is not an unbeatable foe for World War Z, and it's an issue we've addressed before on the site here. In the years we've been running Den Of Geek, we've seen a whole bunch of films, including the likes of Dredd, X-Men: First Class, Avatar and more, emerge from being written off in advance, to turn into something far better than people were giving them credit for.

The conclusion here is obvious, and that's to wait until the film has been seen. And if the overriding negativity does prove to be correct, then a lengthy and brutal post-mortem is almost certain. Yet there just might be more to World War Z than it's being given credit for. It's clearly not going to be a faithful recreation of the book, but then it never was. If it can capture the themes, tone and key sequences, though, then the idea of the two possible further sequels might just be an upbeat one. No matter what the internet is currently saying.

See also: World War Z - surfing a wave of internet cynicism

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Ahh, the last feeble scrape the barrel of a movie marketing person (although I appreciate that is not Simon's job),"You MUST see it first before you judge!" Errr no thanks. I'll let others confirm my suspicions first. No film, with this amount of bad feeling, has been able to "turn it around" and WWZ is no different. .

PG-!3! Shhesh!

One big problem with the 'we have to see it before we judge' philosophy is that you have to PAY to see it to judge it - which means that they already have your money even if it is trash, which in turn means an awful film can make a box office killing despite being dire - which also sends the wrong signal to the producers who are encouraged to keep churning out pap.
No, sometimes you have to err on the side of caution. If there are a lot of signs that a movie is going to be poor (as in this case) I'd rather not add to it's box office and just wait to see it on home release later.
(Of course if the reviews are fantastic that could still get my bum in a seat - but they'd have to be rave reviews now to get me anywhere near this)

There is something deeply, deeply cynical and distasteful about trying to do a zombie apocalypse movie as a 12A/PG13. Talk about trying to have your cake and eat it!

Even if World War Z turns out to be amazing (which is somewhat unlikely), it'll still be on my shitlist for riding roughshod all over one of my favourite novels. What was that quote from Pitt? "We had to ditch the politics and satire and make it more fun?". Well maybe a bitingly satirical novel isn't good fodder for a family-friendly blockbuster....?

Agreed you have to see it, but I have made my mind up from the PG-13 and trailer that I will wait until I can see this for free

Jus curious here, but i'm I the only person who thought the book wasn't anything special?

I'm busy reading the book, and have watched the trailers. I am loving the book and will finish it. If they made the book as is, into a movie, it'd suck as it'd be like a very long documentary. This is a Zombie movie with Brad Pitt in it, to my knowledge, BP doesn't make crap and the way the story has been 'translated' will work for me - I'm sure I won't be in the minority.

My point is that *nobody* has seen it, outside of those making it. Reviews are going to be crucial for this one, I think.

As for the PG-13 element, I do have huge reservations, but also, The Hunger Games got away with a *lot* for a PG-13 movie.

The book was an interesting experiment in trying to create a fictional oral history in the style of real oral histories of World War 2 such as by Studs Terkel or Stephen Ambrose. The point is not that the film does not follow the book (that's a given in light of the requirements of a 2 hour film) but that a film purporting to show a zombie apocalypse from ground zero can be possible with a PG-13 certificate. Why make it about zombies at all? Contagion did a good job of making the "talk" interesting, but the very words "War" and "Zombies" in a film title demands much, much more. As far as we know these zombies don't even eat people, perhaps they are a "tag you're it" style zombie who just run around infecting but not munching......That sounds safely PG-13 to me..

Sorry, forgot to sign that comment! - Simon

Seems clear they just used the title of the book to get cheap viewing figures, but form me never having read the book and just seen the trailer, I don't think it looks too bad at all, but I happen to like big budget, action films. Most people are bitching about the PG-13 but no doubt that is based on the fact that the book wasn't PG-13 and as its clear the movie is not word-for-word the same as the book they are just mad that the movie isn't as graphic as the book. But take the book out of the equation, just because its about zombies and the end of the world, doesn't mean it has to be graphic and maybe, just maybe it has a good story, well acted and interesting script and people boycotting it will miss out on a good movie. Maybe!

There are some examples of taking a completely unworkable novel and finding a relatable story but one of the best examples is Trainspotting. if you had filmed it as the book then it would have been a mess, but instead they took the core of the book and it's themes and crafted an excellent movie

I don't know the book so I'm coming at this from a purely movie fan angle... but I saw this trailer and thought "ooh I HAVE to see this!". I thought the tidal wave effect of the zombies was TERRIFYING... seeing them climbing over each other to get up the wall... it's like something you see in the insect world.. ants or whatever.... and I think that is a brilliant way to approach them. I can't wait.

"we need to see the film before we judge it..." That's the rub. If a film looks bad, I'm not going to *pay* just to find out if I was right. I finally broke down and went and saw Avatar when it was in the discount theater only because several of my friends said it was really good. The advertisements were *awful* and didn't make me want to see it. It is all in the perception, at least initially The only reason Avatar made as much money as it did was because of word-of-mouth press. Is this movie going to come back with such glowing reviews? Considering that it looks nothing like the book, I doubt it.

I think this is how we ended up with Pirates of the Caribbean 4. The third one was AWFUL! But the first one was so amazing and the second one was good enough that people rushed out to see the third one and paid their money for a really crappy film. This made the producers think "wow, people really liked it! Let's go again!" when in truth it was horrid and movie-goers were scammed. More people need to wait for reviews instead of just throwing their money at bad films.

Simon Brew made a good point in the article, about Pitt being involved and it being 'his baby' if you will. Ive voiced my concerns over its flaws, treatment and negativity but i remain interested for one reason and one reason only.... It's looking like a depiction of a zombie apocalypse on a scale never seen on screen before. If you buy into and adore the 'zombie apocalypse' premise like i do, then that alone is worth the price of a ticket. I'll be clearing my head and watching this movie on release.

Really? I think the cgi in the trailers is utterly terrible. The best visual effects work in live-action movies understands that even crazy fantasy stuff like dragons and werewolves still have to observe the rules of our reality and obey the laws of physics. The zombies in the WWZ trailer just don't. Human bodies simply CAN'T and WOULDN'T move that way, and my brain just immediately rejects it. They look weightless and plasticky, and it just looks like a visual effects showreel demonstration to me, not threatening in the slightest.

As I said before on this site, the Infected in 28 Days Later (which this is clearly ripped off from) looked infinitely more tangible and scary and that movie cost about 1/100th of what WWZ did...

...except that there's one ingredient missing from this 'zombie apocalypse' - ZOMBIES! Because the... things in the trailers are not zombies.

The great aspect of the book was the buildup - the zombie epidemic spread around the world really slowly, over the course of months - and was able to spread mainly because of human weakness and greed.

I'm a huge fan of the book. I also happen to live in Glasgow, where I got a chance to see a lot of the filming (it was a massive, epic set than clearly cost a fortune). So I should be psyched for this movie.

But here's the thing: it's not World War Z. That's already clear from the trailers, interviews, advance viewings etc. What this is, is an expensive Hollywood action movie with fast-moving "infected".

That doesn't necessarily mean it will be bad. But what it does mean is that the filmmakers have chosen to show no respect to a really great novel. World War Z COULD have worked on screen, keeping a lot of the satire and geopolitical commentary. But all the evidence so far suggests that hasn't happened.

Nobody can see EVERY movie, so the judge-it-when-you've-seen-it approach is admirable but impractical. Unless this draws some shining reviews, they will not be getting my money.

avatar stayed in the theatre for an awfully long time and made a lot of money--much of it on repeat viewers--to say that the only reason it made so much money was from reviews. good film or bad, it struck a chord with audiences. good reviews will not save a movie from a heavy negative pre-campaign or save it from it not looking like something people want to see and bad reviews never stop a movie from making buckets of money if its what people like or has the right actors.

while many movies have had as a factor, super negative pre-buzz contribute to tanking, I think bloggers and heavy internet using movie fans can be myopic about the breadth and strength of negative pre-buzz. Sometimes a film IS utterly trashed in a widespread way, I think John carter is a good example(with the added element of a non-existant marketing campaign that could have counterbalanced). But oft-times, the concept of 'NO ONE wanted movie X' or 'EVERYONE hates director X or actor X' or the 'this will never work/this looks terrible' sentiments that seem universal are in fact particular to a distinct subculture at the crossroads of movie enthusiasts and people who obsessively read and comment on the internet.

A typical example is the endless banshee wail of how is it possible that they keep making transformer movies when they are so godawful and we hate Michael Bay with a religious fervour. the fact of the matter is millions of people enjoy those movies and find them perfectly adequate summer popcorn fodder. just wait 20 years until today's audience is older and nostalgic about these movies and starts to mount them up on the glorious memory pedestal.

most of any big movie's box-office reciepts are not the film literate, not the movie obsessed, not people who endlessly discuss or analyze movies, not the people who spend a lot of time on movie blogs or geek blogs. It just looks that way to "us" because we are somewhat homogenous in being a narrow subset of the population who does fit the aforementioned characteristics. But we are a small population. loud, and occasionally influential, but smalle

I'm not poking fun at us either(at least not in a mean way). i'm film literate, movie obsessed, spend a fortune collecting movies, listening to director commentaries, reading geek blogs, following the minutiae of movie news. I just try and remind myself that we are not particularly representative of 'everyman' who just likes to be entertained or distracted for 90 minutes on the weekend. A good parallel is that the Avengers didn't make eleventy trillion dollars from comicbook aficionados and didn't generate a million new comicbook readers despite the general audience loving superhero movies right now. Another example is how when we lament drecky remakes or films that are done-to-death premises and then marvel that these movies make money we are overlooking the sheer economic power of the youth demographic in the theatre who doesn't find a particular idea done to death because they haven't yet had time to see 1000 movies, and are perfectly happy to see a newer version of a movie in the aesthetics that look normal to them, starring the actors they relate to.

General audiences like Brad Pitt and like disaster/apocalypse stories, so chances are WWZ will probably do fairly well regardless of what critics, fans of the book or movie nerds think of it. (it does look potentially good to me)

Oh my God. Is that a real quote from Pitt?? Jesus... Its really, truly rare to see a film that has been adapted from popular material coming into cinemas with this quantity of bad blood ready to greet it, but I can't even feel sorry, it's brought it all on itself!

Here's the exact quote:

"Brad Pitt has revealed that his new movie World War Z cut expensive scenes from the final cut because the film became too "bogged down" in political agendas.

The actor, who stars in and produces the upcoming zombie thriller, has
revealed that several of the film's scenes shot in Budapest have been
cut from the finished movie because, although he was initially more
interested in making a "political film," the underlying social agenda
became "too much" for a summer blockbuster.

He explained to Entertainment Weekly: "At the time, I was really interested in a more political film, using
the zombie trope as a kind of Trojan horse for asking, 'What would
happen to sociopolitical lines if there was a pandemic like this? Who
would be on top? Who would be the powerful countries and who would be
the most vulnerable?'

"We wanted to really explore that, but it was just too much. We got bogged down in it; it was too much to explain. It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be."

Contains spoilers for the book (Battle of Yonkers):

"If it can capture the themes, tone and key sequences, though, then the
idea of the two possible further sequels might just be an upbeat one."

I disagree with you, Simon. No matter what Marc Forster or Brad Pitt have come up with, will never be able to capture the themes, tone or key sequences. Let's take the scene at Yonkers. One of the most important scenes in the book. The theme, tone and key sequence of that part of the novel is based on the fact that the Zombies are slow moving entities.

The theme of the chapter is that as in every war before, everyone is using the strategies and forces of the last war. This is in itself one of the most dominant metaphors in Brooks' oral history. Every single time humans are overrun by the undead it is because we underestimate our foe. This underestimation is the single reason why the battle at Yonkers failed miserably. It is a testament of every major conflict being totally different from the next. Why are Brooks' zombies underestimated? Because they are slow and at a distance they pose no threat. It's short sightedness that dooms the battle of Yonkers. This is why the movie won't be able to capture the theme of the scene. Simply because fast Zombies pose a threat no matter the distance. To underestimate this type of enemy (a stampede of thousands and thousands of Zombies) cannot be logically ignored. There is your first hole in the script. If underestimation is a theme with these zombies than this movie will be even in its own world setting unbelievable.

The tone of the scene in the battle of Yonkers is the turn of the overall media hyped war show off to an utterly nerve-wrecking experience. The tone of the scene in the book goes helter skelter in a matter of minutes. The Shock & Awe approach that is mentioned in the book works in reverse. The humans are shocked and awed by the undead. Brooks is very talented in showing all these little signs that spell doom on the army. Just to shred the army to pieces, quite literally. The problem of the movie is that there is no way to show the same methodical downfall with fast Zombies. Forster and Pitt can make that scene tense, no doubt about that. But they will not be able to create the same atmosphere because the threat is too fast to build up tension in the minds of the characters in the film and the audience.

Key sequence? In the battle of Yonkers, there is a key sequence that one soldier says over the radio that he shot a Zombie in the head and it didn't kill it. This small piece of information is enough to create a panic to turn that battle into a disaster. The problem is that a slow moving Zombie is a good target. It hardly moves giving you enough time to react to the threat. When reading the book, you will realize that some of the dangers of the World War Z could have been avoided just by keeping calm and carrying on. But most humans in the story didn't that is why they failed. Joe Muhammad, the disabled man in a wheelchair who was part of the Neighborhood Security Teams, hesitated and didn't shoot a quisling which he thought was one of the undead. With fast Zombies these key sequences cannot be presented.

This is not to say that the movie will suck. It is more of a statement that while a perfectly filmable piece of literature is available, the film industry just grabs the title and runs with it. Sometimes that is great step in the right direction, sometimes it's not. Nevertheless, none of the key aspects of the book will be interpreted via fast Zombies.

I would be glad to hear your views on this, Simon.

As a 'PG-13'.. No.

seems fair enough

I will see the movie no matter the reviews. I am still holding out for the HBO mini series treatment of the book.

No it doesn't. The whole POINT of the book is the satire and politics - the zombies are just there to add flavour. Why adapt something if you are prepared to drop everything that makes it interesting in the first place?

"If it can capture the themes, tone and key sequences, though, then the
idea of the two possible further sequels might just be an upbeat one."

Lolz. Given that the key themes of the book are almost universally bleak and upsetting, with a nice line in bitter irony and vicious satire of contemporary culture, I suspect that this perhaps WON'T be the case. They've all but admitted they have entirely jettisoned the satirical/political elements of the novel to focus on *yawn* Brad *yawn* Pitt as an everyman *yawn* trying to save his *yawn* Zzzzzzzz.

Each to their own. Personally I thought the book was fascinating. It's not perfect - there some pretty outlandish elements and dodgy stereotyping going on, but it really pushes the zombie fiction genre to it's logical conclusion, whereas to me the inexplicably popular The Walking Dead feels totally by the numbers and bland.

I'm with you, Tom. If you wanted to make a zombie family flick, you're a weirdo, but fine make one up yourself. What they have done by taking World War Z and turning it into THIS movie is deny us having the chance to see the actual World War Z movie made by someone who gives a damn, and smeared the name of a brilliant book by association.

"The conclusion here is obvious, and that's to wait until the film has been seen."

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Welcome to the internet, you must be new here.

I agree that final judgement has to be reserved until after I've seen the movie however from what I have seen so far, my expectations have been lowered to the point that it's almost guaranteed to be better than I think. Trying to keep optimistic though. Guess we'll find out in June if they'll continue to parts 2 and 3...

Will still watch it. But it might end being a total mess of film like The Invasion (2007).

It's possible that Pitt might just be playing the Hollywood publicity game - he doesn't want the masses scared off by an intelligent film, so he's downplaying the sociopolitical stuff, even if it's still there. One can hope, anyway... ;-)

Golly that film was disappointing. The first half was so good, and then you could ACTUALLY SPOT the moment where the reshoots/new director kicked in...

And that movie was a huge letdown to me as well, because of the restrictions going for that rating. Yes they lowered the bar somewhat for the rating, but honestly, there were portions of the book that they should have kept in the movie and just gone for the R rating, but then they lose the teen market and thats all Hollywood cares about these days it seems

I think this article is pretty spot on. A movie true to the books would be unfilmable and the majority of people (ones that hadnt read the books) would feel

Wow lots of opinions on this topic, and all before the film has a chance to be screened. I HAVE read the book and for me I found the politics to be the baggy part. Seemed like Brooks has a beef with politicians and wanted a vehicle to vent them with. There are some great moments that would be great to see on screen but to watch people talking about how to make a mess of things is not what will be drawing me to the cinema.

I'm currently reading the book and loving it and after watching the trailer I think it looks quite good. I will definately wait until the reviews before deciding. CInema is an expensive game these days! As for the PG 13, I'm not pessimistic..except for maybe being sat in the cinema with a bunch of text-holic teens eating each others faces out. Films have worked with this certificate why can't this? Let's give it a chance. Lashes of blood everywhere being replaced with more imaginative ways of scaring you would be refreshing!

Having read half of the books I can imagine it being extremely difficult to transfer into a film with so many different accounts, and very little linear story. like somebody said earlier, it would suit a documentary more. So I think concentrating on a few aspects makes logical sense to me. I do like the satire and polictical side and hope they keep as much as this as possible.. I don't want some fun time crap, I want something that is intelligent like that the book and keeps those ideas that Mr Brooks brought up and not a bore fest like the Walking Dead.

Lastly, when has the Pitt done a shite film!? I guess theirs always a first time.

Either way, I'm approaching this with an open mind!

Because zombies are strictly niche genre material -- that's niche even for genre material -- and this is a wildly expensive would-be blockbuster?

>But take a look at the trailers and posters for the film, and there's nothing remotely approaching a close-up of a zombie. Given that they're such a component part of the movie, why is Paramount trying to hide them?

Is the reason we don't get any close ups of the zombies is because they're still working on the all-CGI threats? And I suppose having them all-CGI instead of real people could work. It worked for I Am Legend, after all.

No, wait...

If it is intended to only be the first part of a trilogy then introducing a main character and treating the politics with a light brush is acceptable. That allows the film-makers to get into the nitty-gritty in subsequent installments, once the "universe" has been established and the general viewer feels safe there. Using future hindsight, WWZ could possibly turn out to be one of the most subversive big-budget series of all time.

No you're not. It was very good in places but never great. The idea that the studio are trying to cash in on the popularity of the WWZ book is deluded. They have essentially bought the rights to a really cool name and if the publisher/author sold those rights then the studio is entitled to do with them what they will. I just don't understand what the problem is. I really have no idea why people are getting so bent out of shape about this project.

I couldn't agree more about the marketing. Really watch the last trailer through the eyes of someone with no knowledge of the property. The zombie horde scenes are so quick cut the just look like people rioting. I know the climbing the wall and helicopter look more fantasy but they are so quick I don't know if people really understand what the movie is all about.

Hope it's good, but nothing has really grabbed me these days. Mediocrity seems the order of the day because the studios are afraid to lose money on their films, and so produce a product which seems to try to appeal to to many demographics. This should be a hard hitting 18 cert certificate, but I fear it will be as scary as Men in Black.

If that happens, I'd be amazed, and would eat my words. I think that's a bit of a long shot, though.

My feeling is that WWZ will take a couple of hundred mil at the box office, but still won't get a sequel because it probably has to make $400m+ at this point to turn a profit.

I've always found it odd that people write off films before they've even come out. It's stupid.

Den of Geek writers error so much on the side of caution I question their standards. Take a stance... you're called Den of Geek - stop tiptoeing around Michael Bay, World War Z, and the other internet stinkers. Take a risk and rip into them god dammit. Why do I even read this site, it's like if Dan Rathers had a geek blog.

its 15 rated in the uk not sure if theres more graphic content though

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