What we’ve learned from the World War Z trailer

Yesterday saw the release of the latest World War Z trailer. Here's what we've learned from it...

When the first trailer for World War Z landed last November, some fans of Max Brooks’ source novel voiced their displeasure. After all, the book, written as a series of first-person accounts of a zombie epidemic, hinted at a documentary-style adaptation rather than the slick, Hollywood disaster movie director Marc Foster appears to have made.

The cynicism surrounding World War Z: The Movie something we’ve written about before, so we won’t go over it again here. But the more pressing question, now that five-or-so months have elapsed and a second trailer has emerged, is this: can the adaptation win over its critics, and lure in the potential audience which will make it a summer season hit? Let’s take a closer look at the footage, and see what we can learn…

Pitt the Elder

In adapting the book, screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan has developed the anonymous interviewer into a more fleshed-out character, who now goes by the name Gerry Lane. Played by Brad Pitt, Lane’s happily married to Karin (Mireille Enos from the US version of The Killing), and enjoys frying eggs for his two children. But even as those eggs are flapping in their pan, some foreshadowing of coming events is unfolding on the telly: with the world in the grip of a pandemic it doesn’t yet fully understand, its governments have called in the army to take control of the streets. And very soon, the Lane family will be swept far away from its cosy city life and aluminium cooker hood, as a full-scale zombie apocalypse begins to take hold.

In the pretend version of this trailer running in our heads, the child’s question, “Daddy, what’s martial law?” is met with the reply, “It’s a kung-fu cop show starring Sammo Hung, honey. But that’s not important right now…”

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In a replay of the first trailer, we see crowds running frantically through the streets of New York (played beautifully by Glasgow), as an unseen invasion of the undead takes place. Exactly what the Godzilla-like howl that plays out over these scenes of panic might be is anyone’s guess, but if these shots tell us anything, it’s that the scale of the film far outstrips the sort of thing we normally see in zombie flicks – even the relatively expensive ones, such as Zack Snyder’s surprisingly decent Dawn Of The Dead remake.

There are planes, helicopters, huge crowd scenes, and wide vistas of New York enshrouded in smoke. No doubt reflecting the structure of the finished film, the trailer also establishes a neat first act: Gerry Lane and family attempt to flee the outbreak, get stuck in traffic, head to a nearby high-rise building for safety, and are plucked from danger just in the nick of time by a military helicopter. The pursuing zombies, meanwhile, tumble to their doom like lemmings from a clifftop. Which leads us onto…


For a film about a zombie outbreak, the walking dead are, you could argue, notably for their absence. Instead, much of the second trailer, like the first, deals with the human reaction to their arrival rather than the ghouls themselves, and what we do see of the zombies is largely kept to wide shots rather than close-ups. What has been firmly established is that the zombies in the World War Z film are somewhat different from the ones we’ve seen in the past. Yes, they run, which will alarm purists and readers of the book, but they also crowd together like insects, clambering over each other in great piles.

Clearly, this sort of behaviour makes them more akin to a tidal wave than disparate cannibals, as their running hordes are seen smashing tables, chairs and buses out of their path, and even using their overwhelming numbers to scale walls. The jury’s still out on how effective the zombies will look from close-quarters – we’re hoping the film’s makers will have employed prosthetic rather than digital effects for these shots – but for a summer movie more about action than slow-paced horror, these locust-like undead are the perfect fit.

Fighting round the world

With his wife and kids safely holed up on a US battleship, Gerry heads off to discover the source of the pandemic, and, he hopes, a means of stopping it. This aspect of the film’s plot provides one of the stronger allusions to the book, which talks about their being a ‘patient zero’, even though the disease’s origins are never discovered. The film clearly takes inspiration from the book’s global scale, too, with Lane apparently flying from the Middle East to Russia in order to find his answers.

David Morse

Ah, David Morse. A superb character actor, as seen in the likes of The Negotiator, The Rock, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. We’ve known for some time that he’s in World War Z, but this is, to the best of our knowledge, the first time he’s been spotted in character. He clearly plays some form of CIA chap who, for some reason, has been left to starve in an abandoned prison. That Morse is great at playing villains (see Disturbia for recent proof), plus the rather Hannibal Lecter-like way he’s filmed in his cell, suggests that his character might be more of a hindrance to Lane than a help. Whether friend or foe, his prominence in the trailer surely hints at a central rather than cameo role, which can only be a good thing.

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Flight of the living dead

Carefully placed for maximum impact, an extended sequence aboard a passenger jet forms the trailer’s final act. As all hell breaks loose, a section of the plane rips off, sucking luckless travellers out into the freezing sky. We can only speak for ourselves here, but this was the moment where our attitude toward World War Z flicked from mild interest to sudden anticipation. We see Lane sitting near a passenger with a shaven head and a blanket wrapped around her. She’s probably an important part of the plot, and maybe someone immune from the zombie disease – which would provide Lane with a means of stemming the pandemic. But how will Lane survive a crashing jumbo jet, and if he does, where will he end up?

For those still annoyed at the makers of World War Z for adapting the book so loosely, this latest trailer is unlikely to change their opinion. But taken on its own terms as a big-budget take on a horror staple, the movie looks highly intriguing – and besides, we still have to allow for the possibility that some scenes, characters and ideas from the book will tie into the movie in ways we haven’t yet seen. We’d be surprised if the ‘Lobo’ weapon didn’t make a token appearance, for example.

To return to the topic of the zombies themselves one final time, maybe their coy handling in the footage so far released is a deliberate attempt to save a few surprises for the finished film. If director Marc Forster can make them a properly threatening presence, then World War Z could be an unusually intense summer blockbuster.

World War Z is out on the 21st June in the UK.

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