Thursday, June 27, 2013

World War Z... a perfectly good zombie movie, which I would have liked had I not met its much smarter cousin, the book it was supposedly based upon.

I've figured out the problem.  I'm not so terribly against movies that aren't faithful replicas of their books.  I realize that you're driving at a different audience and you have time constraints and you need a little tighter plotting with a movie.  When a movie isn't 100% faithful to its book, I'm not usually all that bothered.  Unless, I just read the book.  Then it's like a slap in the face.  If I read World War Z a couple of years ago and then saw the movie this weekend, I probably would have happily accepted the movie for what it is - an exciting, entertaining zombie flick catering to the masses who are dying to see a great action movie this summer.  The zombies are acceptably scary.  Brad Pitt makes a good, quick-thinking hero.  There are lots of those tension-filled moments when you have to look at the screen through your fingers because you know a scary zombie is about to drop in "unexpectedly."  It's a good movie, but having finished the book just this month, I set myself up for all kinds of disappointment.

This is why I no longer wish to be that person who reads a book in preparation for the movie's debut.  It serves me poorly.  I would be better off in most cases not reading the book at all before its movie comes out than to read it shortly before the movie becomes out.  Once the fog of forgetfulness sets in, and I'm happy to recognize a general resemblance between book and movie, I'm a forgiving viewer.  Before the fog of forgetfulness?  Then I'll just want my money back because they took a sort of "thinking person's" zombie book and turned it into a more or less run-of-the-mill zombie movie in comparison.  The two are so dissimilar with the book lurking in my recent memory that it practically seems that this movie was just stealing the name of a book for a recognition boost with little effort to re-create virtually any of the book's situations on film.  Admittedly, I guessed that World War Z would be a tough book to take to the big screen, but it's almost like they didn't even try.

Happily, the one great effect of this going to see movie World War Z is that it actually made me appreciate book World War Z much more.  I finished it earlier this month and found it to be a good read, but I didn't realize just how much I was captivated by it until strikingly little of it was to be found in the movie.

Told in the style of an oral history, Max Brooks' World War Z tells the story of the zombie wars from the early days when the zombie infection is just starting to take hold, through the Great Panic when it seemed that humanity stood little chance of surviving the hungry undead, to the eventual battlefronts as humanity makes a stand against an enemy almost too dead to kill.  As Brooks "interviews" many of its survivors, the zombie war and its global implications take shape to dramatic effect.  Brooks' novel is not an action/adventure thrill ride, rather it is a bizarrely thoughtful and thorough exploration of the unexpected toll the zombie apocalypse takes on an unsuspecting world and the many ways it shapes the planet's future long after the zombie plague has been taken in hand.  Brooks leaves no stone unturned exploring the psyches of a soldier in a failed publicity stunt of a battle against zombies in Yonkers, a twisted capitalist who invented and marketed a worthless vaccine, the man who re-united Russia into a newly formed religious state, the supposedly "heartless" man whose cold and calculated plan is the only one that can save South Africa from total zombie takeover.  Out of Brooks' many encounters with survivors from around the globe emerges a painstakingly creative, comprehensive and believable tale about a world that looked a lot like ours that was ill-prepared to combat  a threat that's never been seen before, a world where humans are hunted almost to the verge of extinction, and a world where those humans ultimately have to find a way and the fighting spirit to adapt and conquer the terror of the undead.

Truly, World War Z is a thinking man's zombie novel, a novel that can easily satisfy your inner zombie nerd and your inner international relations dork at the very same time.  If you want a story that makes you think about life, the world, the future (uh, with or without zombies), and everything, read World War Z.  If you're more in the market for an action-packed thrill ride with a sympathetic hero who will stop at nothing to save the world and his family from zombie apocalypse, watch World War Z.  Ah, but to enjoy both, this might just be one of those rare occasions where you would be better served watching the movie first and enjoying it on its own terms before you tackle the much (much!!) more thorough and compelling book.

Did you read the book?  See the movie?  Both?  What did you think?


  1. I haven't read the book or read the movie and probably won't - it just doesn't appeal to me.

  2. So definitely see the movie first? Because I am going to do both - because I've heard great things about the book, and also Brad Pitt. Good to know a recommendation for which to check out first.

  3. Great post. You really made me think. Now I think I'll watch the movie first then read the book.

  4. I Love the book World War Z didn't really love the movie

  5. I am ashamed to admit this but unfortunately I haven’t read the book nor saw the movie. But I will definitely see it now after reading your review and after my boyfriend kept bragging about how great the book is and how amazing the movie should be. Thanks for sharing.

    PhD by Publication