Friday, November 9, 2012

The official World War Z trailer finally debuts

The zombie action in the Brad Pitt-starring adaptation of Max Brooks' novel looks great, but the clip ignores the geopolitical savvy that made the book so compelling.

After years of reports on the embattled production of World War Z - which has been plagued by so many obstacles, including illegal weapons caches, fluctuating release dates, and about a thousand different writers being brought in to retool the script - the trailer for the film (directed by Marc Forster, produced by and starring Brad Pitt) is finally here. And, not going to lie, it's pretty cool.

Awesome shots of massed zombies crawling up a wall like flesh-eating insects aside, however, the trailer does nothing to dispel the serious doubts I have about the adaptation's ability to capture the novel's greatest strength: the terrifying realism of the ways various governments respond to the threat of the zombie apocalypse. (Major SPOILERS for those who haven't read the book). World War Z is as much about social upheaval and foreign policy as it is about the actual zombies, and one of the best parts of the book is reading about individual nations' reactions to the end of the world, from Israel instituting border checkpoints where guards threaten to shoot infected persons on site, to French citizens taking refuge in the labyrinthine Paris sewers, to the United States military worrying more about the effectiveness of their photo-ops than their zombie-killing strategy.

Of course, a two-minute trailer would never be able to capture the complex political machinations that drive so much of Brook's novel. And the book's format - a series of interviews with dozens of unrelated characters, only a few of whom show up more than once - would be incredibly difficult to adapt into anything resembling an action-packed zombie film. (If only Steven Soderbergh hadn't already made Contagion; that film's multiple narratives, geopolitical intelligence and heartfelt character moments would have been perfect for World War Z). However, the trailer's focus on Pitt's apparent heroism - driven, of course, by love of his wife (Mireille Enos) and two adorable daughters - makes the film look like a fairly generic disaster narrative, where the book was anything but.

None of this is to suggest that I won't be buying a ticket when the movie comes out: after all, trailers are often misrepresentations of the films they're advertising, and that final shot of the massed zombies swarming up a seemingly impenetrable barrier is pure nightmare fuel. In order to really do justice to Brooks' book, however, World War Z will have to move beyond the simple disaster-movie narrative and do something much more difficult; convince viewers that what they're watching is not a mere story about the end of the world, but a documentary. And it will have to do all that while maintaining the unrealistic fiction that zombies would, in fact, be fast rather than shambling.

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