Zombies, zombies, everywhere! Within the past couple years it’s been hard to step into just about any pop culture circle without hearing about the flesh-craving undead, the horrible creatures invading both the small screen with The Walking Dead and the big, most recently with the zom-rom-com Warm Bodies. But this summer, director Marc Forster and star Brad Pitt are taking the zombie infestation global with the release of World War Z, based on the brilliant book by author Max Brooks. And last week I had the pleasure of getting an extended look at the new film.
With the brand new trailer for the movie attached to prints of G.I. Joe: Retaliation in theaters this weekend, last Friday a small group of journalists including myself were invited down to the Paramount Pictures lot in Los Angeles, California where both Forster and Pitt were on hand to present 20 minutes of footage from World War Z. All in all we got to watch three distinct sequences from the early parts of the film that helped establish both the tone and the plot of the movie.
In the first scene, Gerry Lane (Pitt) is in his car with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters stuck in Philadelphia traffic when all hell begins to break loose, kicking off with a garbage truck that completely smashes through all of the cars on the road before hitting a bus and flipping over. From there we begin to see the zombies start to rush in and from there everything is in full panic mode.
After managing to get out of the city by stealing a car, nearly getting bit himself in the process, Gerry calls a helicopter to pick up him and his family and they’re transported to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean that is being used to shelter survivors. Our hero, who works for the United Nations, then meets the ship’s commanding officer, and after learning that there are no free rides on the boat, Gerry is given a mission: travel across the world to find out both what’s causing the outbreak and how to stop it.
The final sequence has Gerry overseas in Jerusalem where he meets with an official named Jurgen Waimbrunn (who is also a character from the book). Waimbrunn explains that upon learning about the explosive outbreak of the zombie virus in Asia the Israeli city immediately began construction on a wall around the city that would allow them to both protect residents and take in the uninfected. Despite all of their preparation, however, it proves to be useless as the zombies are able to pile next to the side of the wall and climb over, at which point, once again, the proverbial shit hits the fan.
Obviously the footage shown was packaged together by the filmmakers and the studio to be only scenes that they wanted to show off to the press, the overall sense that was immediately transparent is that movie-goers will not be left wanting for more action. Be it on the streets of Philadelphia or within the walled city of Jerusalem, when the zombies attack everything goes nuts. The cinematography featured a balanced mix of both on-the-ground and aerial shots, that both allows the audience to get caught up in the panicked crowds while also gaining a larger perspective on just how everything has completely gone to hell in the world of the film. While not particularly horrific – as the camera never focused for too long on any particular person being torn to bits by the undead – it was effectively thrilling, and I found myself immediately caught up in the scenes and hoping for the main characters’ survival.
The scenes also provided a great sense of just what kind of zombies World War Z is dealing with, as we have certainly seen all different varieties over the years. And the particular watchword for this variety would be “relentless.” While the undead doesn’t seem to have any kind of heightened abilities, instead simply having the capacities of a normal human, what makes them special is just how little they seem to care about self-preservation in the name of satisfying unending hunger. Not only do these zombies run, they care about absolutely nothing that exists between point A and point B, where point B is the flesh of a delicious human. This means that if they successfully reach the top of a 20 foot wall and see people on the other side, they won’t even hesitate to immediately run off and attack – even if it means breaking every bone in their body during the fall.
One important element of the genre that has seemingly been completely taken out of the equation is gore. We’ve known for years now that the movie will be rated PG-13, but it was interesting to see how it fits into the context of the on-screen action. At one point during the Jerusalem attack an Israeli soldier is bit on the hand and Gerry takes action by lopping said hand off with a large blade. In any other zombie film this scene would be followed by the soldier clutching her arm and getting soaked in blood, but in the footage not a single drop was spilt. While the lack of bodily fluids didn’t bother me in the other action sequences, in this particular instance it did take me out of the film. How that factor will end up affecting the final cut will definitely be a question when the movie is released.
World War Z, which also co-stars Matthew Fox, David Morse, and James Badge Dale, arrives in theaters on June 21st and be sure to also read all of the details about the movie revealed in the Q&A session held by Forster after the footage screening.