Review Date: October 4, 2013
Format: Blu-ray 3D
Released by: Paramount
Release date: September 17, 2013
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Widescreen 2.40 | 16x9: Yes
While zombies have invaded pop culture, we’ve yet to see a really mainstream movie based off the creatures. It’s kind of surprising that despite the popularity of zombies in all media, comics, TV, novels, etc., the appetite for zombies movies seems to top out around $60 million. Or at least, that was the case before this past summer. Based on the bestselling book, with megastar Brad Pitt starring, a reported $200 million budget and a literal cast of thousands, World War Z
is the undeniably biggest zombie movie of all time. Not only a hugely mounted movie, but also a huge hit at the box office, World War Z
is the final step in the full mainstreaming of zombies into pop culture.
Dollar figures aside, the question remains to be answered: is World War Z
in 3D an eye-popping experience, or has its PG-13 compromises left it moribund?
Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt
) used to be one of the UN’s top crisis men, but these days he spends his time as a stay-at-home dad. While he’s found happiness in his new role cleaning house and cooking pancakes, there are hints that he misses his old life of globetrotting excitement. Excitement manages to find him when, while stuck in gridlock Philadelphia traffic with his wife Karin (Mirielle Enos
) and daughters Constance and Rachel (Sterling Jerins
and Abigail Hargrove
), all hell literally breaks loose. Buildings explode, cars pile up and the streets are flooded with hordes of ravenous, mindless undead. Slipping back into crisis mode like its second nature, Gerry manages to get his family safely out of the city. His old UN boss, Thierry (Fana Mokoena
) calls him up and offers him a deal: he’ll extract Gerry and his family and offer them shelter during the crisis, but in return Gerry must help the UN investigators discover the cause of the epidemic and how to stop it.
Once Gerry’s family is safely aboard a UN aircraft carrier at sea, he accompanies a team of soldiers and ace virologist Fassbach (Elyes Gabel
) to a military base in South Korea. Fassbach’s inexperience in crisis and combat proves deadly when he trips on a slippery ramp and shoots himself in the face. With the man supposedly the last, best hope of humanity dead, Gerry proceeds to Jerusalem to meet Warmbrunn (Jurgen Warmbrunn
), who he’s told has information that can prove vital. While in Jerusalem, the city is overrun by the undead (in what is undoubtedly the film’s centerpiece sequence).
Again, Gerry narrowly escapes the throngs of zombies, fleeing on a commercial Belarussian flight with injury Israeli soldier Segen (Daniella Kertesz
, who arguably makes the most adorable combat soldier in movie history) in tow. Their safety is short lived, however, when the plane is overrun by zombies. Seeing no other choice, Gerry lobs a grenade that blows a hole in the side of the plane, sucking out the zombies, and pretty much everybody and everything else besides Gerry and Segen. The plane crashes in Wales, not too far from a WHO medial research installation. Gerry and Segen make their way they and after conferring with the scientists, Gerry believes he’s got a possible way to “camouflage” humans from the hunger of the undead. Throughout his travels, he observed the zombie hordes bypassing the sick and elderly in favour of young, healthy victims. Gerry hypothesises that if they could infect humanity with a potentially lethal, but nevertheless curable, pathogen, they could make humanity undesirable as prey and giving humanity the precious reprieve it needs to regroup and mount a counteroffensive against the zombie plague. The only problem: the viral samples Gerry needs are locked in a laboratory in a wing of the WHO build that’s overrun by zombies.
One look at a plot summary and you can see that World War Z
brings zombie carnage on a scale we’ve never seen on the big screen. It’s is a huge, globe-trotting horror adventure of epic scope. I liked the teeming hordes of undead even if the CG zombie’s movements are bit too cartoony at times. There are lots of other impressive action set pieces and stunts work to dazzle your eyes. The mystery structure of the film is also very engaging; we follow Gerry from place to place as he gathers the clues that lead to his solution and even if it’s not all that plausible, we’re willing to accept it since we’ve been along for the ride. Brad Pitt is both a great actor and a great movie star, though he’s only called to act in the latter capacity here. The role doesn’t require much from him other than a commanding physical presence and the ability to instantly engender the sympathy of the audience. He manages both with ease.
I’ve been sick of zombies for a long, long time. During the Romero era, writers and filmmakers put some effort into making the undead legions vessels for social commentary since, on their own, the mindless drones have little to nothing in the way of personality. Then, at some point, zombies became the monster du jour. As figures of fun, all you had to do was throw a zombie up on screen and the sniggering masses couldn’t get enough of whatever pap you were feeding them. I’ve done my best to try and nail down the point where zombies went from monster to joke, but it’s really irrelevant. As of 2013, zombies have joined Nazis, ninja and pirates in the ranks of overdone clichés.
It was a bit surprising to me, then, to see Brad Pitt jump on the zombie bandwagon so late in the game. It was doubly surprising that his vessel of choice was a $200+ million budgeted, PG-13 rated adaptation of a book that has no main character and no clear dramatic through line. It seemed an insane gamble, to make a zombie movie that would be unable to revel in the gruesome effects so characteristic of zombie films, and the movie had its fair share of production setbacks. So much so, that when it debuted in theatres this past summer, most pundits had written it off.
The thing with gambles is, sometimes they pay off. Big time.
It feels a bit strange to call such a big budget mainstream movie a sleeper hit, but that’s exactly what World War Z
was. It opened to surprisingly big numbers and didn’t bleed its audience out in subsequent weekends. As it now stands, World War Z
is Brad Pitt’s highest grossing film at both the domestic and overseas box office, having raked in over half a billion dollars.
Given the tremendous resources behind it, it’s not surprising that it compromises the gore, though the Unrated cut does mitigate that somewhat. In the theatrical cut, the violence is so tightly cut, and some scenes so murkily lit, that we’re left to figure out what happened in an action scene after the fact, through second hand information and inference. The extended version ads 8 minutes, a lot of which is bloodier action scenes. There’s more impact and more aftermath and you’re given a chance to stay with the story rather than trying to backtrack and figure out what just happened. In the theatrical version, when Fassbach has his accident, it’s impossible to tell what’s happened until Gerry flat out states it. In the extended cut, we see him fall on the gun and see the exit wound on the back of his head. We can immediately move to the next scene. It helps World War Z
retain that sense of immediacy and forward momentum that it tries so hard to build and sustain throughout.
World War Z
is also one of the strongest examples of the international film. With the domestic box office shrinking and overseas being the real growth market, you’ll see a lot more films like this in the coming years: big budget genre films anchored by American movie stars but with a more international flavor featuring exotic locations and a supporting cast drawn from overseas. The overseas potential, I assume, is the rationale behind the 3D conversion, the 3D format being far more popular in international markets than in North America.
Given the incredible amount of money on the line and the frankly unadaptable source material World War Z
represents, I suspect, a best case outcome. It’s not a great movie: it’s too big and fast paced to really have time for strong characterizations or emotional resonance and Marc Forster’s directorial style is a bit too artsy for so commercial a project, but it’s far better than I anticipated it would be. And though I wrote it off the first time I saw it a “one-and-done” type of movie I’d never watch again, I thorough enjoyed revisiting it on Blu-ray (thanks in no small part to the extended cut).
World War Z
costs an insane amount of money, and big chunk of the monster budget is up on the screen. It’s not the most colorful film, but from the icy, desaturated gloom of Philadelphia, to the bright warmth of Jerusalem, World War Z
looks fantastic. There’s a scene in an apartment building fire escape that’s lit almost entirely with red flares. Despite the deep color saturation surround by inky blacks, it’s never difficult to discern what’s going on. I saw World War Z
on opening night in a 2D showing. I’m not sure if my experience was typical or if I was just victim of bad projection, but this Blu-ray presentation blows my theatrical experience out of the water.
The 3D version of the movie boasts all the same positives as the regular 2D version. It is as good a conversion job as you’re apt to see. I didn’t notice any of the telltale artifacts of a rushed conversion job. The problem with the 3D version is that Marc Forster’s directorial style just isn’t well suited for 3D. From the frenetic camera work to the way he composes the shots to how scenes are cut together, nothing about World War Z
is really conducive to benefitting from the added dimension. There is the occasional moment of brilliance in the 3D version, mostly in the Jerusalem sequence, but there are not enough of them to justify the considerable added expense of the 3D combo package.
The money’s on the screen, and in the mix. World War Z
sports and aggressive 7.1 DTS-HD mix. Check out the scene where the Lane family is airlifted for a great example of how the entire surround field is used as the chopper flies from left to right, with radios and gunfire blaring. The quitter dialogue scenes are equally well mixed, with the surrounds providing atmosphere in the form of ambient sound and the surprisingly great score by Marco Beltrami and rock band Muse, while never overwhelming the exposition being delivered.
World War Z
doesn’t have the most expansive supplemental package ever, but there is still some good quality featurettes produced by ace documentarian Laurent Bouzreau that are well worth watching.
You can probably skip over the first two, Origins (8:21) and Looking to Science (7:28). Origins is concerned mainly with informing the audience that the movie was inspired by the Max Brooks bestselling novel. Looking to Science is one of those silly featurettes that tries to convince the audience that there’s a scientific basis for the events on screen. In doing so, they have to twist and distort actual science beyond the breaking point.
Much better are the four featurettes under the heading Production: Outbreak, The Journey Begins, Behind the Wall and Camouflage. Running an aggregate 36:18, each section deals with a specific sequence in the movie. Although Brad Pitt is conspicuously absent from the documentaries, there’s still a wealth of fascinating material here. I was particularly impressed with just how much of the films’ action was done in camera. Other than the aforementioned cartoony zombie hordes, most of World War Z
’s CGI comes in the form of digital matte paintings. It’s impressive to see the rigging they used to stage the traffic chaos that opens the film.
What’s most notable is what’s not included: the original opening and ending of the film. The press had much to say about such an expensive movie undergoing such drastic reshoots, and it seems the studios instinct to make the changes paid off. I can only guess that they might be holding on to the footage for incorporation into a possible sequel, or inclusion in a reissued special edition of this movie.
As a side note, while packaging says that this set includes both theatrical and extended cuts of the film, the theatrical version is presented in 3D and on DVD only. If you want to watch the theatrical cut in HD and don’t have a TV that can down convert 3D, you’re SOL.
World War Z
might be more adventure than horror, but it’s a good intermediate film for budding horror fans not quite ready for the full-on grue of a George Romero splatterfest and a pretty good action film in its own right. Brad Pitt, Marc Forster and Paramount Pictures have seemingly done the impossible several times over: they’ve made a good movie from an unadaptable source material, overcome bad press and walked away with a global blockbuster that nobody saw coming.
On home video, World War Z
also pleasantly surprises. The extended cut is more than just a marketing bullet point; the added footage actually improves the film and a healthy dose of well-produced supplements help deepen appreciation for the film. The 2D Blu-ray looks and sounds great but the 3D version doesn’t bring a lot more to the table. Stick with the regular 2D version if you’re looking to add the history of the first Zombie War to your collection.
Movie - B
Image Quality - A
Sound - A
Supplements - B
- Running time - 2 hours and 3 minutes
- Rated Unrated, 14A
- 3 Discs (1 Blu-ray 3D, 1 Blu-ray, 1 DVD)
- Chapter Stops
- English 7.1 DTS-HD Audio
- French 5.1 Dolby Digital
- Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
- English Descriptive Video
- English Subtitles
- English SDH Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- Portuguese Subtitles
- “Origins” Featurette
- “Looking to Science” Featurette
- “Outbreak” Featurette
- “The Journey Begins” Featurette
- “Behind the Wall” Featurette
- “Camouflage” Featurette