How would the world react to a real-life zombie epidemic? That's the question posed by Max Brooks in his cult bestseller World War Z. Inspired by the tome, Bond director Marc Forster sends Brad Pitt's UN advisor on a global search to figure out how to prevent the planet from becoming the world of the living dead. Extended by seven minutes from the theatrical version, this cut contains bags of extra gristle for zombie lovers to chow down on.
James Badge Dale
If re-shoots truly were an indicator of a movie's lack of quality, then there'd be few left to appreciate. In the case of World War Z, there's been no shortage of rumour regarding rewrites, re-shoots and budget escalation, despite having such rich source material to plunder.
For those unfamiliar, the novel World War Z is an 'oral history', a post-epidemic retrospective that investigates mankind's reaction to the onset of a zombie outbreak, told in flashback as a UN employee quizzes the survivors, from doctors to marines, farmers to computer programmers.
It's a structure that might better suit an HBO mini-series than a 90 minute summer tent-pole, hence the decision - albeit late in the day - to take the WWZ script and turn it on its head.
So, instead of a faceless UN investigator, we get Brad Pitt's Gerry Lane, a retired family man who left the horrors of war behind to spend time with his little girls and doting wife, Karen (Mireille Eros).
While on the school run, panic hits the city, forcing Gerry and the girls to run for their lives. Gerry may be retired, but he's an investigator at heart, spotting the clues as to why the panic is spreading en masse. Zombies might never have existed before, but he soon figures out what we already know; they're here.
Gerry's brain is too valuable to be left for zombie fodder and what remains of government knows it, offering to keep Gerry's family safe provided he returns to work. All he has to do is trot the globe looking for clues.
This is where the book comes into play. Rather than have a UN ambassador on a leisurely trip around the world remembering the bad old days, Gerry is forced to go travelling in the midst of the outbreak.
It's all told from Gerry's point of view, the novel's roots pushing through as the zombie tale focuses on the fight with the disease, rather than a bunch of scared survivors getting picked off one-by-one. As Gerry comes across the kind of characters inspired by the novel, the meetings come with a twist as they talk while avoiding certain doom.
The action remains fast-paced with the zombies switching from Walking Dead shufflers into 28 Days Later-style free runners, all gnashing teeth and psychotic desperation for flesh. They're so scary it seems almost moot to remove the gore.
With crunching, gut-wrenching sound and a haunting score, director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) has turned a thoughtful and often slow-paced novel into a genuinely thrilling summer hit, nailing the kind of approach to the source material that the similarly-themed I Am Legend failed to achieve.
The there's the cast; producer Brad Pitt cast himself as the lead, but rather brilliantly surrounds himself with character actors who live long in the memory if not the movie.
Impressively for a zombie affair this is not a predictable tale, even for those familiar with the novel, although in hindsight you might spot the joins in the script as the plot develops. It's hard to see where a resolution could come from, but where it heads is precisely where it was always going to end up; it might have taken a rewrite to get there, but World War Z is a perfectly well-structured story, a character-driven picture that delivers on the scares, intelligently told and thrillingly realised,
Pitt described the movie as genre-busting, and says he's willing to bet it's the most intense movie you'll see this summer. It wouldn't be wise to bet against him.