I was at the horror convention where Max Brooks broke the news that his just-released episodic horror novel World War Z was picked up–sight unseen–by Brad Pitt’s production company. That was…in 2006. The book was so new that I couldn’t even get a copy at my local Barnes and Noble yet. I bought it at the signing and actually apologized for not having a copy already. I believe my totally dog eared copy of The Zombie Survival Guide proved that I meant it.
I’ve been saying for years that this film adaptation is going to be hard. The through line of the novel isn’t even set during the action. It’s a historian travelling around the world collecting the stories of survivors of the ten year war against the living dead. The totally unconnected stories are arranged in chronological order, but don’t even contain the same thematic framework. The only consistency is that the survivors are the ones who followed the rules in The Zombie Survival Guide whether they planned to or not.
When news broke that the screenplay was being rewritten for major reshoots, I wasn’t surprised. The only surprising thing to me is that the rewrite is focused on the third act. Only the third act? So the rest magically works until you reach the point where there’s no epic battle scene?
I want World War Z to be a great film. I doubt it’s going to happen. If it turns out to be great, there’s a good chance it will bear little resemblance to the novel. It will just be another strong zombie movie rather than a strong adaptation of a great novel. If it does stick to what the novel does right, it won’t work onscreen.
My understanding from boilerplates leaked to the press years ago is that the narrator is the central figure. He’s just travelling the world as the war breaks out and captures everything. That in itself is problematic. The narrator is not the empathetic figure. The doctor in China who serves the dying children in remote villages is. The young girl who escapes after her family is destroyed is. The rich and famous people who went insane locked up in a Hollywood mansion are.
The narrator of the book is a historian. His job is to tell other people’s stories with as little intrusion as possible. Turning that figure into an active presence in the story means sacrificing the emotional impact of the the survivors. People all over the world have been tormented by the same menace and forced to experience horrors we will never fully understand. They aren’t heroes because they survived. They’re heroes because this narrator chooses to focus on those who helped others above their own safety.
I don’t see how a big horror action epic will elicit empathy like that. Prove me wrong, Hollywood. I dare you.
What do you think? Any chance this winds up working? Sound off below.