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Thursday, June 27, 2013 03:41 pm

Epic scope, intelligence save Z

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Brad Pitt, Abigail Hargrove and Mireille Enos in World War Z.
PHOTO COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Beset with an ending that had to be reshot over seven weeks at great expense, causing the release date to be pushed back, which only contributed to its already skyrocketing cost, World War Z has been plagued with no shortage of problems. Burdened with a budget somewhere between $170-200 million, the film has quickly gone from being what Paramount Pictures thought would be the start of a profitable trio of movies to potentially being a very expensive millstone around the studio’s neck. Things have become so desperate that star and producer Brad Pitt has taken to showing up to introduce the movie at advanced screenings, pulling off the unenviable hat trick of appearing in Atlanta, Chicago and Austin in one nine-hour span. When one of the most recognized movie stars on the planet is willing to put himself through the wringer like this, you know Paramount is sweating bullets.

To say that the film is not completely successful is to fault its ambition, which exceeds its grasp. In attempting to capture the scope of an international pandemic, director Marc Forster does a fine job of giving the movie the proper sense of scope that a tale of this size demands. It’s a globe-trotting exercise, what with our hero, U.N. Special Operative Gerry Lane (Pitt) required to travel from Philadelphia, South Korea, Israel and east Europe over the course of a couple weeks in an effort to find the source of the disease so that a cure might be found. No expense was spared in shooting at these locations or recreating them, which underscores the film’s epic ambitions effectively.

The plot is simple and straightforward as Lane follows the breadcrumbs from one locale to the next, encountering spastic, speedy zombies at every stop along the way. When broken down, the film is nothing more than four extended set pieces, all of which successfully build upon one another to a satisfying climax. The Lane family’s escape from the former City of Brotherly Love gets things off to a rousing start, while a sequence that sees our hero fleeing from South Korean in a huge air transport is helped along with a much needed dose of dark humor. Equally effective is the fall of Jerusalem in which the city, now walled in, is overrun. However, the highlight of the film is a sequence that finds a stowaway zombie wrecking havoc on a plane Lane is on, turning everyone in biting distance into a member of the undead. Our hero’s solution is inspired, fantastic and fatal.

Again, all of these sequences are well executed but hindered by Forster’s rapid editing style, which rendered Quantum of Solace visually incomprehensible. The effect is almost as bad here but the fact that things move so quickly from one big scene to the next serves as a balm.

What saves the film in the end is the uncommonly intelligent approach to the material. Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard do a masterful job of adapting Max Brooks’ novel, which is a collection of first-person accounts. The book’s smart, fresh approach is retained here and at times it’s inspired, particularly when the solution to the plague is revealed during the harrowing climax. If anything, the movie leaves us wanting more and it feels as though the story would have been better served as a miniseries. (Apparently, much of the political subtext of the story was cut due to budget issues much to Pitt’s disdain.)

While not a completely successful film, the tone and approach of World War Z injects new life into a genre that much like its subjects, seems unstoppable. As Lane states during the movie’s final moments, “This isn’t the end,” as the door is left wide open for future installments. Here’s hoping this saga continues, albeit with a steadier hand at the helm.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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