A zombie film that’s missing the best ingredients
Opinion: the scariest thing about ‘World War Z’ is the dearth of creativity in Hollywood
‘World War Z’: “Where Brad Pitt fights an army of crepuscular demons to save the world – and without even Angie’s help.” Pitt arrives at the film’s Australian premiere in Sydney. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
I love my monsters, sacred or straight up. I’m not as fond of zombies as I am of vampires. Vampires are urbane shape-shifters, sophisticated, seductive and nattily dressed. Unlike vampires, their undead brethren, zombies don’t age well. Their muscle tone is shot. The rotting ghouls just groan and lumber about, except for the most highly evolved, who precede a meal with a succinct request: “Brains!”
But this weekend, zombies were kicking off the summer movie season. So naturally, I was at the first showing of World War Z, where Brad Pitt fights an army of crepuscular demons to save the world – and without even Angie’s help. One minute Pitt’s character, a former UN investigator, is making pancakes for his family, and the next, twitching zombies are dropping out of the sky on to his car.
After decades of zombies who lurched like Frankenstein’s monster, Hollywood has finally realised the monsters are scarier if they are fast enough to actually catch someone. The ones in World War Z dart about like velociraptors, and they love sinking their teeth into humans, as one soldier puts it, “like fat kids love Twix”.
Vampires have always been rich fodder for metaphors, standing in for everything from bloodthirsty capitalism to Aids to teenage desire. Max Brooks, the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, who wrote the book the movie is based on, told the Times that his zombies were proxies for everything scary that has happened since 2001: 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, anthrax letters, global warming, global financial meltdown, bird flu, swine flu and Sars.
The anxiety that we may have doomed ourselves and our planet through our own heedlessness pervades the culture. But the metaphor about the broken global system is less vivid than the metaphor about the broken Hollywood system. Before Pitt could save the planet, he had to save his movie, a feat on which a fortune was spent. People always want monsters to have a larger meaning, but in this case, the larger meaning is about the monstrous waste of money and the dearth of creativity in Hollywood.
The last 40 minutes of the movie had to be rewritten and reshot, and the ending still isn’t fixed. The $190 million 3-D, CGI-enhanced spectacle is kind of fun, but it isn’t a classic of the genre, like George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead, Val Lewton’s 1943 I Walked With a Zombie, and the 1932 White Zombie, the first full-length zombie feature, with Bela Lugosi playing the evil voodoo master of Haiti, Murder Legendre.