Monday, July 22, 2013

Watching the zombie world war unfold

World War Z. I saw this film the night it had its premiere in Oslo (July 11th) at the Colosseum in Oslo. Packed theater. Lights go down. The film starts. Normal family life for the first ten minutes, with Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, who used to work as an investigator for the United Nations, and who now seems to be a stay-at-home dad, making his kids pancakes for breakfast. And then they’re in their car, he and his wife and two children, stuck in traffic on a Philadelphia city street. Normal life ends right here. All hell breaks loose in Philadelphia in a scene that is guaranteed to make you feel like you’re climbing endlessly to the top of a roller coaster hill followed by an unpleasant ride down, only to start on the next climb. That’s how the film continues for almost two hours. An intense, relentless, horrific ride to the finish. The final five minutes of the film resemble the first ten minutes—family togetherness, in this case, a reunion. In between, you’ve got to be made of stone not to be affected by some of the scenes that pop out at you (literally, thanks to the 3-D): the stewardess-turned-zombie moving on from economy class to the front of the plane on the plane ride from and to hell after having been bitten by a stowaway zombie, as well as the scene in the WHO facility in Cardiff Wales, where the former head of the lab, now a zombie, tries to ‘understand’ what happened to his prey (Gerry) who has injected himself with a deadly pathogen in order to camouflage himself from the zombies. This zombie won’t attack Gerry because the pathogen makes the prey sick and the zombies can smell sickness which they avoid.

The film has some similarities to other films/TV series in this genre: 28 Days Later (the fast-moving zombies, how quickly people ‘turn’ after having been bitten, and the apartment hallway scene where they climb the stairs to flee the zombies), Resident Evil (the suspenseful lab/facility scenes), The Walking Dead (the dimly-lit corridor scenes with zombies waiting to attack just around the corner), and a few others. But it’s on its own when it comes to some specific scenes: zombies swarming and piling up on each other like insects in order to scale the huge wall in Israel erected to keep them out, and the unbelievable plane scene come to mind. I think what sets this film apart is the relentlessness of the zombie hordes and the sheer numbers of zombies. Cities are overrun in minutes. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. There is no time to hatch a plot, to follow it through. Panic ensues immediately among the crowds of people trying to flee. You’ve got to think on your feet, and if you don’t keep moving, as Gerry points out, you’re dead. Meaning you’re a zombie.

There are some implausible scenarios. One of them is when the plane crashes in the mountains of Wales and Gerry awakens and finds himself wounded and dripping blood. The female Israeli soldier he’s traveling with, Segen (played by Daniella Kertesz), who has had her arm hacked off by Gerry after having been bit by a zombie, has also survived. For a brief second, it looks as though she may transform. But she doesn’t. They both walk the distance it takes for them to reach the WHO research facility in Cardiff that is their intended destination. But my question is--why wasn’t there a horde of zombies attracted to the site of the plane crash? The zombies are apparently attracted by noise, and wouldn’t a crashing plane make a lot of noise? The other is when Gerry and Segen are walking very slowly through town on their way to the WHO facility, her supporting him since he is having problems walking. Where are the zombies? Or is Cardiff a zombie-free zone? It’s not made clear, or if it was, I missed it. They had ample time to reach the facility, something that seems rather out of tune with the rest of the film. Additionally, Gerry is losing blood fast, something the zombies would definitely register.

Once inside the facility though, they meet a team of scientists who are very skeptical to their presence; they want to know why they’ve come. Gerry explains his theory about using pathogens to camouflage the living from the ‘undead’, and they agree that his theory is worth testing. However, there are zombies wandering the halls of the wing of the lab building where the pathogens are stored; they are rather sluggish due to the lack of prey. They became zombies because the lead researcher accidentally infected himself with the blood of a zombie. And that led to his attacking other staff members; the uninfected managed to seal off this wing to keep the undead out.  

I’m halfway through the book of the same name by Max Brooks. I’d have to describe the tone of the book in much the same way—relentless and creepy, but the relentlessness and creepiness are spread out over many pages and the story unfolds gradually through the voices of the different people interviewed, who inform about what they have witnessed in a matter-of-fact tone. The book and the film are very different in this respect, as there is no ‘main’ character like Gerry in the book. But the ever-increasing paranoia and the shocking events are similar; the paranoia is perhaps more pronounced in the book than in the film. And at least with the book, I can put it down when I’ve had enough for an evening. Unless you close your eyes in the theater, it’s hard to escape what’s going on. At certain points, I had to remind myself that it was a film, to breathe normally. It occurred to me that World War Z is not a film for the kiddies or the weak of heart (just like roller coaster rides generally). I know I needed a few days to calm down after having seen it. I wonder if Brad Pitt let his kids watch this one?

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