No book has terrified me more than “World War Z.” Upsetting in much a different way: The red, palm-shaped mark on my forehead after watching 30 seconds of the horribly disappointing trailer for the Brad Pitt-led big-screen take on Max Brooks’ brilliant novel.
Yes, a book about reanimated human beings thirsting for blood and placing humanity on the brink of extinction can be a great work of contemporary fiction. Why? Because it tackled zombie lore in a unique way, telling the story of an undead outbreak in hindsight.
In the film’s trailer, Gerry Lane (Pitt) is out for a nice Sunday drive with his wife and two daughters when the world suddenly collapses into complete chaos. New York erupts into an inferno of military fire, and in a blink Gerry’s driving a dump truck through barricades on his way out of the city. He makes a call to some super-important friend, who sweeps in to rescue Gerry and his family on top of a New York skyscraper just in time for a hoard of (really fast) zombies to fling themselves off the side. The rest of the trailer apparently sets up Gerry’s ensuing dash around the globe, trying to stop the epidemic before it’s too late.
This is a fine plotline for a generic, big-budget zombie thriller. The trailer may inspire some to exclaim, “Cool story, bro!” However, it’s a completely unacceptable direction for anyone who hoped to see the book translate to the screen. Here’s an exhaustive list of similarities between the novel and the book: zombies and the title. I’d offer up an equally complete rundown of the differences, but I would run out of space, which says a lot because I am writing this for the web and have seen fewer than three minutes of footage.
“World War Z” isn’t about a guy fighting the seemingly impossible odds of (really fast) zombies in an attempt to save the world and return to his family. As the book’s full title (“World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War”) suggests, this is the story of one guy, who travels the globe years and perhaps decades after the outbreak, recording the stories of everyone from world leaders to suburban housewives. Not once in the novel do you learn anything about the narrator, whose purpose is only to ask questions to his subjects. The book’s subject is the hauntingly slow spread of an outbreak throughout an unprepared global society that horrifyingly falls apart and spends decades recovering.
Judging solely by the trailer, “World War Z” isn’t an adaptation. It’s a flat, “I’ve seen this before” barrage of Hollywood spectacle that happens to have the same name as a great novel.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.