2:13 PM CST, November 14, 2012
I warn you: the wrong nerd debate has broken out over the upcoming film “World War Z.”
After the trailer debuted, I was dismayed beyond consolation. The highly anticipated Brad Pitt film based on the insanely popular book by Max Brooks, is going to be massively disappointing, and that disappointment will tip over to the point of it “sucking.”
It takes a lot for a movie to suck. Most bad movies are just “Meh, I wish I hadn’t paid $11 to see that.” Because you can tell within five seconds of the majority of most movie previews that they will suck, you can filter them out, wait for them to hit your local Redbox or Netflix queue. It’s those movies that you actually anticipate, that you’ve been looking forward to, that earn the full degree of suckitude. “Prometheus,” for instance, is a great example: highly anticipated, backed by a ton of talent, and featuring a story that could have been written by a nine-year-old who just got into comic books.
Based on the preview, it appears as if Brad Pitt, director Marc Foster, and writer Damon Lindelof (the guy who wrote “Prometheus” and “Lost”! Who sucks so completely his sucking blots out the sky!) have totally missed the point of Brooks’ original, entertaining, and thoughtful book.
What made Brooks’ “World War Z” so clever was that it largely eschewed the zombie clichés that now litter the genre. Instead, it was written as an oral history of the zombie apocalypse in the vein of Studs Terkel. A legendary Chicagoan, Terkel is responsible for such classic oral histories as “The Good War”, “Working”, and my favorite, “Division Street.” They are books that uniquely capture history through the voices of the average people who experienced momentous events. The lesson throughout being that we are all living through momentous times whether we understand it or not.
Brooks took Terkel’s formula and created a captivating thought experiment: how would history actually play out if zombies attacked? The result is dispassionate, fascinating, and focused not one hordes of zombies overtaking Manhattan but on how human civilization copes with this threat to its survival and the breakdown of all social order. In any context zombies serve as a metaphor for your preferred existential threat to civilization—global pandemic, climate change, nuclear holocaust—and therefore the most interesting aspect of any thoughtful zombie narrative is never the zombies. It’s what happens when you put the bugs in the bottle and shake it up.
Brooks’ novel is full of particularly clever details and matter-of-fact analysis by survivors. They discuss the spread of zombiism, the implementation of corporal punishment in survivor camps, able-bodied humans cannibalizing each other when the food runs out.
From the looks of the trailer, the film version of “World War Z” will be “I Am Legend” starring Brad Pitt instead of Will Smith: a high-octane summer action flick that runs on TV with the words “A high-octane summer action flick!” attributed to some anonymous reviewer from WXKR-Seattle. Yet the largest nerd debate that has broken out over the trailer is whether we nerds prefer “slow-moving zombies” like the classic Romero version or “fast-moving zombies” like the updated Boyle version.
When nerds can’t even figure out the right debate to have, you know all is lost.
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