Despite its much-publicized production problems, I thought “World War Z” was a great thriller. Tense and without gratuitous gore, it managed to be frightful without resorting to cheap scares.
It’s the biggest opening of star Brad Pitt’s career, taking in about $66million domestically in its first weekend (it also took in $45.8 million overseas for a total of $111.8 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter). A sequel is reportedly being planned.
I was skeptical of the film, knowing that basically the entire third act was scrapped and reshot (this is the most expensive zombie movie ever made, costing about $190million). And having read the novel source material by Max Brooks, I knew that the film version couldn’t be representative of the book, which is basically just a series of interviews with no real narrative thread. Credits should say the film is inspired by the book, not “based on.”
I also wasn’t sure how the CGI zombies would look. I was afraid they would look so fake as to be comical (nothing’s funnier than a zombie that doesn’t look “real”). But, with so much not in its favor, “World War Z” managed to be a fine entry in the zombie genre.
It is true that zombies have a special place in my heart (and brain), having directed my own zombie film. But “World War Z” will become one of my favorite zombie movies, though it doesn’t make my top five. Here they are:
1. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) — Funny and exciting with dazzling technical work, this broke new ground in the genre, and I still quote its awesome script (written by star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright) all the time. “You’ve got red on you.”
2. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) — The one that started it all, George A. Romero’s classic paved the way for zombie films to be ripe for social commentary. Here, Romero said bigger-picture things about race relations and social upheaval. He also set the precedent that the best zombie films are about the survivors, not the zombies (they wouldn’t have much to say, anyway).
3. “Zombieland” (2009) — Another great comedy and dazzling script, with Jesse Eisenberg as an unlikely hero and Woody Harrelson as a drifter who revels in killing zombies. This was almost the cinematic equivalent of playing a video game, finding new ways to devour and de-brain the zombies. I enjoyed the film’s inventive onscreen typography, too. And it taught me to always “double-tap.”
4. “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) — The George A. Romero original is a classic in its own right, but this remake directed by Zach Snyder (“Man of Steel”) was eerily chilling, driven by an electric performance by Sarah Polley and a radical opening title sequence.
5. “Warm Bodies” (2013) — It shouldn’t have worked because it goes against everything we’re used to in the zombie universe, but it daringly and creatively made up its own rules about what zombies are and can do. The result is the first of its kind: a zombie comedic romance (“zom-com”) that had wit and heart (was well as other body parts).