As I mentioned when we revealed the new film poster, I spent the day at Paramount recently, where producer/star Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster treated us to nearly 20 minutes of advance footage of their adaptation of Max Brooks’ post-apocalyptic oral history, World War Z. Before the screening, the preternaturally handsome Pitt addressed the assemblage of journalists about why he decided to produce and star in the zombie epic, saying, “In Max Brooks’ book we found much more than a zombie film. We found this global apocalypse. This zombie epidemic as worldwide pandemic.” With a bit of a laugh, Pitt noted, “I wanted to make a film my sons could actually see before they get old. As you will see, we got a little carried away.”
But when it comes to zombies, is getting carried away such a bad thing? With World War Z fans, it depends on who you ask. While much of the footage that we saw was action heavy, Forster assuaged fears by acknowledging that it wasn’t all run-and-gun zombie mayhem; the film will have quieter, more introspective moments like the novel. To be fair, the footage we saw, which sets up the story of Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations employee with experience in disaster-affected areas racing around the world in an attempt to find patient zero and prevent a zombie pandemic from destroying mankind as we know it, featured a nice balance of quieter character moments and heart-pumping action sequences. Noticeably absent, though, is the blood and gore that we’ve been trained to expect from zombie flicks. Part of making a film Pitt’s sons could see entails making a PG-13 film, a potentially polarizing move for genre diehards, but a choice that could make the film more accessible to a broader audience. The experience is somewhat akin to playing a videogame with the violence filter turned on, but the sense that something is missing quickly goes away.
Fans of the book may be disappointed that the Romero-style slow, shambling zombies have been replaced by 28 Days Later-esque creatures that run at top speed like demented, undead cheetahs, but there is something to be said for the scare factor when the predator is as fast as its prey. It also gives credence to the image from the trailers and the poster of the “mountain of zombies” continually climbing on one another to reach and take down a helicopter. They don’t have the same impulses as humans; they’re basically on flesh-hungry autopilot, climbing over one another and making a beeline towards the nearest source of salubrious skin.
Of particular merit is the sense of scale that Forster’s camera lends to the whole affair. Call World War Z whatever you like, but no one can argue that it isn’t massive, and the footage we saw made the film’s sprawling scope abundantly clear. Crane shots give a birds-eye perspective of the precise moment of full-scale outbreak in Center City Philadelphia (the sequence from the trailers) and it’s a bit like watching a tilt-shift version of the apocalypse, or at least reminiscent of when you pretend to squish things with your fingers from an airplane window, which is to say pretty darn fun. To be fair, they already park cars in the middle of the street in some areas of Philly, which gives it a sense of post-apocalypse already (great city though, especially for sandwiches). Shot in various locations across the world, the scenes we saw taking place in Jersualem (played pitch perfectly by the island nation of Malta), now a walled fortress of a city, were beautiful in that they combined sweeping vistas, gorgeous architecture, and then shit hitting every fan imaginable, specifically the fan created by rotating helicopter blades. It is in Jersualem’s winding corridors and narrow alleyways that the film’s sense of tension is strongest, creating the sensation of being trapped in a dusty labyrinth with man-eating monsters.
We were also able to participate in a group interview with Forster after the screening in which he answered questions on everything from the rules of World War Z’s zombies to conducting reshoots and more.
Question: There’s a lot written about changes made to the third act and doing some reshooting of scenes. Sort of talk about what happened and what made it change.
Marc Forster: Yeah, I mean, we shot the movie and put it together and we all felt like, we felt the ending wasn’t what we wanted it to be and could be better and we showed it to the studio and (we), as the filmmakers, agreed and made a proposal and they agreed and we went back and did some additional shooting, and we are really happy now with the result.
Q: Is there a big difference from the original?
MF: I think towards the ending it’s a big difference, a different ending, yes. I prefer it and it’s always, I think it’s more powerful and really works in the favor of the story.
Q: What did Brad bring to the role and how did you work with him to kind of craft the character and his viewpoint?
MF: You know, Brad and his company, Plan B, bought the book and developed a screenplay before I got involved, and he was always very hands on in developing it and working with it, and he’s an iconic movie star who has made such smart choices throughout his career and has such amazing tastes, and for me it was really a fantastic collaboration working with him, because we share a lot of similar sensitivities, and developing this was just incredible, a lot of fun, because I never worked with an actor who was also a producer, and it worked out really, really positively, and so I enjoyed the process tremendously.
Q: The book has a reputation for being more reflective and everything we’ve seen here seems pretty brisk and fast. Does the movie ever sort of take a break to absorb more of those elements of the book?
MF: Yes, it does take a break and become more reflective. It’s not what you guys saw here.
Q: Sort of along the same point of trying to break out of the zombies and do something original, how are you able to use the public perceptions of zombies as a sort of starting point, where you don’t have to say, “Well this is what zombies are and this is how they work.”
MF: I think in every, when you tell your story, you have to sort of still… I think there are all different kinds of zombies and lots of people who prefer slow zombies versus fast zombies and vice versa and so on. So, I think there’s a whole debate there, and as you will see in our film, how the story unfolds, that there is… you can get a taste of both, but you have to see the entire piece.
Q: So, one of the most popular TV shows right now is The Walking Dead, which is extremely violent. Are you concerned that going for a PG-13 is going to make it a little tame compared to what people expect from weekly TV viewing of zombies?
MF: No, because our zombies are… we approach them in a different way and so, I’m not… I consciously designed the film in that way, and so I think we will overcome that.
Q: So, are they given some sort of superpowers? They seem to jump further, they run faster…
MF: No, no, they don’t have any superpowers.
Q: I meant more so than a regular human, the way they are able to jump and fall.
MF: No, they just, basically don’t know the difference of height and stuff. They just go because they don’t know the building is ending. They just keep moving, wherever they move, they just keep on moving. So, they just don’t know any boundaries.
Q: So maybe not super, but more enhanced, like speed? I mean, those guys were running pretty fast and bouncing off things…
MF: Yeah, when the feeding frenzy starts, they are more like, they just run, but not faster than any human being.
Q: What the time frame is in the movie — Is it something that takes place in a few days or over a month or two?
MF: It’s basically a couple of days. It’s pretty compressed.
Q: One of the most common scenes that we see in the zombie genre is when somebody hides their bite and they have that huge moment when you have to decide if you’re going to shoot your loved one. In this film, it looks like it takes about 8 seconds for that conversion to be made. So, I’m curious, what was the motivation behind that?
MF: It’s 12 seconds. We basically discussed, in the film, when you see the entire film, there are some people who turn faster than others, but it’s sort of this idea of how a virus also mutates. We all sort of based in biology, in a sense that some viruses start to mutate very fast and sometimes it takes a bit longer… like when you saw the countdown in Philadelphia, it takes 12 seconds and then he comes to another place where someone reports that it takes longer, So, he’s trying to figure it out. That’s one of his quests.
Q: How much did Max Brooks have to do with the movie?
MF: Basically, I met Max a couple times when we just spoke about the book and his intentions and I think, ultimately, he just gave his blessings. I don’t think… he hasn’t seen the finished film yet, because I want to show it all finished. He has seen some of the material, but I am looking forward to showing it to him. I hope I get his blessings.
Q: Brad had said that he wanted to make a movie for his kids. Did you bring them in during process, look at the dailies?
MF: No, no. Well, maybe he showed them the dailies. I’m not sure. They came and visited on the set, for sure, but I don’t know how much he let them in on the process. I’m not exactly sure.
Q: Do you have any child zombies? Were they extras ever?
MF: Yes, we had some extras, child zombies.
Q: You have baby zombies?
MF: No baby zombies.
So there you have it – a little bit more insight into how World War Z is shaping up. Bummed by the lack of baby zombies? Are you looking forward to the film? Let us know in the comments below.