When I first heard that Max Brooks’ novel World War Z was being adapted into a film I was pretty excited. The thoughts that ran through my mind were along the lines of, “Now we can get a more serious zombie film that focuses on the global scale!” Actually it was more along the lines of “Zombies!” Needless to say, I was rather excited about what could be an awesome adaptation.
Then I saw the first video released online where I saw a crowd of people running away from what seemed to be a mob running after them. My excitement also ran very far away. The problem here isn’t the fact that the “zombies” aren’t the slow, shambling kind that I know and love; it is the fact that World War Z appears to suffer from a case of bad adaptation syndrome.
Here’s the thing, I’m what you may call a stickler when it comes to adapting texts into film. I honestly prefer my films to be close adaptations, so I prefer my characters, narrative elements –like theme and symbolism — to be there. Obviously this can be an issue for some films like Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where it was a pretty close adaptation of the novel, but wasn’t critically received as a great film overall. World War Z, from what I have seen of the trailers and knowledge of the production so far, is more of a loose adaptation. A very basic definition of a loose adaptation would be that most to almost all of the narrative elements from the original text have been dropped, and all we have left is the name and some sort of basic premise.
Now don’t get me wrong, loose adaptations aren’t necessarily a bad thing. For instance, Amy Heckerling’s Clueless is a loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and that’s a pretty good movie. Or there is Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers which is also loosely based on Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. This one wasn’t received as well by critics and isn’t exactly Oscar worthy, but still a hilarious movie.
Circling back around to World War Z, this film has had essentially two scripts for it. There was one done by J. Michael Straczynski that was more closely tied with the book, and then there’s the current script that was written by Matthew Carnahan, David Lindelof, and Drew Goddard. Straczynski’s script called for something that was pretty close to the source material and what could be considered as being somewhat similar to that of Children of Men. It was going to have Gerry Lane, the main character, travel around in a post-war world as he interviewed people who had survived essentially the zombie apocalypse. Even Max Brooks had said that while he had zero control over the involvement of the film, he liked how Straczynski tied everything together.
Then there’s the current mess of a script we have today. There are numerous issues relating to this script, some of which might be speculative because obviously the film hasn’t come out yet. First off are the zombies. Now, I already said that I prefer the slower moving kind, or the “Romero zombie” as you may call it, but I don’t mind the concept of faster moving zombies or “infected” as I prefer to call them. But changing the main threat of the book is a pretty big change; the tone of the movie becomes different.
One way I feel it changes things is that it shifts the focus of survivalism. In the novel and in other similar types of zombie movies, there is more of an emphasis about the survival of humanity and how we should work together in order to start rebuilding our world. When you bring in these sprinting infected that somehow gained superhuman strength and act like ants, the focus of survival switches to that of personal survival. The main character or group of characters wants to make sure they are personally safe and it seems to be an “It’s me or them” type of mentality.
The other major change I see with the new script is that the narrative elements from the novel are just not there, or at least not entirely there. A huge theme in the book is social commentary and it criticizes how we humans can be very narrow-minded, the inefficiency of government, and corruption from corporations during crises. From what I can tell as of right now, these kinds of issues may be touched upon (mostly narrow-mindedness and ineffective government) but not really fully developed in a manner to make an emotional impact.
Honestly, I see World War Z now as summer blockbuster gone horribly wrong. Paramount is way over budget to point where I don’t think they can recoup their losses on this at all, the script has been rewritten and the ending rewritten again and it just looks so generic now. Before we had a powerful script that acted almost as a political commentary and thriller, and now it seems we have Brad Pitt traveling all over the world shooting at things. Albeit, I would watch something like that if it wasn’t supposed to be World War Z or a zombie movie.
This is just my opinion based off of what I have seen and heard about the production of this film. I could very well end up being entirely wrong. It could pull off a miracle like Jaws and have a horrible production with the script being constantly rewritten just before shooting. I personally would not ever put Jaws in the same boat as World War Z however. We’ll all have to wait and see how World War Z turns out when it releases.