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Posts Tagged ‘zombies (sprightly)’

(New Cinema Review: The Vue near Harrow-on-the-Hill tube station. Considered opinion: not too bad, but not the nicest Vue I’ve been to in the last year by any stretch of the imagination.)

All right, some context: I first heard about Max Brooks’ novel World War Z at some point in 2007, finally got my hands on a copy at the end of that year, and found it to be one of those rare, unputdownably brilliant pieces of writing. I actually gave that original copy away to a friend, I wanted to share the pleasure of reading it so much (this is an almost unheard-of occurrence). And while I was reading it I couldn’t help thinking what a brilliant film it would make, if handled properly – I could imagine how it would play out, pictured the various scenes in my head, and so on, even while realising it would be a ridiculously uncommercial film.

Well, they’ve finally made a movie of World War Z, and it is directed by Marc Forster, possibly best-known for helming the unloved Bond movie Quantum of Solace. It bears very little resemblance to the film which was in my head all those years ago – which is another way of saying it’s nothing like the source novel.

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Bradley Pitt plays Gerald, an ex-UN investigator (you know that ex- isn’t long for this world) who has retired to spend time with his wife (Mireilles Enos) and children. The wife and children have no real personalities beyond being touchingly wan, vulnerable, and worried about him, and they’re only really in the film to provide a plot device and some coarse-grained sentiment.

Another day for Gerald and the family in Phildelphia takes an unfortunate turn when society suddenly falls to a zombie apocalypse, and they find themselves in New Jersey, which is a barren, terrifying wasteland (and the zombie apocalypse has made it even worse). Luckily Gerald’s old boss has them airlifted to a ship in the mid-Atlantic where what’s left of the UN and the armed forces are trying to come up with a response to the crisis.

Needless to say, the UN needs Gerald to investigate the source of the zombie outbreak so they can come up with some sort of solution to the crisis, and if he doesn’t, he and the kids will be thrown to the undead. Needless to say Gerald signs on for this frankly dodgy mission and is soon flying off on a whistle-stop global tour that will take him to destinations as exotic and far-flung as South Korea, Jerusalem, and Cardiff…

Let’s be fair about this: World War Z was always going to be a difficult film to adapt into a conventional narrative. The genius of the novel is to look at the basic idea of a zombie apocalypse in a very rational, comprehensive way – how could a zombie outbreak get started? How would it spread? How would governments and other powerful bodies realistically respond to it? What would the end-game be? (This last is a point most movies are quite vague about.)

The result is a book without a central character or a single plotline, but one which is almost an anthology of accounts of people caught up in the outbreak, from its earliest beginnings, to institutional disbelief and/or exploitation, to gathering panic and chaos, then calamity and retreat and ultimately the fight-back against the putrescent menace. It takes place over a timescale of years, and its conclusion is full of ambiguities and uncertainties.

None of this is in the film. In fact, Forster’s movie isn’t much more of an adaptation of World War Z than any other zombie film from the last decade. There is, to be fair, a reasonably lengthy section set in Israel which does draw heavily from an early section of the book, but this is all. (The whole issue of the origins of the zombie outbreak has been changed, quite probably to avoid offending a large and lucrative foreign market Hollywood studios are desperate to break into.) The rest is very generic big-budget zombie stuff.

It’s not even as if this is a particularly good generic big-budget zombie movie: the CGI-rendered undead megaswarms are admittedly impressive as they swarm up the sides of buildings, but the performance of at least one featured zombie provoked sniggers at the viewing I attended. The performances are a little variable too – Daniella Kertesz is quite good as a soldier who becomes Pitt’s sidekick, but Peter Capaldi is painfully all at sea as a boffin whose scientific speciality appears to be describing in detail what’s happening in front of him and everyone else in the scene, just for the benefit of anyone in the audience who may be a bit slow on the uptake.

Then again, Capaldi is just in the final third of the movie, which was extensively rewritten and reshot for reasons which remain somewhat obscure but were apparently political (again). The ending they have come up with is, to say the least, weak, not to mention cheap-looking given the epic scale of most of the rest of the film. There is a definite sense of ‘is that all?’ come the final credits starting to roll.

I suspect that World War Z, the movie, will be a massive disappointment to anyone who read and loved the book – I can’t imagine a general audience being particularly impressed, either. Still, I suppose that the movie retains just enough of the unique flavour and qualities of the source material to perhaps entice a few of the audience to check it out – which in and of itself is just about enough to justify its existence.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 1st 2004:

‘History repeats itself – the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.’ – Karl Marx

Another week, another unnecessary big-name remake. On this occasion the donor is George Romero’s 1978 classic (and I use the term with precision, folks) Dawn of the Dead. This is one of those films that is so perfect and special that it really deserves listing or ring-fencing or otherwise putting beyond the greedy reach of creatively bankrupt modern studios (see also The Ladykillers). As you can imagine I turned up to Zack Snyder’s new take on this masterpiece with a good deal of apprehension.

Rather pleasantly, it’s not that bad at all (especially, I would guess, if you haven’t seen the original). The film starts off with overworked nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) coming home from a hard day at the hospital, watching Pop Idol with her boyfriend, and then missing an emergency news report through being in the shower at the time. This proves to be a serious mistake as when she awakes the next morning she has overslept and missed the start of a zombie apocalypse. Her boyfriend has his throat torn out by the cute little girl next door (now deceased), and comes after Ana himself. Jumping into the car and heading out of town, she quickly realises civilisation is collapsing around her…

And all this even before the credits! Soon enough Ana hooks up with Ving Rhames’ tough cop Ken (his name doubtless a reference to Ken Foree’s memorable performance in a similar role in the 1978 film) and together with a few other refugees they take cover in a huge shopping mall, much to the dislike of the redneck security guards already in control of the place. More survivors arrive, and as Ana, Ken and their friends (of whom Mekhi Phifer and Matt Frewer are about the best known) fortify the mall against the vast undead hordes swelling outside, they realise that help is not coming, and it’s up to them to find a way to survive…

Snyder’s film keeps the mall setting of the original, but otherwise this is a very free adaptation, heavily influenced by 28 Days Later – the zombies in this film (never actually referred to as such, of course) go in for a spot of Romero-style shambling and putrefying when they’ve nothing better to do, but at the first whiff of live flesh they’re sprinting around like puppies on amphetamines. Purists may object, but it fits in rather well with Snyder’s reimagining of the story as a kinetic rollercoaster of an action movie, punctuated by lavishly gory set-pieces at frequent intervals.

All this comes at the expense of some of the characterisation (quite a few of the characters trapped in the mall remain cardboard cutouts) and nearly all the satire and intelligence that defined Romero’s zombie films. In those movies the zombie apocalypse was only ever a backdrop to the conflicts and problems arising between the human characters – the original Dawn opens and closes with acts of violence committed by the living against the living. While the new film remains as bleak and dark as its forebears, this element is toned down. In its favour, though, Snyder’s film is often tense and is unafraid to retain Romero’s very black sense of humour.

The digital effects are never less than adequate to tell the story, and most of the splatter and makeup work is top-notch, even if it lacks the novelty and visceral yuck-factor of Tom Savini’s original make-up. As usual, this is a bigger (well, sort of – it’s nearly an hour shorter, for all that it has a vastly greater budget) telling of the tale, but by no means a better one.

Polley and Rhames make charismatic leads, and at least some of the supporting cast are very effective – f’rinstance, Jake Weber as a resourceful everyman, Phifer as an overzealous husband and father, and Ty Burrell as the sort of wretched yuppy-scum no crisis situation should be without. As is customary in this sort of undertaking, stars of the original get cameos – Savini lands a plum role, basically as the sheriff from the original Night of the Living Dead (‘That one’s still twitching – somebody shoot her in the head!’), while Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger also pop up briefly.

The new Dawn of the Dead is really stuck between a rock and a hard place – comparisons with the original are bound to be unfavourable, simply because the original is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. And it’s true that Snyder panders to the audience in a way Romero never did, and that this is in nearly every way a much more conventional piece of storytelling (particularly at either end). But for all that, this is still an extremely proficient and effective horror film, certainly the best I’ve seen in quite some time. Bloody good fun, and well worth a look if you like that sort of thing.

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