True, WWZ the book and the movie aren’t really similar. At all. One is a Ken Burns‘ style documentary detailing the war between all of humanity and the zombies. The other is a vehicle for Brad Pitt to show off some heroic acting chops against a raging disease. It’s actually more than that. Let me see if I can explain…
In the Brad Pitt WWZ film, the zombies don’t feel like zombies. They run. That’s not necessarily new though. They’ve been like that before in movies like 28 Days Later. The real un-zombie like qualities seem to be more subtle than running/shambling debates. I actually believe the film makers had to make several concessions on what a movie zombie is to maintain a balance between zombies as scary and the coveted summer blockbuster PG-13 rating.
For example: the zombies in WWZ aren’t the kind we see catching prey and devouring it. There isn’t a gory, violent scene where we catch a zombie eating intestines or ripping some poor, helpless person’s throat out. Instead, they often seem to bite a victim and move on as if infecting, not feeding, is the whole point. The battle becomes the fighting of a disease as opposed to avoid being enjoyed as a meat snack.
The fear of the WWZ zombies is a lot like the fear of a natural disaster. Often the zombie attacks seem more like a tidal wave than an outbreak of flesh eating undead.
That changes quite a bit how the characters feel about zombies. The fear isn’t being eaten but being engulfed and turned into something else. Losing your humanity. No blood, no gore, no R rating needed to communicate that. And while there are some almost silly qualities to the zombies (they sound like birds and the teeth chattering actually made a few in our theater laugh out loud) that overwhelming mass of undead is still a real fear to the living.
That’s not what makes this loosely zombie-based movie work. What sets it apart from other similar movies is the arc. Most zombie movies seem caught up in the smaller stories, the mega-narrative. We find a small band of survivors and cheer for them simply to stay alive. Often, when the movie or story ends they’ve not really accomplished much aside from making it to some temporarily safe location.
WWZ attempts to look at it from a different angle. What if we could see how the world reacted to such an outbreak and not just some small group locked in a mall? What if we could see how countries fought back? What if that core group could actually find a way to combat the disease and possibly even end the threat?
As I see it, WWZ is less a movie about zombies as it is about the world combating a plague that is killing off the entire population of the world. It just so happens that this plague turns people into the walking dead.
When I looked at WWZ that way, it wasn’t a disappointing movie at all. It became a man who wanted to take care of his family and save the world through selfless actions against a disease that was killing off the human race.
What WWZ lacked in true zombie action it made up for with some unique takes on the genre.
It won’t be the best zombie movie ever (that will forever be a title held by Shaun of the Dead) but it will one that stands out. Whether that is for good or bad reasons will be your call.