Brad brings zombie genre up to speed
PLAGUED by setbacks and forced re-shoots, World War Z may yet emerge as one of the surprise hits of the year.
Perhaps more surprising is that it made its way to the screen, courtesy of Brad Pitt and his production house Plan B. For until 2008 when he optioned Max Brooks’ fragmentary novel Pitt was one of the few Hollywood A-listers without his own personal franchise.
World War Z was the project he hoped might turn into a series – a run of movies with Pitt at the core as an everyday hero faced with global apocalypse courtesy of the voracious cannibal dead. Billions of them.
Pitt has always shied away from the concept of the franchise. Yet all around him his contemporaries were slowly building personal empires. Johnny Depp has his pirates. Bruce Willis has a bloodied cop in a grubby vest. And George Clooney has Danny Ocean and his gang. Of course Brad Pitt is a member of Danny’s crew. But that was always Clooney’s thing. Pitt was there for support. Never shouldering the burden, just part of the ensemble. Why, then, did World War appeal? Brooks’ book predates the TV phenomenon of The Walking Dead (but not the graphic novel that spawned it a decade ago) and feeds into what appears to be a never-ending clamour for entertainment that involves legions of shuffling corpses.
Z“Those zombies are scary as hell and the movie, I believe, works on numerous levels,” says Pitt. “But primarily it’s complete summer fun and, frankly, something I wanted to do for my sons to enjoy. Five years ago, I knew nothing about zombies. Now I consider myself an expert.
“Max’s book treats the zombie genre as a global pandemic, spreading much like we’ve witnessed viruses such as SARS travel. What happens when this jumps the firebreak… what happens when everything we concern our days with is rendered useless? What happens when power structures and societal norms are obliterated? How will we survive?” Teaser trailers for the film were built on a series of epic setpiece scenes that depicted fast-moving zombies swarming like ants. Clearly these are not the ambulatory deceased of established movie lore. Thus Pitt finds himself the hero of a film that is part horror flick, part action extravaganza, part domestic drama with a husband and father attempting to safeguard his family as he seeks to prevent the end of the world.
Director Marc Forster, the man behind Monster’s Ball and Quantum of Solace, saw his leading man and his pet project as far more than just another run-of-the-mill entry in the annals of living dead pictures. Forster is convinced that the combination of Pitt and Brooks’ oral history approach makes it a very different beastie.
“It’s not just about zombies,” asserts Forster. “It’s about a global apocalypse that happens to be spread by zombies. “There are a lot of parallels to what we’re living through, culturally, that lend themselves to a ‘zombie movie,’ but the great thing about Max’s book is that he set it in a realistic time frame and within a reality-based framework.
“That’s what really intrigued me – I wanted to create a movie that feels real, so audiences feel like this could happen, this minute, to any one of us. The general premise is that anything can happen, in any kind of scenario, on any given day. No one is spared. Everyone is susceptible. That’s the plotline in the movie but it’s also real life.” For a time World War looked like being Pitt’s personal Waterworld, the soggy sea-going sci-fi shame that almost sank Kevin Costner’s career. The industry has been rife with rumours about overspends, incoherent storylines – Paramount ditched Brooks’ first-person narrative approach in favour of interlocking vignettes courtesy of five separate writers, script doctors and polish men – and costly reshoots that pushed the film’s final budget over the $200m mark.
Most crucially the film’s original release date was scrapped when studio execs
ACTION MAN: Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane in WorldWarZ.
POWER COUPLE: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at the world premiere of World War Z in London.