George Romero awakened zombie cinema with his classic “Night of the Living Dead,” made on a budget of about $12 in spare change.
It took Brad Pitt $200 million or so, but he’s added something new to the genre in “World War Z.”
The film is based on the best-selling book by Max (son of Mel) Brooks, or more accurately, the film takes the title of the book and makes up the rest.
Still, despite discarding the source story and enduring much-publicized production delays, rewrites and cost overruns, “World War Z” is an entertaining and adrenaline-filled adventure, not the expensive flop it was feared to be.
Pitt, the movie’s producer, also stars as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations troubleshooter who is called back to service when a zombie uprising begins.
Rather than the traditional shuffling zombies — utilized in Brooks’ book — the film has opted for super-fast zombies who behave like a herd a wild animals, or perhaps more accurately, like a colony of insects, moving together, clambering on top of each other to overcome obstacles.
It should be noted, before disbelief is completely suspended, that if humanity was really faced with zombies of this speed, strength and level of cooperation — who take just 12 seconds to create new zombie recruits — we would be completely wiped out. No chance of survival.
Gerry is tasked with finding where the virus began and is forced to leave his wife (Mireille Enos of “The Killing”) and children behind, with nothing but brief satellite-phone conversations allowing them to chart his progress.
“World War Z” is probably the largest-scale zombie movie ever. Most movies in the genre talk about a global apocalypse but show it in a very small, personal way. Here, Pitt goes from Philadelphia to an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, and on to Korea and Israel and Wales.
What the film gets right are its epic set pieces, flashy scenes slathered with CGI that mostly show the fearsome invading zombies chasing down the terrified humans, while Gerry tries to survive and fight another day.
The film has plenty of jumps and some real scares, though the expected gore has been toned down considerably for a PG-13 rating. You’ll get more blood and guts in most episodes of “The Walking Dead.”
Where the movie, directed by Marc Forster (“Quantum of Solace”) struggles is on the personal level. We don’t really get to know any character other than Gerry, who — and this is a problem Pitt has probably run into before — is a little too perfect, and has too many right answers.
Also missing, at least until the final act, is the tense drama that zombie films usually have from being in small and enclosed spaces with quiet danger lurking behind every door.
Given “World War Z’s” somewhat low expectations, however, the finished product has to be considered a success.
Rental recommendation: After some toned-down PG-13 zombie violence, you’ll want to get some extra blood and gore. How about Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror”? Grade: A-
Email Steve Ouellette: firstname.lastname@example.org
World War Z Grade: B Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz Rated: PG-13 (for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images) Running time: 116 minutes