In the entire history of feature film adaptations of literary works, none have been so dismissive of their sources as World War Z. Bar the title and the genre, Marc Forster's film shares precious little in common with Max Brook's 2006 novel, an outcome even more curious following a hard fought rights battle, which cost Brad Pitt's production company Plan B Entertainment a cool $1 million.
While fans of the book might be slightly bemused, if not a little disappointed by the supposed adaptation, film fans while likely be less critical. As it turns out, World War Z proves to be one of the most entertaining and suspenseful films of the blockbuster season. Perfect it is most certainly not, but for a film borne out of significant behind the scenes turmoil, it ends up overwhelmingly more impressive than anyone could rightly expect.
Whilst stuck in traffic gridlock on a Philadelphia street, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a retired UN investigator and his family become embroiled in a deadly virus outbreak, which spreads with terrifyingly rapid speed, causing the infected to become rage-fuelled zombies, intent on just one motive; infecting the uninfected. Following a suspenseful escape sequence that leaves a trail of devastation in its wake, the family are choppered out to the security of a vessel on the Hudson River, which has become a make shift command bunker by Lane's contact UN Deputy Secretary-General Thierry (Fana Mokoena).
Tasked with attending to the remaining survivors, Lane is coaxed into leading a team of Navy Seals to track down the virus's origin, which takes him to South Korea and then Israel, where the mission takes a turn for the worst and leaves him with little assistance in fighting a battle that may have already become lost.
Much has been written about World War Z's troubled production and not insignificant budget blowouts, precipitated by a post-production rewrite, which saw the entire final third act jettisoned. For those in the know, it's easy to pin point the moment the film charts its new course (hint: everything after Israel), but this has seemingly had little adverse effect on the final cut. While the original ending, with Pitt cutting a swathe through forward barreling zombies in Russia, to rescue his family would have been far bleaker (and I'd suggest less box-office friendly), the replacement works well and certainly escalates the suspense stakes, by going in the opposite direction than where viewers would expect.
For a genre that normally confines its storytelling to reign in limited budgets, World War Z is arguably the first time a zombie feature has attempted such epic scope, and the results are impressive. Like Contagion (just with more action), the threat of an adversary that can't be stopped, steeped in the realm of scientific possibility is an imposing threat indeed. Whilst the special effects are, at times, a little unimpressive and the inclusion of charmless and ragged Brad Pitt as the hero is questionable, as a package World War Z is highly entertaining, frequently of the edge-of-the-seat variety.
World War Z is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1, encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression.
For a film of such recent vintage, you'd expect good things from the transfer here, and for the most part that's what we get, although probably not in the way you'd suspect. The cinematography of the film is hardy what you would call conducive to a reference quality transfer, filled with murky yellow and brown hues - hardly pretty stuff. I'm also afraid to say that some of the less convincing special effects look even less impressive on the small screen.
Despite this, the transfer reaches mostly perfection from a technical standpoint. Filmed digitally and finished off in a 2K digital intermediate, World War Z suffers from no film based, or film to video issues, nor encoding nasties or macroblocking.
World War Z is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, at 24 bits.
Mirroring the aggressive theatrical mix, World War Z does indeed feature a reference quality mix, a 7.1 affair that will make your neighbors think that there is a world war in your lounge room.
From the scenes of relative tranquility in the film's opening, to the breakout of the zombie hoard to the explosions and gunfire that permeate most of the proceedings, World War Z never breaks from providing an involving and inclusive mix that neglects to use all the available channels of sound. The mid and rear surrounds carry a significant amount of aural information, with bullets ricocheting and zombie screeches moving from left to right, panning with ease and complete believability, grounding the otherwise outlandish in a sense of reality.
The low frequency channel remains undead throughout, underscoring most sequences with significant low-end information but never overpowering what is an otherwise carefully balanced mix.
For a production that had such a painful production before coming to the final product, previous little is expended in discussing this aspect - disappointingly, because I'm sure these stories are fascinating, but I suspect this is all a little too fresh and raw. Most notably, we have no deleted scenes or the much discussed original ending, which deviates heavily from the final film. Still, let's take a look at what we do have.
First up is the four part, 35 minute long WWZ Production featurette, which rounds up many of the cast and crew, with the noticeable absence of star and producer Brad Pitt, and touches on select elements of production. There are huge gaps in the narrative however, and it fails to give any inkling of the troubled production at all.
Next up is the brief Origins featurette, concerned with the somewhat comedic manner in which Max Brooks original book was bought to the screen (hint: the only thing that remains is the title), while the Looking to Science which looks at the possibilities that a real life outbreak could pose to humanity.