One of the surprises of this summer’s movie releases, World War Z, is a $200MM zombie movie. Let that sink in for a moment. It’s also a zombie movie that’s more action and drama than horror and terror, absent of blood and gore. Partner that with a PG-13 rating and it shouldn’t really work – but remarkably it does. Leading up to the summer, World War Z had become notorious for its production difficulties and considerable budget overruns. However, with Brad Pitt in the lead role, a slate of convincing visual effects, and a sprawling global feel to what ultimately amounts to an intimate pursuit (as we follow Brad’s character on his investigation into the outbreak in order to ensure his families safety), the mix of ingredients come together with force, producing an unlikely smash hit and easily one of the most entertaining surprises to come out of an explosion and destruction-filled summer blockbuster roster.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/MVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
Rating: Not Rated, PG-13
Run Time: 115 Min (PG-13, 122 Min (Unrated).
Package Includes: Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraVioletAmaray Case with slipcase
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 09/17/2013
The Production Rating: 4/5
“Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature.”
Former United Nations (UN) investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) barely survives with wife Karin (Mareille Enos) and two daughters as Philadelphia descends into raging chaos, overrun with people turned savage, attacking with speed and ferocity anyone in their way and, by way of biting, turning the victims into more of that savage crowd. The events of Philadelphia are sadly not isolated. A pandemic of epic proportions has gripped the entire globe, from the United States, to Africa, to Asia and beyond. At the request of Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) the Deputy General of the UN – and so that his wife, daughters and a young boy they picked up in the chaos can stay safe aboard a U.S. Navy command ship – Gerry heads to South Korea to begin his investigation into the cause of the pandemic, and to do everything in his power to help stop its spread.
World War Z is furiously paced, broad in feel, and surprisingly intimate in its drama. This success of the film is born in large part from the source material, Max Brooks’ novel of the same name (though the film strays considerably from the source material), and director Marc Forster’s desire for the film to feel organic in its drama and scale among the intense set pieces. Additionally, Brad Pitt’s presence and performance add grounding and sincerity even as the extraordinary unfolds. I recall from the marketing campaign that, despite the suggestive ‘Z’ in the title, the word zombie was entirely absent. A smart move. Some may have been dismissive of a zombie film (unfairly so) had it been more apparent in the advertisements, but by couching the premise on a human catastrophe featuring powerful images of swarming, raging people, there was not a small amount of intrigue – enough to pull in the summer movie-going crowds.
In fact it is in the nature of the zombies that World War Z excels. Zombie films, and the remarkable AMC show The Walking Dead, typically feature slow moving figures whose shuffling presence in tight spaces or in large numbers creates fear and tension. This is the familiar motion of the undead and it has created many claustrophobic and gut-wrenching sequences of horror and terror. But the river of raging people, moving like insect swarms, is wholly new. We may have seen something similar in Danny Boyles effective 28 Days Later, but those fast moving people were infected with a rage virus and were not technically zombies. And so the behavioral difference of the undead (one of the many changes from the source material) and the shift from blood and gore account for much of the broader appeal World War Z achieved.
By all accounts, World War Z should have been an expensive embarrassment. Budget overruns, major script rewrites during production, extensive reshoots, and a completely retooled ending are typically symptoms of a doomed film, if not one with a severe uphill climb to quality and audience appreciation. Paramount, displeased with the original cut sought input from screenwriter Damon Lindelof who suggested retooling the grand spectacle of the original third act – at some cost – to bring an improved lucidity to the pace and action.
Despite the much publicized production tumult, World War Z is a terrific piece of entertainment. While there are some plot conveniences of note, a remarkable survivability of Brad Pitt’s character, and a cliché or two thrown in for good measure, Z delivers both intense action, eye candy, and a certain realism that affords the film a strong foundation upon which the smaller story of Gerry doing all he can to protect his family finds time to breath among the grander spectacle. As he travels from South Korea to Israel to Wales, UK, Gerry encounters interesting characters along the way. Though we don’t spend much time with any of them, beyond the Israeli soldier Segen (performed with certitude by Daniella Kertesz) and members of the World Health Organization facility (which includes Pierfrancesco Favino and Peter Capaldi who will be taking over as the new Dr. Who), each makes a mark on the film and our investment in Gerry’s search for answers.
The 1080p high definition image (MPEG-4 MVC codec) is not as stunning as one might have expected. Originally viewing the 3D presentation of the theatrical cut, scenes appeared somewhat murky at times, though it was hard to discern if this was a choice of the director and cinematographer. At times there was less detail that one would expect from a 2013 film. There are scenes in the film that shine such as the outdoors sequence set in Israel, the interior of the World Health Organization building, and the blackness of the landing strip at night and in the rain in South Korea. But other moments in the film lack vibrancy and pop of colors, and sharpness, particularly in the opening scene inside the home of Gerry and Karin, and the scramble in the apartment building during the first act as the family flee for safety. Despite not being reference quality, it is still a good image throughout even though the quality peaks and settles from set piece to set piece.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: 3.5/5
In 3D the look of the film is a bit of a disappointment. Besides a few key moments, such as the interior of the military plane taking Gerry, Navy Seals and others to South Korea, or the shots from behind helicopters in the air, the 3D doesn’t really add much and takes more away (brightness, sharpness) than it adds in expanding the experience. Certainly there is depth achieved in a number of scenes, including the long, pale hallways of the WHO facility, but the effectiveness of the 3D presentation is not consistent.
Reportedly one of the several cinematographers employed on the film during its challenging shoot requested their name be taken off the film when it was decided to convert the film for 3D. While the 3D isn’t a disaster by any stretch of the imagination, it is likely the 2D version will get the most replays.
I should note that HTF’s Robert Harris has weighed in on this film in his “A Few Words About…”and was more pleased with the image than I – including the 3D.
World War Z escapes the zombie hordes and makes its way to Blu-ray with a blisteringly good DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track, and it’s a thumper. The array of growling zombies and the screams of to-be victims radiate throughout the speakers, the thump of the undead on doors, the crash of cars, the screech of planes, the quick pop of sniper fire and the boom of grenade explosions are all recreated for your home theater in wonderfully sharp detail. Dialogue is never hard to hear or understand among the chaos and, for those who frighten easily, you will find yourself turning the sound down from time to time just to make it through the tension.
Audio Rating: 5/5
The special features available offer a surface look into the production, with a look at the making of the film on set (Outbreak), the escape from South Korea (The Journey Begins), the impressive sequence in Jerusalem (Behind the Wall), and the finale (Camouflage). Additional features cover bringing Max Brooks’ novel to the big screen and the various scientific realities behind ‘Zombies’. Each segment is relatively short (running around 8 minutes apiece) and, while interesting, don’t at all capture the essence of the production struggle or even the enormity of the scale this film sought to achieve.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Blu-ray edition featuring unrated cut
Looking to Science
- The Journey Begins
- Behind the Wall
3D Blu-ray edition featuring theatrical cut
DVD edition featuring theatrical cut
Digital Copy/Ultraviolet version also available
Imperfect entertainment though it may be, and a far stray from the source material, World War Z somehow defied the odds, became a coherent film, and has been favored by audiences and many critics alike.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Without spoiling the ending, Marc Forster has gone on record discussing the originally planned ending and the version that made it to the big screen (and now home video). The desire was to stand apart from the standard summer blockbuster fare whose denouements almost always a larger and more spectacular ‘event’ moment than any from the first or second acts. The move was smart. Besides the viscerally tense sequence, we get to follow Brad Pitt’s character, a character that we have come to like, respect, and become deeply invested in, as he risks it all. It brings the film to a narrower, more focused close and, succeeding in the intent of the filmmakers, is a bold choice for not following the trend of blockbuster film in going out with a ‘blaze of glory’.
The unrated edition runs 7 minutes longer – is available in 2D only – and edits back in some of the more brutal moments of Gerry killing and crushing zombies, splashes of blood, and other challenges to the PG-13 rating they sought. The footage is more intense as the packaging suggests, though the theatrical cut (available in 3D only) is still plenty intense. Recommended!
Reviewed By: Neil Middlemiss
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