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FILM REVIEW: World War Z

Categories: Movies

Last week, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas sounded a warning for the modern blockbuster movie culture they helped build. The industry, they said, was at risk of imploding. As movie budgets grow ever bigger, these cinematic spectacles have the potential to destroy studios.

Amid this comes World War Z, another case of ballooning budgets fed by a studio and a Hollywood star hungry to create a new action franchise.

World War Z stars Brad Pitt and was produced by his production company, Plan B. A small army of screenwriters turned the source novel, based on first-person accounts of a global zombie outbreak, into a conventional thriller centered on a U.N. investigator hunting for the source of the epidemic.

As reported in Vanity Fair, there was a lot riding on WWZ. Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster was looking to convince the industry he still had the right stuff to mount a big-screen thriller. Pitt was looking to jump from heartthrob to hero, following in the wake of Matt Damon in trying to show the industry he too could front a major action picture.

But during past year, the drama in the boardrooms and on WWZ's set became the talk of the town. The original ending (a brutal battle set in Russia) was so poorly received that producers recruited a new troop of screenwriters, including Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof, to rewrite it. They then reshot the entire third act, at a reported cost of some $20 million.

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Well: it worked.

What Forster has captured is an unflinching look at a society teetering on the edge. WWZ shows just how easy it is for us to descend into chaos. The dull booms of explosions in the distance lead to screams and panicked stampedes. There will be a mad rush on grocery stores. Just how do you keep your daughter's asthma under control when you're fleeing from super-charged zombies hurling themselves against the door like an angry hailstorm?

Yes, zombies purists may groan at WWZ's Red Bull-injected iteration of the classic undead, iconic as depicted by George A Romero. Instead, Forster took his inspiration from the animal world, which why the infected humans swarm over walls like ants and chomp at the air like horses straining at their reins.

While World War Z could have sparked a referendum on Pitt's leading man status, thankfully he carries the film's burden with ease. Like a good bottle of scotch, Pitt has developed more character as he's aged: a blend of Robert Redford with the Zen of Keanu Reeves, he has a natural confidence on display. There's not a heck of a lot of conflict there, but he's convincing nonetheless. Also, in terms of convincing heroics, keep your eye out for actor Daniella Kertesz as the Israeli soldier Segen, who's as unstoppable as the endless zombie hordes.

In the end, World War Z might have lost the political subtext of the book that inspired it, but still maintains a furious momentum all its own.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5

(Note: The film's title is pronounced World War "Zee." World War "Zed" would be a Canadian film about a zombie attack of Tim Hortons, where we fight back with snow shovels.)

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