Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Adaptation fail

Something tells me that if a book is unfilmable, you should just, maybe, not try to make a movie out of it.

World War Z, by Max Brooks, is probably the best zombie book out there. (Although, I haven't read all of Walking Dead, to be fair.) The book is "an oral history of the Zombie War."

It's been some undisclosed number of years since the zombie threat was declared officially over, and our unnamed protagonist is a guy armed with a tape recorder, collecting the stories of people who were involved. Every story is told as a transcript from the tape: just a person speaking, starting with the doctor in China who discovers one of the early cases in a small village and is silenced by the government. Our journalist interviews human traffickers who make the problem worse, even though they suspect what's happening; intelligence officers who cover it up; the CEO of a company that knowingly sells a placebo "cure"; people who hole up in gated communities; soldiers who see action on the front lines against waves of undead; members of the world's governments who eventually have to implement the scariest, most draconian systems to ensure survival; an astronaut who spends the whole apocalypse watching helplessly from the International Space Station; and the people trying to put the world back together once the war has finally been won.

The thing I really like about World War Z is the scope of it. People from all over the world, in all levels of society, get a moment to have a voice. You watch single individuals and their choices make or break history, but you also watch what average people do (there's an autistic teenager who tells her entire story in sound effects and reenactments, which makes it worse when you realize she's reenacting the moment her mother tried to strangle her while they were hiding inside a church, rather than let her be turned.) And voices from India to Japan to South Africa to Canada get to speak.

It's a global book, and what scared me about it was that you could substitute pretty much any real threat - disease, global warming, food shortages - for the zombies and get a frighteningly plausible scenario for how the way we are as a species and society makes disaster possible.

Right. And then because the book was popular, someone made a movie. And this is the trailer. Yes, that's Brad Pitt.

1. This story is about one dude. Who is Brad Pitt.
2. This one dude seems to be pretty connected in the military. I'm guessing special ops or something. Woop,
3. This is only happening in America, and look at all the Americans! Something tells me General Raj-Singh, the Tiger of Delhi, will not be appearing. Something also tells me that the eventual Plan that saves humanity will not come from a South African white supremacist, you won't hear a character claim that Cuba's isolation helped it win the Zombie War, and we'll never hear from the Chinese nuclear sub crew or the South Asian 'snakehead.' And I will lay you money the Americans don't get their best tactical ideas from people in other countries.
4. Zombies don't run in Brooks' book (and a lot of zombie aficionados will tell you they should never run. I don't personally care, because zombies are a metaphor for every other disease and disaster, and if you want them to run, fine... but they don't run in Brooks' book.)
5. In the book, by the time the zombies are causing chaos in New York, people know what they are. They're already marketing a "vaccine."
6. Most of the book, in fact, is taken up with how things get to the point of no return when humanity almost gets wiped out. This movie appears to start pretty much at the point of no return.
7. Looks to me like things devolve pretty rapidly into "guy with gun and combat training saves world as byproduct of defending wife and children." Sure, I don't know that Brad Pitt saves the world in this movie, I've only seen the trailer, but that's the trope. And even if he doesn't literally save the world singlehandedly, when Our Hero gets Into The Fight, because he wants to protect His Family, the implication is that all that nobility makes it so the world can be saved.

Maybe World War Z is unfilmable (and why shouldn't it be? Must every good book be made into a movie?) Although I would love to have seen someone try to make it as a documentary, earnestly filmed, relying mostly on the verbal testimony of the witnesses (but you don't have to be totally low-budget: some footage from the combat cameras on the ground at Yonkers, views of the devastation, maybe cameraphone video clips of early patients or of stragglers outside the fences of the walled-off Plan compounds... even the scene where the woman is walking around in Northern Canada killing zombies as they start to thaw out of the permafrost could be really cool.) That would be a really innovative zombie movie. This... well, I'm wondering what arrangement they made with Max Brooks. About all I see that's similar is the title.

1 comment:

  1. I agree! I've been worried about this movie since I didn't believe it would translate well, and the previews reinforce the fears. I might go see it anyway, but as a random zombie movie, not as World War Z. Adaptation fail!

    You should check out Mira Grant's books. Have you read them? They're awesome. And, in a similar style to World War Z, there's Robopocalypse, which is awesome and I think would translate well!

    Let me know if you'd like to borrow anything... ;)