Movie Premiere: World War Z

Suddenly, just when you thought the world was safe, it's full of zombies. They are everywhere – on your game console, your phone, cable TV, and now even on the big screen. Metaphor for the fragility of modern civilization, and just plain fun to shoot at, zombies are cool. So it takes someone even cooler than zombies, namely Brad Pitt, to kick some zombie butt.

Leslie: Wow, I was totally disgusted by that display of ravenous hunger. It was beyond repulsive.

Ken: Um, are you talking about the movie, or me at the Chinese buffet last night?

Leslie: The latter. After seeing what you did to those ribs, I wasn't particularly disturbed by hoards of flesh-eating zombies.

Ken: A man has appetites.

Leslie: But apparently no table manners.

Ken: You're just sore because you couldn't interview Brad Pitt.

Leslie: No, I'm sore because WWZ wasn't very good.

Ken: Beep, beep, beep. Let's back up, and start over.

Leslie: Okay. World War Z is a zombie film. A classic B-movie premise with an A-movie budget. Instead of a little embalmer's wax and the basement of an old house, this is a CGI-driven, globe-trotting, action-adventure.

Ken: With an A-lister starring and producing.

Leslie: Brad Pitt bought the rights to Max Brooks' excellent novel, and overcame adversity to get this to the screen.

Ken: The movie's adversity is well documented. After shooting the climatic, battle-heavy third act, they decided it wasn't very good, and rewrote and reshot a completely different ending.

Leslie: The financial backers get points for doubling down. For the reshoot they choose suspense instead of spectacle, but it felt small scale compared to the film's otherwise epic scope.

Ken: After all the action and angst, the ending came rather too suddenly. And the "This is only the beginning" voiceover was a little hokey.

Leslie: I hope the Blu-ray, or maybe the sequel, shows the deleted battle scenes.

Ken: And maybe, unlike the film, there will be a Blu-ray edition that's not rated PG-13.

Leslie: Good point. A zombie outing that is thoroughly PG-13 is problematic. For example, the film never fiercely shows the flesh eating and blood letting. Fair enough, but that also robs the film of the shock needed to drive home the horror.

Ken: I hear you. Mr. Pitt seems oddly stoic or even bored, considering that in a few days, humanity will be just another plate to be bussed.

Leslie: Maybe the movie's problem is its very full menu of assorted writers.

Ken: Too many cooks in the kitchen?

Leslie: Way too many writers, who give us way too many "homages" to Dawn of the Dead, Contagion, The Andromeda Strain, and 28 Days Later.

Ken: Not to mention Snakes on a Plane. Still, they were smart enough to choose impetuous zombies – more exciting than the traditional slow-moving type. And, their ant-like clamoring for food was cool.

Leslie: Agreed. There were some spectacular visuals, and exciting set pieces.

Ken: A big budget gives you a big palette to paint on. The immensity of the zombie pandemic was visually awesome. The sight of the zombies scaling the walls of Jerusalem was outstanding.

Leslie: And as with most other blockbusters, the production values were excellent, especially the sound design. I liked the news-clip collage at the opening, and the after-car-crash dazed sound design was perfect. I also liked the effects around the human-to-zombie countdown.

Ken: All good stuff. On the other hand, while Marco Beltrami's score certainly hit all its cues, it didn't blow me away. Maybe too much synthesizer?

Leslie: It was decent. I heard some "Tubular Bells," and even some "Flight of the Bumblebee." British rock band Muse added a certain hipness to things. The music did everything a traditional movie score should do, but sounded fresher than most.

Ken: There was a lovely bit of music while the helicopter lands onboard the U.S.S. Argus.

Leslie: Our readers will be particularly interested to learn [SPOILER ALERT] that the zombies are sensitive to sound.

Ken: What a great gimmick. And it really opened the door to lots of good sound design. We always hear creaking doors and broken glass crunching underfoot, but this time the sounds take on critical, life-threatening importance.

Leslie: Awesome. It also illustrates the importance of silence in a sound track. Having to tiptoe around so you don't rile the zombies - I love it.

Ken: I liked the sound of the can rolling across the cafeteria floor. Nothing builds tension better than a well-placed sound effect.

Leslie: Why is it that when you're trying to be quiet, every little sound is drenched in reverberation?

Ken: And when you're trying to avoid zombie detection, why do they make you ride bicycles with really squeaky chains?

Leslie: Maybe because those sound designers are secretly rooting for the zombies? Their pale "studio tan" might mean more than we think.

Ken: Hmm, good point. When the pizza is gone, I've seen a few engineers eyeing their clients.

Leslie: Great swarming zombie sounds, great zombie Foley, and absolutely terrific sounds of automatic weapons fire.

Ken: Oddly, some of the offscreen zombie sounds just seemed "wrong," but the close-up onscreen zombie shrieks were much better. Oh, the sound of zombies gnashing their teeth was Oscar-worthy.

Leslie: Well, speaking of crunch time, let's tell the chef what we thought of the meal.

Ken: A good zombie movie needs to have some gore, and the PG-13 rating really took the sizzle off that steak. Still, overall, WWZ left a good taste in my mouth. Forks up.

Leslie: The production is top-notch, the acting is good, but the story is unoriginal. Sadly, it never really thrilled or horrified me. I think they missed an opportunity to do something really delicious. Forks down.

Ken: If this is the first course of a trilogy, I would hungrily taste-test the second course. How about you?

Leslie: I'm not sure. Maybe, if there was lobster involved.

Ken: Speaking of which, I'm getting hungry. And I could use a Pepsi too. Want to go out for a bite?

Leslie: Only if Brad will be there to protect me.

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