World War Z: Brad Pitt’s folly?

Entertainment

You might have seen the trailer which was released this week for World War Z, a zombie epic starring Brad Pitt. If not, you should, because it’s pretty exciting stuff.

The trailer sees Pitt face a zombie pandemic, of which we catch a few glimpses. Hordes of undead are seen causing mayhem, and scores of military personnel shoot them away. Zombies are seen running full-pelt, which distances the film from classic George A. Romero style action, and the whole thing takes place on a scale that places it closer to War of the Worlds or recent eco-disaster movies than most zombie flicks.

The script is adapted from a novel by Max Brooks; World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War spent four weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list and had a warm reception amongst critics and readers, many praising the book for Brooks’ use of faux-interviews to recount events.

It’s a structure that had to be changed for appearance on the screen, however. After Plan B Entertainment bought the rights in 2007, veteran screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Changeling) set to work on turning the fractured narrative of the book into a coherent thread for the movie, and in doing so decided to make the interviewer Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) who collated the documents which make up the novel, the protagonist of the script. It’s a fundamental move that’s clearly stuck as Pitt’s role in the trailer shows, but not everyone was content that Straczynski’s script did enough to turn Brooks’ novel into a bona fide action movie.

Despite the intentions of Paramount to begin in 2009, the project faced a massive delay when writer Matt Carnahan (The Kingdom) was brought in, pushing production back two years.

Even when production finally began in 2011 the team behind World War Z found themselves hampered by the logistical realities of such a gargantuan project. In a particularly farcical turn of events, a failure to classify props being flown in to Budapest resulted in Hungarian anti-terrorist authorities conducting a raid which found an entire armoury of weapons intended for filming, leading to the confiscation of large amounts of props, and further delays in production.

The headaches didn’t end there. Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) was brought in to re-write large portions of the script yet again, particularly focussing on the Third Act, but he ran out of time, so Paramount hired Drew Goddard (Lindelof’s partner on Lost).

Goddard insists that reports on the production issues have made a mountain out of a molehill. Speaking to MTV news he breezed over the ‘re-write’, saying he “just watched the movie and gave them ideas for how to make it better”, which was standard fare in the movie business, and that he would not receive a writing credit. Even so, question marks were certainly raised when seven weeks of re-shoots were scheduled in September, far more than most tentpole movies. Even this, however, was shrugged off by the cast. Talking to HeyUGuys Pitt said that “It’s a monster of a film, and there’s a lot of working parts to it”, implying that the sheer scale warrants the extra time.

Let’s hope he’s right.