Brad Pitt’s zombie flick World War Z looks, ironically enough, like it’s going to be dead on arrival. There are enormous figures being bandied about in reference to the film’s swelling budget, and the whole thing seems overly ambitious for a production company the size of Pitt’s Plan B.
What’s more, rumoured acrimony between director Marc Forster and Pitt himself threatens to undermine the entire film, with Vanity Fair contributor Laura M. Holson suggesting that poor communication between the two is the root of a wealth of problems, not least of which is a brand new ending to the story. This is perhaps the worst of the crew’s crimes, with the original ending of the (critically acclaimed, I might add) book being scrapped in favour of a hurried, tacked-on final act that (if early indications are to be believed) completely departs from the theme of the original text, resulting in a film that looks starkly different from its source material. Max Brooks’ original book is told as a series of histories from the point of view of survivors, something that would be difficult to translate to the big screen. As a result, Pitt changed the all-action ending of his film adaption to further the audience’s understanding of the characters and make the story work on the big screen.
This is nothing new in the industry, but Pitt’s edit is on an unprecedented scale, and when combined with the other issues already mentioned it sounds a death knell for any movie. The public seem to have lost faith with the film after Pitt reported had to bring in Star Trek writer Damon Lindelof to pen the new 40-minute ending to the film, with the star apparently unhappy with his original by-the-book finale. The whole project reeks of one risk too far, with Pitt plunging a whopping $200 million into the film even before the rehashed ending was mooted. After the new footage was created, the budget had swelled to an eye-watering $400 million, making this film the all-time number one in terms of budget. That’s a shocking statistic when it’s considered that the highest gross for a zombie film is a comparatively meagre $148 million (Hotel Transylvania) with Zombieland winning second place with just $76 million pulled. Nevertheless, analysts remain positive about the film’s chances, with Phil Contrino of Boxoffice.com suggesting that it could recoup as much as $150 million if all goes well. On the film’s original budget that wouldn’t be such an issue, but with almost three times that invested the property is beginning to look like an inevitably lose-lose scenario.
There’s plenty of advertising knocking about for the film, with the theatrical trailer attracting interest with sweeping, zombie-filled shots and close-ups of Pitt’s worried face. However, a good trailer means nothing when critics are already revving up their keyboards to pan the project pre-release. There’s a distinct lack of positive press surrounding both the direction and acting, with the entire project being referred to by critics as ‘mayhem porn’.
The real issue with changing the ending of World War Z to such a degree is that it is bound to alienate existing fans of the book, who will presumably react badly to major alterations to a story they already see as sacrosanct.
Seeing as the film is not part of a renowned franchise, alterations are felt all the more, and the response ramped up accordingly. Long-running film series like Star Trek can attract viewers due to the reputation of the subject matter and the fleet of fans behind them, something World War Z can’t. Pitt has invested a lot of himself and no small sum of money in his project, and will be hoping that this film doesn’t end up being apocalyptic for his the future prospects of his young production company. He’s taken a massive risk, and at this juncture a disaster on the scale of his very project doesn’t look terribly unlikely.