Most moviegoers accept that a film adaptation will be different from the book it is based on, but no matter how many movies differ from our expectations, we still expect the plot will remain largely recognizable to those familiar with the written work. In the case of “World War Z,” only minuscule points of comparison can be made between Max Brooks’ novel and the movie currently being shown in theaters.
Published in 2006, “World War Z” is Brooks’ follow-up to 2003’s “The Zombie Survival Guide.” The book is presented like a set of case files — a grouping of interviews with people who had been involved in a war against the undead. Brooks introduces the interviews as information omitted from his final report, claiming the public needs to know all he discovered.
Conducted years after the declared end of the war, the series of insider accounts pieces together the world before, during and after the war. Brooks offers viewpoints from all walks of life, including both top government officials and the men and women who served on the ground and fought zombies, hand-to-corpse. The interviews represent every country and the effect is a novel that explores not only personal accounts of war, but also the effects of war on a national and global level.
While there are graphic descriptions of zombie encounters, especially in the first part of the novel, where memories of the initial outbreak are discussed, the majority of the novel is given less to gore and more to tactical explanations of maneuvers and plans. References to real current events and wars both current and past, are woven throughout the book, giving it a feel of realism.
Instead of a story devoted to horror, Brooks’ book is a thinly veiled exploration of the nature of people and government and perhaps a warning against the individualistic ways in which countries currently operate.
The film “World War Z” bears little resemblance to the novel. The screenplay focuses on one character’s role in a war against zombies. Rather than depicting a universal problem, the film portrays Gerry Lane, played by Brad Pitt, as the hero who becomes the savior of all mankind.
A former United Nations worker, Lane is sitting with his family in traffic at the opening of the film. A radio in the background discusses the recent outbreaks that have occured, labeling the cause a virus. Lane and his family are loving and happy, until the zombies begin overtaking the streets. After a battle in which he saves himself and his family, they are removed to a safe ship where Lane is pulled into service in the zombie war.
While Brooks’ novel reads like a documentary about a past event, the film is set very much in the present. That is, until the final minutes, when a voiceover by Pitt sums up the effects of his heroic actions on the remainder of the war. The zombies are faster, smarter and able to work together even if seemingly by accident. Brooks’ text portrays a war that would not have ended had it not been for collective efforts, both on a country-by-country level and on an individual level. In the film, however, the turning point in the war comes only from Lane’s ability to piece together information and his willingness to sacrifice himself.
Instead of an exploration of global humanity, the film places one character in the role of savior. Action sequences between man and zombie are shown, but they are somehow less chilling than the descriptions found in the book. Though there are moments where one can see nods to the source text in the film, especially the scene where a tiny dog could have alerted passengers on a plane to the presence of a zombie if they would only listen to its bark, overall the film exists as a separate entity that fans of the book will likely find disappointing. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars, and the movie 2 out of 5.
E. Morgenstern is a graduate student in English. Please send comments to email@example.com.