“I don’t know what’s scarier, the fact that zombies could rise (are there Bibilical implications?), or the fact there are actually people out there that can’t wait for it to happen, so they can just start loading up with guns, get on their motorcycles…”, and raise even more hell.

For the record, I like Zombie movies.

Well… Maybe it’s that fact that I like to think about Zombie movies, and what I might do if faced with a mindless horde of flesh devouring meat bags. Rifle or machete?

I’ll submit we can also compare the interest in surviving a zombie apocalypse to people preparing for a Soviet invasion of America in the 1980s after the film Red Dawn was released.

Does this mean people don’t have enough opportunity for true adventure in their lives? I have. So, I’ll not allow myself to get bogged down in anything particularly meaningful with this particular post. Instead, I’m relishing the news that, one of my favorite books World War Z (Seriously… But, I’m not comparing it to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged or Edmund Morris’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, mind you) is in film production!

NOTE: Consider marking your calendars now. Do it! The movie is set for a 2010 release date.

So, I’ll draw from other reviews, here, and add some of my own thoughts. Go read the book. You can order it here. It’s fun and epic. Do it!

An Oral History of the Zombie WarIn any event, World War Z, written in 2006, is the “sequel” to author Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide, which offered “complete protection from the living dead”.

Never mind The Zombie Survival Guide is a one-joke, tongue-in-cheek book in which that one joke got tired in short order. It’s, at best, a read (if at all) as a companion piece to World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. I like the title with it’s sub text for best effects. I’ll leave it that, if you want to be the Boy Scout equivalent of the Zombie survivalist, and be prepared, this is the book for you.

World War Z is one of those fictional books that pretends to be non-fiction. It’s fun, for me anyway, to ponder what aliens scavenging the remains of our dead culture civilization will make of all this one day! In summary, in the event you don’t want to read this agonizingly long post, it tells the story of a zombie plague that nearly wiped out mankind when governments and armies are initially unable to control the global infestation, and the aftermath ten years later.

Those ten years after the war ended, a reporter, author Max Brooks, on assignment for a global news paper, interviews various people across the globe about their experiences during World War Z.

You might, but let’s not get lost, just yet in the point, want to know that, Brad Pitt and Leonardo diCaprio almost broke their banks dueling over the rights to film the story and play the role of the reporter (although I should add here, that Max Brooks did an awesome job voicing his own work in the audio-book).

A critic once remarked of George Romero’s seminal 1968 zombie flick Night of the Living Dead that it is a science fiction movie pretending to be a horror movie.

The same goes for World War Z. It is more science fiction than horror because I think Brooks is less interested in chills than in recounting how this future world, with it’s various governments, societies filled with a post-holocaust mind-set, fail to cope with a virus that turns the recently dead into mindless cannibalistic creatures – that in turn infect the living. But, the devil is in the details,eh. And, a gruesome attention to detail and social, economic and geographic relevance is one of many elements of this book that make it compelling as well as chilling.

Interestingly, providing you care about such polarizing change process, it is only geographically isolated, authoritarian societies such as Israel, North Korea and Cuba that copes best with controlling the outbreak. For example, in a stunning reversal of fortune, Cuba and Israel becomes the world’s economic leaders because their population and infrastructure remain largely unaffected during the outbreak (because Castro’s secret police early on threw the zombies into prison camps!). The Cuban coastline is, ironically, besieged with North American refugees seeking salvation. Open democratic societies have a much tougher time halting the spread of the disease and coping with the zombie hordes within their own borders. Brooks holds no punches in sharing his views of government lapse. He especially has it in for incompetent government bureaucracies (which keep the public uninformed of the rising threat in an effort to prevent any large-scale panic) and huge multinational corporations that cynically produce a zombie “inoculation” that doesn’t work. However, he balances much of this out with an embedded message of hope. For example, the trailing storyline where Cuba embraces many refugees, blending them into it’s new culture while embracing skill sets and innovation.

Brooks outlines the glaring fact that our governments will have a tough time coping with a large-scale zombie infestation.  So, don’t let yourself be fooled into somnolence believing, not for a minute, that any of this is possibility covered by Civil Defense planning.

This is galvanizing stuff. It reminded me of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. The zombie invasion alters the Earth’s geopolitical map. Pakistan and Iran nukes one another; China becomes a democracy following a civil war; and Russia becomes a scary theocracy. World War Z is pretty darned serious. So, I’m genuinely curious how the movie will be handled.

In my view, much of this works quite well except for one or two odd moments. In one rather daft segment a blind Japanese pensioner becomes an adept zombie-slayer. On the other hand, in another South Africa the government repurposes an old Apartheid-era plan that was meant to be a last possible resort to deal with a full-scale uprising by its native Black population. This is brilliant perspective, in my opinion. The plan ends up saving the world, thanks, ironically, to Nelson Mandela (not named but clearly represented) – the “Great Reconciler” – who insisted upon it being used even though it was dreamt up by a racist apartheid apparatchik!

The good and gripping outweighs the bad and camp by far. There are several action pieces that makes me really look forward to seeing them sequenced in a movie. For example, one is in an “interview” in which a US soldier tells of the epic “Battle of Yonkers”. The battle was supposed to be a showpiece by the U.S. military to illustrate that it is indeed ready to simply blow away the zombie threat utilizing existing military doctrine. But, the soldiers are trained for conventional warfare against, well, the living (my own training realized itself as I read the book and I had found myself thinking set-piece battle operations would be futile against a mindless horde of creatures that knew naught fear, hunger nor exhaustion – and, attrition amongst their ranks was never an issue). Being engulfed by hordes of the undead that can only be killed by headshots wasn’t exactly something NATO planners considered a possibility during the Cold War.  Soon they are overrun by the living dead despite their massive firepower. So, the battle is, instead, a demoralizing setback that almost unhinges the American defense grid.

Another great action scene is one in which a lone female pilot ejects from her malfunctioning, state-of-the-art aircraft, and parachutes into hostile zombie territory (the Louisiana bayou, no less), and must fight her way to a safe zone. In retrospect, this is likely my favorite part of the book. And, it will be interesting to see how it’s done in the movie. My friend Wayne thinks Drew Barrymore should play the role of the female pilot. why not, says I.

Other “interviews” or segments include a soldier telling of the extreme disciplinary measures taken by the Russian military when soldiers refuse to leave doomed civilians to their fate; a Japanese computer geek escaping his infested apartment block using sheets tied together like in a, er, movie; divers having to clear the ocean bottom of “live” zombies; and so on. Although the garish scenes invoked on the beaches of a Japanese ship yard may yet invoke the most epic footage for a movie. Ponder thousands of refugees clawing their way onto overcrowded and capsizing ships and surrounded by a literal “sea” of zombies.

Sure, some of it is your typical post-apocalypse stuff that will be familiar to anyone who has seen 28 Weeks LaterI Am Legend or even The Happening, but Brooks lends an unexpected emotional resonance to the material at hand by taking it all very seriously. so, let’s be clear… This isn’t Shaun of the Dead. Which is probably how Brad Pitt’s production company (who obtained rights to the novel by finally outbidding Leonardo diCaprio’s company).

By the way… Marc Forster is set to direct the movie. Forster is a very “serious” film-maker (The Kite Runner, Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction) who is sometimes criticized for his ham-fisted approach by film critics. But, for me, he has proven himself capable of directing larger scale action blockbusters. For example, the recent Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. I will add, here, that hopefully Forster has been reading some reviews, and will drop some of his annoying tricks, mostly from the Bourne movies, such as jerky cam movements, incoherent editing and the like (and, his his attempts at being “deep,” which in Quantum resulted in a laughably pretentious action scene set in an opera house.). I think the book and it’s own theme can carry that through ably enough for any director.

I’ll add that J. Michael Straczynski, best known for Babylon 5, has written a script for World War Z. There are two ways for a film-maker to present the material at hand: a fake documentary approach which echoes the mockumentary “interviews” in Brooks’ book; or a straight-forward narrative in which several of the characters in the book are condensed into one or two central figures. Wisely enough Straczynski tells me that he’s opted for the latter adaption. After all, did we really need yet another zombie movie filmed in the style of Quarantine?

Somethiing that I find interesting is that Straczynski convinced Forster (with buy-in from Brooks – although I’ve not confirmed that element) to liken the planned movie to ‘Seventies conspiracy thrillers such as All the President’s Men. Straczynski in turn has compared the movie to The Bourne Identity, and remarked that World War Z will have a large international scope while keeping the film as political as the book was (I think this is absolutely critical to help underscore Brooks’ efforts to draw attention to government policies and hijinx).

Still, whatever the end product may be: World War Z is a worth-while read that even those tired of zombies would want to check out. It really does make for terrific dinner party banter. The whole zombie plague destroying mankind thing may be a cliché, but Brooks still manages to make something worthwhile out of the premise. It’s different and “fresh” because he does such a fantastic job outlining current real world government and societal policies against eventual and likely realities.

A final note: Fans of “End Times” literature should check it out before the film hits the big screen.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork

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