World War Z – Film Review

WWZ 2Before I went to see World War Z, I asked a number of people what they thought of the picture. The replies varied greatly from, “It’s not a real Zombie movie, they move too fast,” to the standard, “Read the book, it’ s much better.”  The trailer intrigued me but what really did the trick was the word world. I absolutely love films that involve the entirety of the planet. And so I went, alone.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a retired special investigator for the United Nations. He now lives a quiet life in Philadelphia making pancakes for his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters. Suddenly and without warning a typical big city traffic snarl is rocked with sirens, crashing trucks and people running madly around. From there things go downhill quickly and before you know it, Gerry’s old boss Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) is on the phone begging for him to get back in the game.

Some horrible virus or bacteria of some unknown origin causes humans to become the “undead.” Once turned, which only takes a handful of seconds after being bitten, they blindly take up their mission to bite non infected humans. turning them into “Zeaks.” A term used by a soldier who enjoys mowing them down. These Zombies are fast. No I mean really fast. The filmmakers deliver a jolt to your pulse as you watch the power of millions of human bodies united in a single purpose. It caused me to think what the human race could actually accomplish if we were many in body and one in mind. But despite being world class sprinters, they are really stupid. They can’t even open a door. Instead they try to smash through it with their heads. They stop at nothing and it’s become a real problem for the planet, quickly spreading throughout the world thanks to the over 70,000 commercial airline flights each day.

After some close calls, Lane and family are extracted to a U.N. ship in the north Atlantic. He is persuaded to accompany a doctor to South Korea to follow up on a lead that has come across in an email. On the plane the doctor gives what is the single best instance of dialog in the entire film. It’s a powerful foreshadowing that sticks with Lane. However, the mission doesn’t work out. While planning what to do next, Lane comes in contact with an ex-CIA agent (David Morse) who is behind bars for selling guns to North Korea. Somehow this man knows lots about the Zeak problem and points Lane to Jerusalem, where they seem to have a better handle on things. Or at least we think they do.

Massive scale pictures like this one usually rely on the zoom, cut and hand-held camera work. Images, usually CGI created, wash over us like a raging waterfall. The hero or superhero shows a human side but always summons the special power in the end to take down the bad guys. Not so in WWZ. Pitt is not a superhero. Actually he’s not even a hero. He plays the part of  a regular guy with some experience and a knack for knowing what to do when things go off book. He’s tough, but not powerful. I found his acting choice to be refreshing and added some measure of believability to an otherwise unbelievable story.


Nearly all of the technical aspects of this picture are amazing. The visual effects, editing, special effects and make-up work together beautifully to make what we are watching seem real. Marc Forster’s direction is tight throughout. He is a master of pacing which in this film is no easy feat. The cinematography by Ben Seresin and an uncredited Robert Richardson is crisp and appropriately moody. Marco Beltrami’s score fits nicely into both the action and the more calmer scenes. The fast-moving Zombies make this more of a horror movie than the slow motion ones we have come to know and love. At least you could out run those guys. With the new and improved models we see here, no one stands a chance.

The film is pulled down considerably by the screenplay. A single person, Max Brooks, authored the book, but it took five people to write the script for WWZ and it shows. There are lot of things that don’t tie together from the very beginning and the ending is a failure. We are left with some hope, but completely adrift.

Photos: Paramount Pictures

I Am Legend – Film Review

If you’ve gotten this far you probably know that I Am Legend is a Vampire movie about the last man (almost) left alive on earth. It stars Will Smith as Robert Neville, a military scientist-type who has taken it on himself to find a cure and vaccine for a disease caused by a drug once thought to be a cure for cancer. Instead, it actually wiped out 90% of the human race (oops). That drug was developed by a woman scientist played in a cameo uncredited role by Emma Thompson. It took only three years for the hero drug to end up as the plague, and the film essentially begins at that point.

I went to see this picture primarily because I love to see big cities silent and empty. There is something eerie about it, as if you are in Rome, surveying the ruins of a lost civilization, but you have actually walked those streets. It transports me back to my childhood and my fascination with science and fiction. I Am Legend is based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel (same title) and this is the third adaptation of that story onto the big screen. The first was The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, then again in 1974 with Charlton Heston playing The Omega Man. Of course I saw those films on television, as well as The World, The Flesh and the Devil (Harry Belafonte). The images of barren cities are forever etched in my mind.


Mr. Smith turns in a fine performance and is able to carry the story by himself, displaying both drama and comedy through a deserted, post apocalypse New York. According to the production notes (download pdf here), he prepared for months both physically and emotionally to take on the role, and it shows. Robert Neville’s military training has come in handy, helping him construct a fortress in Washington Square. It’s outfitted with blast doors, power generators and an impressive lab in the basement.

All of the citizens of New York (and the rest of the world) have perished either through breathing the virus or being killed and eaten by the less fortunate ones who have become zombie/vampires. Mutants who cannot survive in daylight, have lost all notion of “typical human behavior,” are super strong and quite nasty.


Lt. Colonel Neville attempts to construct a typical day in his new atypical world. Eat, exercise, make a selection at the video store, flirt, shop, garden, even visit The Met. His house is adorned with original art–a Van Gogh hangs above his plasma flat screen in the living room. I would have done the same thing. No strike that, I would have moved into The Met. But Robert does something I probably wouldn’t have. He captures mutants and takes them to his lab for clinical trials in an effort to find a cure. He has been unsuccessful.

Robert has a close and only companion in Sam, a German Shepherd. Sam is child, wife (Samantha), friend and confidant. Sam is attacked by mutant dogs when Robert gets caught in a zombie trap he originally used on them, and barely escapes. He snaps and goes out at night to rundown as many mutants as he can. They actually overpower him and he is saved in the nick of time by Anna (Alice Braga) and her son Ethan (Charlie Tahan), who have heard his broadcasts over the airwaves.

Anna provides Robert with the human inspiration that has been missing for so long. An all out attack is mounted by the vampires, with their alpha male in the lead (played with raw power by Dash Mihok). Good and evil have a final showdown, while hope and the future of the human race hang in the balance.

The director, Francis Lawrence, effectively injects flashbacks, giving us some perspective into Robert’s drive and motivation. But for me it is all too expected. The pieces fall into place too easily. Technically the film is first rate. The dialog (monologue mostly) is engaging and Mr. Lawrence’s pacing keeps the story hurtling forward. So many details are right, but in the end, the film doesn’t rise beyond a routine science fiction thriller.


I Am Legend is interesting to watch for you sci-fi fans out there, and the official web site has some cool features, like an interactive map of New York and a daylight meter that you can customize to your own zip code. But it will work just as well at home as a rental, especially if you have a good entertainment system. One thing I kept thinking about during the picture. Free rock star parking anywhere in New York. Sweet.