Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How not to addapt a book

Or why World War Z is crap

I was reading a LiveJournal (goddamn, that's dated. Is LiveJournal still around? I should try to log in at some point) maybe... Six or more years back and the person was talking about World War Z. Turns out it was a... Sequel, of sorts, to the Zombie Survival Guide written by Max Brooks (yes, he is the son of who you think) I'd never heard of the book until then, but decided to track it down and buy it.

It was a damn fine purchase, and I still go back to it every once in a while when I need a quick read. The concept is simple and quite elegant; the war has been over for ten years, humanity emerged victorious and they're rebuilding the planet. A UN member has been going around and collecting data and personal stories from survivors of the war, piecing together the history of how it all played out.

The subtitle of the book is "An Oral History of the Zombie War", and that's basically what you get. A series of interviews and vignettes from a wide-ranging cast of characters, ranging from a Chinese doctor who was there for one of the first infections, to a Japanese Otaku who barely escaped from his Tokyo appartment, to a US soldier who went through every single conflict the American military had. It is a stark, brutal and honest portrayal of Humanity, and the thought that goes through my mind every time I read the book is that if there was a global zombie epidemic, it might play out a lot like this book described it. It was a refreshing burst of creativity in a genre that's been stagnant for a long time (except for a few gems like 28 Days Later or a brilliant comedic twist like Shaun of the Dead).

Then the movie was announced, and many fans were thrilled. We were all imagining a faux-doc style movie, going through the major points of the novel (so many people wanted to see the Battle of Yonkers in full crushing glory). When the trailers were finally released, dissapointment was palpable. Gone was the documentary style, gone was the multi-national and ethnic cast. We were once more trapped with a single white male protagonist going out to save his family, the rest of the story seemed ancilliary.

This could have been an amazing movie. Instead, it is merely mediocre. It has little to nothing new or interesting to say about the genre, or about the characters. It grabs Brat Pitt and throws him from setpiece to setpiece, without any real connecting thread except one character tells him to go to Korea, so he does, then another tells him to go to Israel, so he does.And every time he reaches a new place, a disaster happens, zombies get involved, and we get an action sequence.

(a digression about Israel. One of the neatest bits of the books is the chapter from a young Palestinian who is evacuated *into* Israel, and his shock when he discovers that it's not a Zionist plot to destroy Muslims but that they are, in fact, being protected from the Zombie plague. It is heartwarming and wonderful in many ways, and is entirely glossed over in the movie where everyone inside of the wall is a Jew.)

It would seem that Hollywood is overly risk averse. And the result is that they had the opportunity for something original and creative, but decided that they'd get more money if they watered it down into the pablum we've already seen before.

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