Following up on our blog article from yesterday on the release date of WORLD WAR Z, Paramount’s zombie-contagion thriller starring Brad Pitt, FilmEdge addresses the apparent apocalyptic panic by fans of Max Brooks‘ novel rebelling at the story synopsis released by the studio (provided in full below). Pitt is still filming the adaptation for director Marc Forster based on Matthew Michael Carnahan‘s script for its 2012 release.
What’s taken a bite out of the book’s devotees is the consolidation of the zombie war action around Pitt’s character, a UN-hired protagonist who doesn’t exist in the reportage-style narrative of Brooks’ end times epic. Here’s the supposedly offending story synopsis from Paramount:
The story revolves around United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt), who traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself. [Mireille] Enos plays Gerry’s wife Karen Lane; [Daniella] Kertesz is his comrade in arms, Segen.
The doubts and derision infecting much of book’s more vocal fan base arise from Paramount abandoning the flashback-style interviews and personal accounts by many separate, far-flung contributors recollecting the terrible outbreak of feverish death after it encircled the globe. The objection: by centering all this reportage narration on one main protagonist like Gerry Lane, the globally-related incidents might be too neatly confined to our hero’s presence in bastardized Hollywood fashion.
Witness these cries of filmmaking foul:
Even Collider’s Matt Goldberg joined the nay-saying nabobs of negativity.
Such complaints about movie adaptations are common throughout film adaptation history. Add the internet to the equation, and such disapproving discourse can reach epidemic proportions almost instantly as opinions (fully informed or simply feverish) spread quickly from Impatient Zero’s first e-blurb.
Yet other fans and commenters are replying rationally, and FilmEdge joins their ranks to stamp out this strain of infectious knee-jerkitis about Paramount’s adaptation.
Evidence Exhibit A: complaining about how Hollywood studios must condense, translate and often simplify adapted novels’ narratives for the big screen is like asking them to give up the book-to-box office conversion entirely. If a screenwriter or director dared adapt a best-selling novel page-for-page to the screen, the sluggish, tedious film which resulted would barely fit in one screening per day due to its elephantine length.
Exhibit B: while the epistolary narrative of Brooks’ enjoyable, evocative novel provides the horror tale’s unique tone and personality which helped make it a best-seller, this backtracking format doesn’t suit mainstream Hollywood drama well — mainly because the film’s ending would be a foregone conclusion as implied by the zombie holocaust survivors’ recollections. Ninety-plus minutes of flashback accounts from unrelated characters all speaking about the flesh-eating action in the past tense would literally suck the life out of such a film translation, and most likely even Brooks’ most devout Z-fans would grow tired of the post-apocalyptic inaction.
Exhibit C: unless you’re a brash, brilliant filmmaker like Christopher Nolan willing to take a huge gamble on filming a backwards narrative like MEMENTO, it’s smartest and safest to keep a thriller’s plot on-track and hurtling ever forward to its finale. Such a gimmick (however smartly executed) may work fine for an intimate, smaller scale character drama about a protagonist’s mystery to solve the puzzle of his own identity. Not so much in a world seething with the infectious undead where survival of the human race is indeed a race against time to either find a medical cure or dispose of the undead to halt the contagion. Theater audiences want to witness this race against extinction, not watch participants recount their laps after the winner has already been crowned.
Exhibit D: This internet dissent arose based entirely upon a brief, one-paragraph studio synopsis of WORLD WAR Z and not even one filmed frame of action or publicity still from the set. Talk about premature escalation! While the synopsis gives us a crucial clue to the film’s narrative format, it doesn’t reveal any secrets or surprises about how the cinematic translation might thrill, horrify or engage us equally as well on its own merits as the source material did. Give those not resting in peace a chance to terrify us on the big screen as much as they did on Brooks’ novel pages.
When Raymond Chandler was asked if Hollywood’s film adaptations had ruined his novels, The Big Sleep author supposedly replied, “They’re not ruined. They’re right there on the shelf.” While it’s true that reading a novel like Brooks’ WORLD WAR Z is an intimate, personal experience that can’t help but imbue some sense of individual ownership of the experience, this illusion of propriety is abandoned when its story is refitted to the mass media purpose of a film or television adaptation, venues which appeal to and involve large, group audiences by design. Where such “I liked the book better” critics fail to prosecute their case effectively — especially when doing so prematurely — is by denying the two exclusive natures of these distinct, valuable mediums of dramatic communication.
In the wise words of Sergeant Hulka, “Lighten up, Francis.” Express your disappointment, doubters, but don’t make the silly mistake of throwing out the film adaptation before you even see a flicker of the zombie goodness which may have you screaming in your cineplex seats. Come on, folks, it’s a marketing story synopsis . . . not the end of the world.
Paramount’s official WORLD WAR Z press release:
Paramount Pictures announced today it has set a release date of December 21st, 2012 for World War Z starring Academy Award-nominee Brad Pitt, with Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) directing. The geo-political thriller from Paramount and Skydance Productions, in association with Hemisphere Media Capital and GK Films, is a Plan B Entertainment/Apparatus Productions production that is shooting in England following initial photography completed in Malta last month. The film will also shoot in Scotland and Hungary.
Produced by Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Colin Wilson, the screenplay is written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (State of Play) from Max Brooks’ best-selling novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Starring Pitt (Moneyball), Mireille Enos (AMC’s “The Killing”), Daniella Kertesz in her feature film debut, James Badge Dale (The Departed) and Matthew Fox (“Lost”), the film’s Executive Producers are Forster, Brad Simpson, David Ellison, Paul Schwake, Dana Goldberg, Graham King and Tim Headington.
The story revolves around United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt), who traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself. Enos plays Gerry’s wife Karen Lane; Kertesz is his comrade in arms, Segen.
Behind-the-scenes talent includes two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (The Aviator; JFK), production designer Nigel Phelps (Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo (Avatar) and Academy Award-nominated editor Matt Chessè (Finding Neverland).