World War Z’s strength is the unremarkable. Gerry Lane’s (Brad Pitt) nominal, uninteresting family dynamic sprawls through an outbreak of untouched viral infection, turning the world’s populace into unnaturally nimble undead. The Lanes are standouts only for Gerry’s UN employment capacity, retired as the plot developing zombie horde lashes out.
The Lanes are dreadfully anemic in their development, obsessed with pancakes and given an asthmatic daughter whose condition is entirely superfluous to this narrative. Wife Karin (Mireille Enos) is given nothing to do short of moping around a ship’s interior with kids, awaiting phone calls. For World War Z, this direct, listless approach injects enough universal appeal to center and unnerve wide audiences.
Adapted (barely) from Max Brooks’ novel of the same name, director Marc Forster’s World War Z depicts global cataclysm as well as it does strengthened, personal tension. Rousing escalation of traditionally lumbering, modest attack pieces is able to brighten dimming appeal in entertainment’s zombie fascination. Hordes run and tackle instinctively, yet do so with unheralded financial backing for a genre usually bolted down by blood or make-up budgets. World War Z is not a depiction of small towns encumbered from groaning cemetery risers, rather the planet. This title does not lie, and sheer numbers of twitching, computer generated flesh eaters produce a sense of mass horror.
Beginning in downtown Philadelphia before swerving into military bases, Middle Eastern countries, and research lab safe zones, World War Z punctuates each stop with an avoidance of routine. Gerry’s travels find himself enveloped in nighttime refueling runs, safety zones overrun in daylight, intense interiors populated by former employees, and in the air on infected flights. His survival skills and pain threshold prove remarkable enough to see this story through to its conclusion, rushed as it may be.
World War Z’s back-end struggled, with costly re-shoots and rewrites caused by trepidation in the film’s closing act. What released to cinemas and home video is patchwork, a compilation of stock video inserts meant to produce softer emotions and hope. Not only rushed, those closing snippets are erroneously simplistic in their proposed “solution,” too clean for an experience riddled with dramatic centerpieces, governmental chaos, and civil unrest.
To its credit, this does fit into a marketable PG-13, surrendering a license to bleed for more insular fear. Creepy practical applications depict unnerving, teeth clacking zombies and brushes with violent outbursts, still maintaining a cinematically tangible threat. Sub-genre films often find themselves disinterested outside of decapitations or bone snapping, leaving World War Z a smartly developed outlier dependent on animated impact or sheer numbers.
World War Z’s attachment to real world vitals – those outside of now routine cornered survivalist scenarios – gives it a pulse. While many of these additions are pale layers, including a shambled, fragmented government captured in passing, condensing these happenings around “America’s family” gives them merit. All the while, it is active, wild, and disturbingly fun. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Digitally captured via Arri’s Alexa, World War Z will find itself struggling for a visual center. Of key loss are black levels, more so in 3D, where key sequences are drifted away from true black for dirty grays or off putting blues. Some of it undoubtedly comes from color correction, which dominates hues with boring oranges and plentiful teal. Flesh tones between zombies and humans are barely differentiated with pale yellows or greens adorning both.
It is also worth noting how active World War Z’s camera work is, obsessed with disorientation and shaking madly to imbue cinematography with a frenzied effect. Even stable conversations can be under fire, which makes picking out alluring definition difficult. Paramount’s disc-filling AVC encode will battle back any visible artifacts, but softened cinematography lacks zip typically associated $200 million entrainment. Highlights are served by cityscapes, destroyed or otherwise, which showcase destruction cleanly. Computer generated swarms, from an aerial perspective, feel clear enough to distinguish individual living dead.
Still, the film offers variety, from a super charged, blotchy contrast in desert regions to suffocating grays inside a grisly military base attack site. Each works to keep World War Z visually stimulating, if wholly imperfect by design. For its reach into mainstream appeal, the film is certainly high on mood, which when not being processed by undead, is forced through look. For some, that look may ultimately be too dour.
Paramount chose to post convert World War Z for 3D, and while that process had merit in their recent Star Trek Into Darkness (3D Blu-ray Review), little in this action drama has enough clout to justify expense. World War Z is peppered with ensnaring 3D moments, brought on by shots of panning helicopters circling cities or stretched zombies pointing faces into the lens. Brief shots peering down hallways or city streets are substantial. Also of note is outstanding use of ambient objects, including rain and dust. A visit to a charred facility, victims torched and their ashes floating, carries extended gruesomeness with proper equipment.
The rest is merely there. Much of World War Z barely recognizes depth, its footage unconcerned with capturing images meant to bolster a third dimension. Forster and crew were clearly not shooting for 3D. Faces have minimal dimensionality, and with black level concerns, night or low light shots run together. Element separation feels inadequate. World War Z is not without highlights, certainly begging to be reference, but those are sandwiched by mediocrity on display elsewhere. [xrr rating=4/5 label=2D-Video] [xrr rating=3/5 label=3D-Video]
Opening logos carry a slow drumbeat, ominous and hearty with LFE, setting a precedent the rest of this DTS-HD 7.1 mix will gladly match. While there are disappointments inbound, especially a plane crash which leads in with more bass than when slamming ground, the mix is often brutal enough to satisfy. Where visuals may be down on themselves, Paramount’s mixing is unrivaled to bring up scale.
Material moves from passive kitchen conversation to crowded streets before being awoken by a rogue garbage truck slamming into vehicles in the traffic stand still. You cannot miss it, with scattered debris taking hold of those two extra surrounds and LFE rushing to deliver impact. It is loud, boomy, and satisfying.
Action is consistently perfect, aided by assistance with plane engines, or flawless ambient noise. Rain is exceptionally broad in its application, and inside a safe zone at sea, frantic phone calls sweep around into stereos in addition to the rears. Gunshots offer varied pop, with clean highs, pitchy silencers, and booming heavy machine guns. When sound becomes crucial to story, echoes enhance mistakes within closed walls.
World War Z carries a number of scenes worth showing off, including an improbable if aurally perfect cabin decompression in mid-flight. Spurred by an explosion, air reaches in and sucks zombies out who whip across the sound stage. The rush is accentuated with tremendous LFE. With only minor hiccups, this one earns its place amongst high caliber competition. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
Two editions of the film are included, the theatrical cut in 3D only, and a slightly gorier unrated version, in 2D only. There is no criss-crossing of versions, meaning those wishing to view what they saw in theaters need 3D capable equipment. That decision is stupid.
Extras are passable otherwise, beginning with Origins at eight minutes, tackling the novel and how it could never translate to film despite being rich in material. Looking to Science is seven minutes, boasting about realities, plausibility, and research.
World War Z Production splits into four parts, just passing 36-minutes, focusing on multiple aspects of the shoot in detail. It’s worth watching. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]
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