Tag Archives: World War Z

Revisiting ‘World War Z’

world war z book cover

It had been a couple of years since I read “World War Z,” Max Brooks’ “Oral History of the Zombie War,” but in light of seeing the Brad Pitt-starring movie version this summer, I decided to revisit the book.

Reading it recently emphasized two thing to me:

Although I liked the movie fairly well, the book is much, much better.

The book was probably unfilmable as a two-hour movie.

The latter observation isn’t a new one or even new to me, of course. Brooks’ 2006 story is deliberately episodic. Every chapter has a different narrator and is set in a different location around the globe and a different time. True, there is an overarching framework – a United Nations researcher collects first-hand accounts 10 years after the zombie apocalypse – but there’s no place for a starring character – or actor, like Pitt – in the book. A few characters show up again but for the most part only as codas to their earlier tales.

The book’s strength lies in its episodic nature. No narrator, even an omnipotent, all-seeing one, could be as effective as the first-person accounts of the doctors, soldiers, government leaders, opportunists and even International Space Station astronauts as the zombie plague grows from initial outbreak into world-changing calamity.

Despite the premise – the walking dead, to coin a phrase – Brooks’ story is for the most part starkly realistic. There are few superheroics here. Civilians and soldiers fight to survive the onslaught of an enemy that is unlike any army on any battlefield.

Random observations:

I look forward, a few years hence, when somebody gets the idea of turning “World War Z” into a cable TV series. But I hope they’re faithful to Brooks’ story this time. And I hope they don’t decide, for the sake of an ongoing series, to turn Brooks’ book into a multi-year story like the producers of Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” apparently have done.

There’s a nice inside joke, late in the book, referencing Brooks’ father, renowned director and writer Mel Brooks. It’s a sly reference to “Free to Be You and Me,” the early 1970s Marlo Thomas production and one sketch in particular, in which Brooks and Thomas play newborn babies.


It’s the end of the world as we know it, part 2: ‘World War Z’


I’ve been pretty vocal here about my concerns that Marc Forster’s “World War Z” would vary so much from Max Brooks’ terrific 2006 novel that it wouldn’t possibly capture the essence of the book. And to be sure, adapting Brooks’ book faithfully would be nearly impossible.

Brooks’ book is episodic in the extreme in its record of the zombie apocalypse, moving from China to India to New York to Denver to the Great Plains. Although a narrator – writing an oral history of the zombie war from the perspective of 10 years later – is present throughout the book, nearly every chapter features new characters and a new setting. A couple of years after I read the book, some scenes stand out in my mind: A downed flier is guided through the wilderness by a mysterious voice on a radio. Astronauts watch the end of the world from the International Space Station. The military is humbled in the Battle of Yonkers.

So when the makers of “World War Z” the movie said Brad Pitt would play a U.N. troubleshooter jetting around the globe to find a means of turning back the zombie virus, I thought: Well, that might be fun, but that’s not the plot of the book.

Upon seeing “World War Z” today, I thought two things:

I want to read the book again soon.

Forster and Pitt made a pretty good end-of-the-world movie. There’s little resemblance to Brooks’ book, but it’s a pretty fun suspense thriller along the lines of “The Andromeda Strain” and “Outbreak” and “Contagion.” Maybe even like the first book in “The Strain” series.

world-war-z family

Pitt is called out of retirement in Philly with his wife (Mirielle Enos) and daughters when the outbreak begins. At first, it’s uncertain what’s happening. Zombies? That can’t possibly be real, can it?

But the U.N, gets with the program fairly quickly and sends Pitt jetting around the world, looking for Patient Zero and clues to how to stop the epidemic. He goes from South Korea to Israel to, eventually, Wales. The last section of the movie is a pleasant change from the “Brad flies in and all hell breaks lose” feel of the first two-thirds of the movie. It’s a nail-biting “how do we get from point A to point B and avoid being bitten?” story and it’s very good.

Pitt is fine here, although the part could have been played by anyone from Will Smith to Clive Owen (two actors with plenty of apocalyptic experience).

The real highlights of the film are the suspenseful scenes leading up to a zombie outbreak and/or attack. Forster builds tension quite well and interjects some good scares.

The zombies here are not the slow walkers of George Romero’s “Living Dead” films or TV’s “The Walking Dead.” They’re not precisely like the sprinting zombies of “28 Days Later” or the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. They’re fast but they’re more like lemmings or ants, throwing themselves against barriers and off the roofs of buildings, piling up in a grinding mass in their efforts to reach their prey.

“World War Z” is a disappointment to anyone hoping for a faithful telling of Brooks’ book. But it’s a good, suspenseful action take on the end of the world.

Movies I’m looking forward to in 2013

iron man 3

2012 was a pretty good year for geek movies. I’m still boggled, sometimes, that so many comic book, science fiction and fantasy movies – not to mention big-budget, well-crafted ones – are released these days. We might be in a golden age for the genre.

Looking ahead to 2013, the calendar looks like just as much of a treat for fans.

“Iron Man 3.” After the superhero team-up that was “The Avengers,” why look forward to a solo superhero outing? Isn’t that a step back? Well, it would be but for a few reasons. I trust Robert Downey Jr. and director Shane Black. The preview looks dire and action-filled. And the movie kicks off Marvel’s Phase Two, which culminates in “The Avengers” sequel in 2015, so I’m pretty sure they’ll have some references to the big picture. May 3.

“Thor: The Dark World.” The first “Thor,” in some ways, held the promise (threat?) of being the weakest movie in the first phase of Marvel. Yet it was solid entertainment and laid the groundwork for much of the mythology that followed in “Captain America” and “The Avengers.” I feel very much at ease with this realm of big-screen Marvel. Nov. 8.

“Pacific Rim.” This story about giant robots created to fight giant, Godzilla-style monsters looks like something to appeal to all the 12 year olds within us. July 12.

star trek into darkness cell

“Star Trek Into Darkness.” This J.J. Abrams sequel to the reboot looks awesome. Unleash the Cumberbatch! May 17.

“The Wolverine.” I am not the craziest of fans of Marvel’s snikt-happy mutant. But Hugh Jackman has been so good as the character I’m looking forward to this and his role, however big, in “Days of Future Past.” July 26.

“Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” The first movie was a pleasant surprise. The second book is the weakest of the series, but I’m hoping they pull it off. Nov. 22.


“Oz the Great and Powerful.” This retooling of the classic story, a kind of prequel, could be really fun or really awful. March 8.

“The World’s End.” While we’re waiting for director Edgar Wright to make “Ant-Man,” how about this end of the world comedy starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Martin Freeman? Yes, please. Oct. 25.

Movies I’m almost dreading:

“Man of Steel.” We don’t need another origin story. We don’t need a “dark” Superman. We need a Superman who feels like the last of his kind but isn’t mopey about it. We don’t need a “Dark Knight” treatment, but I’m afraid that’s what we’re getting. June 14.

“World War Z.” I’ve said it before, but here it is again. The preview doesn’t look like the terrific Max Brooks book. June 21.

“The Lone Ranger.” A beloved childhood hero. I’m just not sure about the approach. Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp bring a lot of charisma to the proceedings, however. We’ll see. May 31.

‘World War Z’ trailer: Not the story I know

I’m on the record with my concern about the big-screen movie version of Max Brooks’ “World War Z,” one of my favorite end-of-the-world novels of recent years.

So seing the trailer for the movie starring Brad Pitt, which opens next summer, filled me with even more dread.

The trailer, with Pitt as some sort of … zombie expert? … with his family in New York when the zombie apocalypse begins plays more like the flashback scenes in Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” than anything in Brooks’ ingenious novel, which tells, in episodic scenes that rarely return to the same characters twice, the tale of the fall and rise of civilization.

I’m not sure I can bring myself to see this.

Watch and worry: World War Z, Robopocalypse and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

There’s a special feeling of dread among some of us when our favorite books get adapted into movies.

How many times have we been disappointed when books we loved were turned into mediocre movies? Sure the books are still there, untouched — with the exception of maybe a new cover for marketing purposes — and ready to read again and again. But a stinker of a movie adaptation puts a cloud over the original book, at least in my mind. Can’t help it.

So it’s with varying mixtures of excitement and dread — I’m looking at  you, Brad Pitt — that I’m anticipating these three movie adaptations of some recent favorite books.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” comes out Friday (June 22) and I don’t have any real reason to worry that the movie, directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of the novel, will be anything but good.

But I’m a little worried about the public and critical reaction to the movie.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is a terrific book, a serious-minded fantasy that postulates the 16th president as a vampire-slaying action hero from an early age. The book details how Lincoln, spurred on by the death of his mother at the hands of a vampire, dedicates his life to slaying them. He has help on his quest from a mysterious mentor and soon discovers that vampires are closely allied to Confederate forces and slavery is feeding the vampire plague (literally).

But like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “AL:VH” has a facetious-sounding title that is as likely to inspire snickers as interest. I’m hoping for the best that the movie plays it as straight as the book.

Further into the future comes the movie adaptation of “Robopocalypse,” Daniel H. Wilson’s 2011 science fiction novel about the rise of artificial intelligence and the threat it poses to humanity.

Wilson’s book takes readers from the early days of AI self-awareness to the final battle, on the tundra of the frozen north, that saves humanity. It’s a fantastic story – in every sense of the word — but Wilson makes it all seem perfectly believable.

Director Steven Spielberg is supposedly in line to film “Robopocalypse” for release some time in the next couple of years.

“Robopocalypse” has the kind of plot and reader-friendly narrator that Max Brooks’ novel “World War Z” does not.

While “World War Z” is one of my favorite recent science fiction/horror novels, it only takes one reading to understand that it might be hard to film. It is an episodic story that rarely repeats characters and flashes from place to place on the globe, telling the story of how the planet is overrun by zombies and how humans fight back.

“World War Z” is a clever and exciting read and, considering the popularity of zombie fiction right now (especially “The Walking Dead”), is probably a natural for a big-screen adaptation.

But early on in the making of the movie, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt, warning signs started going off.

First of all, the episodic nature of the book left no room for a character like the one Pitt plays. If the book was faithfully adapted, no character would have more than a few minutes on screen, as his or her story unfolded.

Then suggestions of the movie’s plot — a race against time around the world to stop a zombie apocalypse — made it clear that the movie’s story had little to do with the book.

Now the movie has been pushed back from a December 2012 release to summer 2013, writer Damon Lindloff (“Lost”) has been brought in to rewrite portions of the script with an eye toward re-filming portions of the movie, the bulk of which has already been shot.

Of course, this means that the budget is ballooning.

I’m hopeful that the makers of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” will get it right. We’ll know soon, anyway. We won’t know until 2013 how badly “World War Z” is screwed up (because I’m increasingly certain that it will be). And we’ll see how Spielberg does with “Robopocalypse.”

High Priest(ess) of steampunk

Steampunk is kind of heard to explain.

Remember the rivet-covered, steam-powered flying saucers and such in the old 1960s “Wild, Wild West” TV series? Or the giant mechanical spider in the awful big-screen adaptation of the series, starring Will Smith?

Wait, let’s back up. I’m not sure anybody wants to remember that widescreen nightmare.

Anyway, steampunk — and the genre of fiction that bears that name — is, for the most part, a fanciful recreation of the latter half of the 1800s and early 1900s. Cowboys ride horses and use six-shooters and people travel on trains, but dirigibles are commonplace, people with missing limbs brandish elaborate false appendages and coal-or-steam-or-pedal-powered engines of destruction are the latest weapons of war.

Enter Cherie Priest.

Priest is a blogger and author of several works of fantastic fiction that falls into the “urban fantasy” category, where vampires and werewolves clash with criminals in big-city settings. I’m going out on a limb somewhat there, because I’ve just started reading one of Priest’s urban fantasy books, “Bloodshot,” so I’m not exactly sure what her books in that genre are all about.

But I can speak authoritatively about her steampunk books.

Priest isn’t the only person writing steampunk right now, certainly, but she’s one of the top practitioners. And her “Clockwork Century” series is not to be missed.

Priest’s steampunk series is set in the American 1880s, but one that’s markedly different from what we find in history books.

For one thing, the Civil War is dragging on. The battle between the North and South has been prolonged by the meddling of other parties, most notably the Republic of Texas, whose oil wealth and martial might — symbolized by the Rangers — have mustered on the side of the Confederacy.

Motivated by war and the profits to be had, inventors and captains of industry have pushed the 19th century’s technology and perfected lighter-than-air ships, trains bristling with armament, submarines and, most impressively, walking suits of armor.

Priest’s characters — many of them strong women, including a widow searching for her son in a ravaged city landscape, a nurse trying to make her way across country to find her father and a New Orleans madam eager to help the North and shake loose the bonds of the Confederacy — move through her plots in a matter-of-fact manner, wielding a gun or feminine wiles with equal skill.

Oh, and did I mention the zombies?

Yes, Priest has complicated matters by creating a wave of the walking dead — or rotters, as they’re called in their place of origin, Seattle.

In “Boneshaker,” Priest explains how the zombies were created. A drilling machine released a toxic gas from the bowels of the earth under Seattle. Much of the city’s population fled. Others turned into rotters, shambling through the streets in search of human flesh. Others Seattle-ites fled to the underground beneath the city, where they live in tunnels safe from the toxic gas because of an intricate series of tubes and pumps.

If they go topside, they must wear gas masks to avoid turning into rotters. And they must be on guard not only from the zombies but the criminal element that thrives in the city.

In “Dreadnought,” we get our first glimpse of how the zombie plague is spreading. Drug makers and dealers are distilling the gas and turning it into “sap,” a highly addictive substance that eventually turns its users into the walking dead. The title refers to an especially deadly war train on which much of the story unfolds.

In “Ganymede,” the addiction has spread to New Orleans, which is a hotbed of Civil War intrigue thanks to a missing submarine and efforts to get it in the hands of the Union.

One of the most fun elements of Priest’s books is how she weaves characters through all her stories. The protagonist of “Boneshaker” is a supporting player in “Ganymede,” while the nurse and a Texas Ranger from “Dreadnought” show up in “Ganymede.”

Priest is a nimble writer. If you’re worried that her books would be written in a pseudo-Victorian-era style, don’t be. While her characters are not anachronisms, they have enough modern sensibilities to be completely relatable.

The books are fun, fast reads. (One of my few quibbles can be blamed on my aging eyes. The print in the paperback editions is sepia-toned. It might be appropriate to set the mood for the period in which the stories take place, but it makes it a bit hard to read.) Priest keeps the plot moving and throws in just enough twists and turns to surprise the reader.

Priest announced some big news right around the end of November. “Boneshaker” has been  acquired for adaptation as a movie. It’s probably not surprising, considering how hot zombies are right now, with “The Walking Dead” a hit on TV and in comics and “World War Z” coming out later this year.

Besides, who can resist the pitch — included in the announcement — that “Boneshaker” was like “Jules Verne meets ‘Resident Evil?'”

Movies are tricky things. Sometimes they completely miss the flavor of the books on which they’re based. Sometimes they get everything right.

Priest’s steampunk stories — and more of them are on the way — are as entertaining as any movie adaptation could be. Don’t wait for the big-screen version.

Robot end of the world can’t quite top zombie finish

In the wake of the pirates vs. ninjas match-up (how did that come out, anyway?) comes another, even more intriguing face-off: Robots vs. zombies.

The thought comes to mind as I finish “Robopocalypse,” a recent novel by Daniel H. Wilson, a guy with a doctoral degree in robotics and a hell of an imagination.

There are no zombies in Wilson’s end-of-the-world and beyond — well, not really — but clearly “Robopocalypse” is shooting for the same pop culture impact as Max Brooks’ “World War Z.”

Both novels recount the end of the world. Brooks’ 2006 book is about how society breaks down when zombies begin to spread like a virus. Wilson’s story is a near-future tale about what happens when artificial intelligence emerges and decides it deserves to inherit the earth.

Both books employ the technique of alternating chapters telling the story from the points of view of diverse narrators. Brooks’ book rarely returned to the same characters as it jumped from India to the American west to the international space station.

Wilson’s book, however, follows a half-dozen storylines and that many groups of humans as they survive, elude and eventually fight back against the robot revolution.

In the future portrayed in the book, robots are much more commonplace in our society. Most cars are automated, so when Archon, the AI that leads the revolution, gives the order, they begin running down pedestrians. Robotic household helpers commit bloody murder and electronic peacekeeping robots turn on their armed forces comrades in Afghanistan.

Wilson’s idea of recurring narrators will probably make it easier for director Steven Spielberg to turn the book into a movie, a project that’s been announced but not yet begun. The fractured narrative POV of “World War Z” means that the movie version — now in the works — had to add a human narrator to appear throughout the story. In the movie, he’s played by Brad Pitt.

“Robopocalypse” is clever and often thrilling with a likable group of characters and some genuine suspense.

I have to say, though, that I preferred “World War Z” for a couple of reasons. Brooks’ novel isn’t afraid to let readers figure out things for themselves. Wilson’s book, narrated by a young soldier, over-explains what’s happening. Almost every chapter is filled with intriguing scenes and characters but ends with a narrated paragraph reiterating the importance of the developments we’ve just seen and those to come. They’re totally unneeded.

I’m also kind of surprised that a couple of the strongest plot twists and characters don’t happen a little earlier. They’re turning points, to be sure, but by holding them back, Wilson deprives us of some of the most engaging characters until the last few chapters.

Nevertheless, Wilson’s “Robopocalypse” is a very good sci-fi adventure. If you’ve read it and “World War Z,” you’ve read the best latter-day takes on the end of the world.