World War Z’s Book & Movie: A Tale of Two Zombies

This post is somewhat of a departure from the norm, but it still involves a game, so enjoy anyway!

I’m going to be frank with you: I often contemplate what I would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I try to map out the steps I would take from time of discovery to setting up a permanent outpost that is both defendable and sustainable. The Netherlands doesn’t have many high-ground spots but it does have rural areas that are sparsely populated and land that is ready for farming, since this country loves its agriculture. Add to that the plentiful livestock and well, you can set yourself up pretty well in this country. I know who the members of my Zombie Survival Group (ZSG) are and their respective skill-sets. This is all done in semi-jest, of course. I say semi because the world is crazy and weirder things have happened than the dead walking the Earth. As an avid reader, I consumed Max Brooks’ works of art (The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z) in record time because they, especially WWZ, offered a view on the zombie apocalypse that the movies did not. The regression of humanity in the face on unspeakable challenges and immeasurable horror often ranks lowest on the totem pole for Hollywood as they prefer to focus on the blood and gore with gleeful abandon. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is a forgivable oversight because a movie is but two hours long and thus does not allow for extended storytelling….or does it??

I know what you’re thinking: “But MelChan, you said that games offered the perfect medium to tell the stories that movies can’t! What gives?”

I still stand by that original statement, because it is true; a game allows for hours of interactive entertainment. A movie grants you your two hours of engagement (three if we’re talking LOTR stats here), and then you’re left to your own devices. But what about the concept of a movie expanding the reach of a book that expands on a genre that was near-perfectly covered in one of the biggest games (in terms of impact) of 2012?

When I first learned that World War Z was being made into a film, I experienced a range of emotions in about 30 seconds: excitement, apprehension, realization and then dread. Why dread, you ask? Because I felt that they would butcher what is the most detailed, thought-provoking account of a fictional apocalypse ever. It answered all of the questions that films like Dawn of the Dead leave open, questions that are only partially answered by the comic/TV/game of The Walking Dead. It explored the response to such an atrocity on a global scale, highlighting existing political and cultural tensions that could go either way in an apocalyptic scenario. The section discussing how the virus found its way to countries outside of China via the organ transplant black market was brilliant, and honestly, I hadn’t even thought of it as a potential infection point because my mind was too concentrated on the tried and true method of biting. The book’s structure gave Hollywood the opportunity to produce an engaging and maybe even worrying documentary-style film that would be told using the interviews with flashbacks of what the interviewee remembers. Moral regression, political machinations, country secrecy, the failure of military might and the greatest monster of all: our own human nature. When the announcement trailer began making the rounds online, it was clear to anyone watching that they took Dawn of the Dead and combined it with the rage virus from 28 Days Later to create what looks like a CGI fest of sprinting, leaping and bounding zombies.

Zombie Jenga Tower.

Zombie Jenga Tower.

The fact that they’ve decided to replicate the same tired formula as all other beat-the-clock apocalyptic movies is so utterly disappointing, it reminds me of Bioware not just going with the flow in light of the Shepard Indoctrination theory. I mean, it’s RIGHT THERE for the taking…just take it! The terror factor behind the zombie has always been that despite being slow-moving, they are also a flesh-eating and non-feeling entity that will react to sound for as long as it takes it to find and consume the originator of said sound. Multiply their numbers and you have a wave of constantly gnawing and gnashing teeth that is hard to overcome, and that’s not even considering the fact that a head-shot is not an easy thing to  make, let alone consecutive head-shots. I don’t know when we started moving towards this zombie-sprinter singularity, but it detracts from the terror factor.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if they’d opted for the storytelling scenario rather than what promises to be the blood and gore selection on the buffet line of Possibilities?  It would have been the perfect fleshing out of a genre that has suffered from a severe lack of imagination and exploration, because any fool knows that the war is not just with the zombies but with everyone, alive or (un)dead. I read World War Z around the same time that I started playing The Walking Dead, and I came to treat the book as something of a supplement to the game, which was already engrossing in its own right. You see, books were my first love. Before I had my first gaming experience, books were what I used to feed and bolster my imagination, and I still try to read at least two books a month. So when I got World War Z and The Walking Dead at relatively the same time, I considered it divine intervention and used the book to expand, in my mind, on the themes and concepts raised in the game. It helps to be able to question what your own humanity would allow you to do in a situation like that of the Canadian survivors who end up trading their radio for a pot of soup with some questionable meat (read: human)?

I don’t doubt that World War Z will perform well at the box office, and I will probably still head out to see it (but only because with my Pathe card, I don’t have to pay for it). This doesn’t ease the disappointment of the opportunity the directors and Max Brooks himself had to really wow the world with a story that explores not just the constant appetite of the zombies, but the barbarism that the living are willing to embrace to ensure survival at any cost. It almost makes me hope that in the future, there’ll just be a YouTube series that portrays the stories in the book as the majority of its fans envisioned it, a la Mortal Kombat: Legacy.

Until next time.

I will hopefully get my hands on Bioshock: Infinite so I can give my take on that long-awaited title. It will be my first full Bioshock experience; truth be told, my heart couldn’t handle the first one. Happy Easter to everyone, enjoy the holidays!

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