World War Z is really WWV: A Virus Makes Zombies

World War Z, Brad Pitt, Mireille EnosWorld War Z is a terrific movie that risks losing an audience of people who would enjoy it if they understood that it is more about a worldwide pandemic than zombies. It’s more Contagion than Night of the Living Dead. What’s the difference?  It’s simple.  

Your classical zombie is a dead person who rises from the grave to lurch and jerk its rotting body your way in order to eat your brain. These zombies are slow, stupid, and stuck on moving in one direction. They wear stained and tattered burial clothes and tend to shed body parts. Typical zombies are easy to outrun or avoid, but dangerous in large groups.

Consider Rabies

In @WorldWarZMovie the zombies, once infected, convert in 10 seconds. While they are not truly dead in terms of the body ceasing to function, they are no longer themselves and their one goal is to bite other humans. If you find this an improbable scenario, consider rabies. In the final stages of rabies, the infected animal is essentially dead but its body has been taken over by the virus. The rabies virus then forces the animal into aberrant behavior that serves only one purpose—to spread the virus to other mammals. That happened just last week here in Massachusetts where a normally reclusive bobcat attacked a man repeatedly and persistently, even after he had shot it.

rabies virus

Rabies Virus

Only the timeframe changes. Rabies normally incubates for two to 12 weeks but the incubation period can be as short as four days. The WWZ incubation period is from 10 seconds to just under an hour. No biggie. It’s a disease. It’s transmitted through a bite. It spreads exponentially. No one is safe. Prepare to run—fast! The infected, never having been subjected to real bodily death, run lickety-split and they have much better reaction time than any ghoul.

The second difference is that what remains of world government is trying to both isolate the healthy and find a cause. This isn’t a few survivors huddled in a cabin trying to hold off the lurching undead. Or one scientist holed up in what’s left of Manhattan with his dog. It’s what—I hope—would happen should a real fast-moving, rapidly mutating virus gain a foothold. The military takes charge, sets up perimeters and keeps the scientists safe while they search for Patient Zero. Governments cooperate. Old enemies join forces to protect themselves from the infected. Strangers help.

Struggling to Find an Answer

In fact, the most effective part of the movie is at the end when the big set pieces of mass attacks are over and the story comes down to a few people struggling to find the answer. That’s where all the real eye-popping, teeth-clicking suspense comes in and it’s done well. If you can imagine Run Silent, Run Deep combined with Die Hard, you get a sense of how suspenseful the ending is.  

World War Z, Max Brooks, bestsellerI went to the theater with some trepidation, however.  This story is based on the book by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft) but the movie relates what happened before the book starts so a lot of original writing needed to be done. The screenplay for WWZ is credited to no fewer than four writers and that’s never a good thing. The final product of such collaboration is usually a mish-mash of ideas that don’t mesh well and result in a disjointed, incomprehensible story. But the writers for WWZ are Damon Lindelof, Drew Goddard, Matthew Michael Carnahan, and J. Michael Straczynski and that makes a big difference.  These guys all know their way around a good tight script and they all have a great track record.  

Although WWZ had its problems during production, the final result is a highly enjoyable film and I recommend it strongly. See it in 3D.