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World War Z (2013)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/17/2013

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/12/2013

Who was the first person to saw, "I wish they'd make the ultimate ________ movie?" (And I don't mean "Ultimate" Marvel Comics movies. I'm old and I don't like anyone messing with my original Marvel characters and storylines.) When I say "ultimate", I'm referring to a movie which is not interested in a small-scale approach or one which only hints at what could happen. I'm talking about a movie which pulls out all of the stops and really gives the audience what it wants, on a grand scale. Starting with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, we've dealt with zombie movies which tell us that the zombie outbreak is a world-wide phenomenon. However, most simply use TV or radio news coverage to convey this idea. World War Z decides to grab this idea by the throat and drag it through a big-budget spectacle which isn't afraid to show us everything which we were only imagining in the past.

World War Z opens in Philadelphia, where we meet ex-UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family, wife Karin (Mireille Enos), and daughters, Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). As they are driving through the city, they witness what at first appears to be a violent traffic jam, but Gerry soon realizes that it's more like a full-scale riot, with people attacking one another. They are able to flee the city and contact Gerry's former employer, Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena), who informed them that this is a worldwide incident. The family survives a tense night in an apartment building and is then airlifted to an aircraft carrier. There, Gerry learns more about the situation -- some sort of disease is causing dead humans to attack the living -- and he's drafted into service, against his wishes. Leaving his family behind, Gerry begins a trip around the globe, first to try and discover the origin of the and then to find a way to stop it.

World War Z is based on the book of the same name by Max Brooks (Mel's son). I have not read the book, but a quick perusal of the synopsis reveals that it has little to do with the movie. The book is set ten years after a zombie outbreak has devastated the planet and is comprised of a series of interviews which examine how various countries where effected by the event. Obviously, the movie deals with the beginning of the disaster, and while it shares the book's global view, as we see Gerry on four continents, the similarities end there. (Actually, based on the synopsis I read, it sounds like World War Z has more in common with the novel Monster Island.) World War Z is one of those movies where it feels like someone bought the rights to a novel and then slapped that title on a completely different script.

Having said that, close examination of World War Z reveals that there really isn't much story here. Only two things truly make the movie unique, one of which is the global scale (we'll discuss the other one in a moment). As noted in the introduction, this is the first zombie movie which truly gives us a detailed look at how the outbreak is effecting different parts of the world. It's very interesting to see Gerry travel to different locations and witness how the event is being handled (or not handled). Outside of that, the only other interesting thing is way Gerry is blackmailed into helping. Otherwise, we are treated to a rather bare-bones story which delivers some ideas which we've seen in other movies.

That all sounds pretty bleak, but it doesn't stop World War Z from delivering on its goal of being a truly effective zombie movie. 28 Days Later and 2004's Dawn of the Dead solidified the idea of zombies which can run, but World War Z shatters that concept by introducing zombies which not only swarm at an incredibly fast pace, but will destroy themselves in an attempt to assault the living. The scenes where dozens or even hundreds of zombies pour through doorways, climb over walls, or throw themselves off of buildings grab your attention and create a level of tension which is rare for the genre. The violent hordes are like something out of a video game and the way in which they run and surge forward assures that no one is safe. Director Marc Forster handles these scenes quite well and the action set-pieces, most notably the Jerusalem scene, are unforgettable. In fact the action scenes are so good, the movie really suffers when things slow down. World War Z isn't the perfect zombie movie, but by being a very rare thing -- a big-budget zombie movie -- it's able to show us some thins which we've never seen before and deliver some exciting scenes.

World War Z has the good sense to wear padding when zombies are around on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, and although the Korea section is dark, the action is always visible. The picture has a nice crispness to it and there is a nice amount of depth, even in this 2D version. The picture is also detailed, as we can see every line on the actor's faces. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 30 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a powerful track which delivers non-stop surround and subwoofer effects. The attack sequences make us feel as if we are in the middle of the action and the track delivers some detailed effects from the rear channels. The subwoofer effects work nicely, as they accent the action while shaking the walls. The 3-Disc Combo set also includes a Blu-ray 3D. Here, the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 26/12 Mbps. The picture shows a nice amount of depth in most shots, but there are a few which look just like the 2D version. As one would expect, it's the action scenes where this transfer shines and one has to look no further than the Jerusalem scene for evidence. The zombies falling off of the wall look as if they are going to land in our living room, while the circling helicopters are nicely layered against the background. The chase scenes also looked fantastic, as it really feels as if the crowd is pushing towards us. The audio track is the same as the 2D Disc, but, oddly, the bitrate is slightly higher.

The World War Z Blu-ray Disc contains a small assortment of extras. In "Origins" (8 minutes), Producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner talk about how the novel was brought to the screen, while the cast and other members of the creative team discuss the challenges of taking the book's scope and making it both personal and global. "Looking to Science" (7 minutes) touches on the history of zombies in media and how this has changed, while also examining how animal behavior in nature was used to create the action and movements of the zombies in the film. "WWZ: Production" (36 minutes) contains four sections which follow the film's narrative. "Outbreak" examines the film's opening sequence, which is set in Philadelphia, but was shot in Glasgow, Scotland. We see how the stunt work, visual effects, and acting were used to create the tension in the scene. "The Journey Begins" looks at the sequences which were shot on the aircraft carrier, as well as the scenes which take place in Korea. "Behind the Wall" shows how Malta was used to pose as Jerusalem, and the challenge of wrangling all of the extras. "Camouflage" shows how the incident on the plane was shot. It then moves to the lab sequence, taking us on-set to see how the corridors were maneuvered.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.