Monday, May 13, 2013

On World War Z and the "High-Concept" Gamble

On World-War Z and the "High Concept" Gamble,

For more information, visit Deadline - After 'World War Z' Ending Fix, Paramount Out to Prove Its Zombie Pic Doesn't Stink

Brad Pitt's cool. Zombies remain cool. Max Brooks has become very cool. Throw lots of money at it, and the conventions we know and love, and there should be money to gain right? This is gonna happen regardless of what I say here now. I'm sure after 5 experienced and very successful writers hit this project, it's gonna be forced through and become the success they all hoped for. As the devil's advocate I'm gonna go back to the original point about the CG zombies and move around this a bit.

A zombie apocalypse is a maddening concept and never truly driven by A-list talent because its so potent. The genre is the star. Part of the horror of it is that it feels closer to reality than supernatural horror or cheezy-slasher flicks. Brooks simply exploited this with a political slant. Something about this type of disaster, the way the stories roll up on the protagonists out of nowhere with little to understand and imminent tragedy around every corner on a societal level, touches upon truisms we see every time we turn on the television; that there is great violence just beyond our view and ability to truly comprehend with global consequences that we are likely powerless to prevent. The lights go out in Brooklyn, and it's all a zombie-apocalypse town where your neighbors could turn into cannibals the minute we forget we're in this together.

I feel like Brad Pitt confuses this. Cause he's Brad Pitt. District 9 worked because we focused on the circumstances and the protagonist truly was an every-man. The Walking Dead may have franchise value, but that show works still for people unfamiliar to the comics because the cast feels real. Many of the Romero films cast B-list talent or relative unknowns. 28 Days Later helped spark Murphy's career. But in these trailers I keep thinking, that's Brad Pitt pretending to be scared of CG Zombies. That's Brad Pitt pretending to be a normal guy after he's been Achilles.

This is a genre film, not a drama where we - the audience - displace identity as a given. So my expectations hinge on what the real star of this film is. Is it the zombies? No, they're CG. Everything they do will have weird glossy sheen that will make all the tension end as soon as they show up. Is it Brook's geopolitical discourse? If it works the way District 9's did, by offering that docu-drama aesthetic maybe. But this isn't going that way even though that seems to be what led Plan B to this project. Is it Forster and Pitt's capacity for drama? I suppose so. And that would qualify their problems with Act 3. Any other focus would not require Pitt; in fact I believe he would detract from it (as in Pitt plus CG zombies = lame, Pitt vs. Geopolitical realism + CG zombies = confusing).

But IF the creative team really does center on the family man's plight, and they do it really well, then the rest is relegated to an engaging (although cosmetic and expensive) through-line and subplot without competing with the strength Pitt and Forster naturally bring to the table. Otherwise the novel and/or the horror alone would be enough. Counter to this, I'm sure Paramount wants to cast its net as wide as possible but sometimes spreading your hunt thin means everyone comes home empty-handed or not at all.

Hopefully we can take away from this what it means to graduate a b-genre into a blockbuster, in case you're on the ground floor trying to get Amazon Studios to get you in.  We all know Hollywood won't settle comfortably for anything below $200 million.

Lets get what we came for,

C. M. Sanchez III