Last week, Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster screened 20 minutes of their new film, World War Z, on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. Pitt introduced the clips, which included an early look at the second trailer, saying he wanted to make a film his “boys could watch while they were still young.” Hopefully, his boys don’t scare easily, because while the PG-13 World War Z is light on gore, it’s swarming with zombies who crush barricades and flip cars with the mass hunger of ants at a human picnic.
The first clip shown was the extended car scene teased in World War Z‘s first trailer. Pitt is behind the wheel of the family car next to wife Mireille Enos (The Killing) with their two daughters in the back seat, when the radio reports of a rabies outbreak become violently real.
The scene escalates: first, there’s a broken rearview mirror, then a distant explosion, then a fatal hit-and-run. Pitt is the first motorist to realize the need for escape, and he exploits the situation like a panicked action hero. The tone feels like Forster is trying to pay homage to Steven Spielberg’s classic Tom-Cruise-in-traffic tracking shot from War of the Worlds, but without actually laboring to shoot the whole thing in a single take.
Near the end of the scene, we see our first zombie transformation. What’s striking is the speed: almost immediate. According to Forster, it only takes “12 seconds” – though he also implied that the zombie virus may mutate as it evolves, reducing the change to as little as 8 seconds. The action-packed trailers have made the undead look like 28 Days Later-style zombies, but they don’t appear to have super-speed. Rather, they run like a human in a full sprint: they’re reckless and overwhelming, but not genetically superior to the living.
“No, no, they don’t have any superpowers,” insisted Marc Forster during the Q&A. “When the feeding frenzy starts, they just run, but not faster than any human being.”
There’s a scene that sets up Pitt’s role in the film as the government, who has shuttled him and his family to a quarantined military boat, tells him the scope of the crisis and insists that he leave his wife and kids to investigate the source of the outbreak. If he refuses the job, they’ll all be shipped back to the mainland to survive on their own.
Then it’s off to Israel, where Pitt tours Jerusalem with an local government agent, who explains how the country heard of the coming danger before everyone – and built a wall around the city to safeguard its inhabitants. Of course, if you’ve seen that shot of an epic thousand-zombie ladder in either of the two trailers, you know their Great Wall isn’t as death-proof as Jerusalem hopes. During the resulting action scene, Pitt takes immediate severing action with a sword when he sees someone get bitten on the hand, but the footage cut off before both we can be sure that his quick-thinking worked.
What’s interesting about the World War Z footage we saw is that it doesn’t show much of the politics or science or global worldview of Max Brooks’ original book — i.e., the stuff that defined the book as something smarter and more unique than just another bloody thriller.
“Yes, it does take a break and become more reflective,” said Forster when asked about the rapid, action-heavy tempo during the Q&A. “It’s not what you guys saw here.” Later, he elaborated by pointing to the need to satisfy genre fans, World War Z fans, and audiences who just want to see Brad Pitt’s latest picture. “There are some more reflective moments from the film, but some zombie fans you will not be able to make happy, and some zombie fans will embrace it and will love the movie. I think there will always be discussion and a little bit of controversy on every zombie movie, because there are definitely different camps of what people prefer or not.”
It’s tough to tell if Forster is accurate when he says the parts of World War Z we didn’t see will hew closer to the book’s intellectual tone. For now, what feels most unique about the film is its use of the zombies as a teeming horde. In everything we’ve seen, the zombies aren’t individualized, although Forster says they will have some more-personal moments in the full film. Instead, their terror—and power—comes from the way they kill en mass, and with the ultra-short conversion time, the two major action scenes we saw makes it look like they function as a tsunami: the first wave bites the second wave who bites the third wave, and in less than 40 seconds, the pack has tripled.
Watching the footage of the zombies rampage through Philadelphia, it appears that Forster sees them as biological, virulent weapons, which he confirmed during the Q&A.
“For me, the metaphor was more about overpopulation today and less and less resources and this swarming of them is almost like them going after the last resources,” said Forster, “especially when the feeding frenzy starts.”
Check out the condensed transcript of Forster’s Q&A on the next page: in which he discusses the much-publicized reshoots and changed ending, gets repeatedly hammered with the fast zombie question, says Max Brooks has yet to see the film, and describes how shooting World War Z was “very different” than filming Quantum of Solace.
World War Z opens in theaters on June 23, 2013.
What kind of rules are there for the zombies?
The rules all say head shots kill them. There’s a line in the movie also, which is not in here, but sort of, “Spines are divine, but knees are just fine.”
There’s a lot written about changes made to the third act and doing some reshooting of scenes. Can you talk about what happened and what changed?
We shot the movie and put it together and we all felt the ending wasn’t what we wanted it to be and could be better. We showed it to the studio, and us as the filmmakers agreed and made a proposal, and they agreed, and we went back and did some additional shooting. We are really happy now with the result.
Is it a big difference from the original?
I think towards the ending, it’s a big difference. A different ending, yes. I prefer it, and I think it’s more powerful and really works in the favor of the story.
You don’t give too many identities to the people who are turning into zombies. Do you have those moments, or is it more they’re a force of nature?
No, we do have those moments, but you didn’t see them in this version. But we do have these moments of identity with zombies, one on one as well, later in the film. But, at the same time, the idea was that the zombies came out of nature, sort of this flocking and swarming. In the George Romero films of the ’70s, zombies were such a great metaphor for consumerism. For me, the metaphor was more about overpopulation today, and less and less resources—and this swarming of them is almost like them going after the last resources, especially when the feeding frenzy starts.
So, are they given some sort of superpowers? They seem to jump further, they run faster…
No, no, they don’t have any superpowers.
I meant more so than a regular human, the way they are able to jump and fall.
No, they just, basically don’t know the difference of height and stuff. They just go because they don’t know the building is ending. They just keep moving, wherever they move, they just keep on moving. So, they just don’t know any boundaries.
Okay, so maybe not super, but more enhanced, like speed? I mean, those guys were running pretty fast and bouncing off things…
Yeah, when the feeding frenzy starts, they just run, but not faster than any human being.
What’s the time frame in the movie. Is it something that takes place in a few days or over a month or two?
It’s basically a couple of days. It’s pretty compressed.
In this film, it looks like it takes about 8 seconds for that zombie conversion to be made. What was the motivation behind that?
It’s 12 seconds. When you see the entire film, there are some people who turn faster than others, but it’s sort of this idea of how a virus also mutates. We all sort of based in biology, in the sense that some viruses start to mutate very fast and sometimes it takes a bit longer. Like when you saw the countdown in Philadelphia, it takes 12 seconds, and then he comes to another place where someone reports that it takes longer, So, he’s trying to figure it out. That’s one of his quests.
How much did Max Brooks have to do with the movie?
Basically, I met Max a couple times when we just spoke about the book and his intentions. I think ultimately, he just gave his blessings. He hasn’t seen the finished film yet, because I want to show it all finished. He has seen some of the material, but I am looking forward to showing it to him. I hope I get his blessings.
In all of the clips, Brad Pitt has not been doing any of the killing. Does he get involved in the killing at some point?
Yes. Yes. [Laughs]
Quantum of Solace was a pretty big movie and this one looks like way, way bigger. What kinds of challenges does that present?
It’s a very different thing. In Quantum, you’re dealing with a genre, it was a film that has existed over many years. Here you’re dealing with a genre which has been done many times, but you’re trying to find a way in that’s still new and fresh and different, that you don’t repeat what other people have done and have a new perspective to it. What was really great about this film is it’s a global epidemic. You can make a global film, which affects so many countries, but it has zombies, who are great metaphors for the times we live in today.
The book has a reputation for being more reflective. Everything we’ve seen here seems pretty brisk and fast. Does the movie ever sort of take a break to absorb more of those elements of the book?
Yes, it does take a break and become more reflective. It’s not what you guys saw here.
One of the most popular TV shows right now is The Walking Dead, which is extremely violent. Are you concerned that going for a PG-13 is going to make it a little tame compared to what people expect from their weekly TV viewing of zombies?
No, because our zombies, we approach them in a different way. I consciously designed the film in that way and so I think we will overcome that.
You mention that the film takes place over the course of a few days. Do we start seeing the breakdown of electricity and the infrastructure as the picture goes on?
Yes, there is a breakdown of infrastructure. I mean some of it is still working and some is breaking down, but yes, you will see that.
Obviously, adapting Max Brooks’ book is next to impossible because of all of the stories. But for fans of the book, are there going to be characters or mentions or nods to stories that are in the book?
Yes, like, for instance the Israeli character, Jurgen Waimbrunn, is a character and a couple other mentions we’ve tried to incorporate from the book.
What run time are you shooting for?
It’ll probably be a little short of two hours, 1:50 or something like that.
Brad has been quoted in the past as saying he’d like to seea World War Z trilogy. Is that to say this ends on a good note? Is there more story to tell?
Definitely, there could be more story to tell, yes.
Are you worried that zombie fans won’t embrace this film especially as it has more reflective periods in addition to the action?
You know, there are some more reflective moments from the film, but some zombie fans you will not be able to make happy and some zombie fans will embrace it and will love the movie. I think there always be discussion and a little bit of controversy on every zombie movie, because there are definitely different camps of what people prefer or not. I hope that most of the zombie fans will appreciate all the new things we added to the movie that they haven’t seen before in this particular genre.
Do you watch Walking Dead?
Have you seen Warm Bodies or Zombieland?
I saw Zombieland. I’ve seen pretty much all of the zombie movies. I haven’t seen Warm Bodies yet, because it just came out, but I still want to see that.
Are you hoping to bring in a new audience because the movie is less gory, and not everyone is a zombie fan?
For me, this is not just a zombie film. It’s more than that. It’s a global film. It’s a film about a global crisis. Yes, it’s a zombie film, but it also speaks about some global issues. So I think in that sense, I feel it might bring in a different audience, hopefully, as well.
World War Z opens in theaters on June 23, 2013.