On an ordinary day, Gerry Lane and his family find their quiet drive interrupted by urban gridlock. An ex-United Nations investigator, Lane senses that this is no ordinary traffic jam. As police helicopters buzz the sky and motorcycle cops careen wildly below, the city erupts into chaos.
Something is causing hordes of people to viciously attack each other - a lethal virus that is spread through a single bite, turning healthy humans into something unrecognizable, unthinking and feral. Neighbor turns on neighbor; a helpful stranger suddenly becomes a dangerous enemy. The origins of the virus are unknown, and the number of infected grows exponentially larger each day, quickly becoming a global pandemic. As the infected overwhelm the world’s armies and rapidly topple its governments, Lane is forced to return to his dangerous former life to insure the safety of his family, leading a desperate worldwide search for the source of the epidemic and a means to stop its relentless spread.
"World War Z" (rated PG-13 for violence and frightening scenes; and with a running time of 116 min.) began as a post-apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks called World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, written in first person, individual accounts from those who experienced it. Producers Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner read the book in galley form. They, along with everyone at their production company, Plan B Entertainment, were captivated.
"Five years ago, I knew nothing about zombies. Now, I consider myself an expert," recalls Pitt. "Max’s book treats the zombie genre as a global pandemic, spreading much like we’ve witnessed viruses such as SARS travel. What happens when this jumps the fire break… what happens when everything we concern our days with is rendered useless? What happens when power structures and societal norms are obliterated? How will we survive?"
"It resonated with us as something that was relevant and prescient, despite being a zombie book — or maybe because of it. We didn’t know - which made it even more compelling," Gardner recalls.
The vast scope of the story also intrigued Kleiner, who was familiar with Brooks’ work, having read his companion book/field manual, The Zombie Survival Guide. "The world scale — the intersection of zombies, politics, institutions — intrigued us and added really cool, contemporary elements unusual in the zombie genre," says Kleiner.
However, the novel’s multi-person, testimonial approach did not necessarily lend itself to a motion picture screenplay. Ultimately, the filmmakers opted to tell the story through one protagonist as opposed to many but also endeavored to maintain the essence of the themes and plot points that initially riveted them.
Still working on the script, the team soon decided it was time to approach a director and turned to Marc Forster.
"Marc was likeminded in that he was committed to setting the movie in the real world and maintaining the material’s verisimilitude," Gardner recalls.
"I respect Marc as a director who has made many different kinds of films, yet with a common thread of dealing with core human issues — family, love, loss. I think he brought this humanistic approach to our film and I think that his openness, his not having pre-conceived notions of the limitations of zombie films, was really helpful," adds Kleiner.
Plan B began by sending the book to Forster and like them, he was engrossed.
"Zombie movies" have become their own genre and are currently enjoying a popular renaissance. Forster believes there is a thematic reason for their resurgence and many zombie hallmarks resonated with him and drew him to the project.
"I find zombie movies fascinating in that they were popular in the 70s, at a time of uncertainty and upheaval in society. And now when we are again living in a time of change and skepticism, zombies are popular. They’re such a great metaphor — representing a sort of unconsciousness and hold a mirror to what’s happening in the world. We human beings, as a species, are unconscious to a certain degree and ultimately we have to wake up," Forster muses.
Indeed, part of the initial appeal of the project for Pitt was the heart-pounding action and race against time aspects of the story.
"Those zombies are scary as hell and the movie, I believe, works on numerous levels," says Pitt. "But, primarily it’s complete summer fun and, frankly, something I wanted to do for my sons to enjoy."
To that end, Forster is reluctant to categorize "World War Z" solely as a "zombie movie."
"It’s not just about zombies, it’s about a global apocalypse that happens to be spread by zombies," Forster says.
"There are a lot of parallels to what we’re living through, culturally, that lend themselves to a ‘zombie movie,’ but the great thing about Max’s book is that he set it in a realistic time frame and within a reality-based framework. That’s what really intrigued me — I wanted to create a movie that feels real, so audiences feel like this could happen, this minute, to any one of us. The general premise is that anything can happen, in any kind of scenario, on any given day. No one is spared, everyone is susceptible. That’s the plotline in the movie but it’s also real life," Forster says.
—taken from the production notes of World War Z, courtesy of Paramount Pictures
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