After a much, much troubled production, surrounded by rumour and gossip, the first trailer for World War Z is finally online and available at Apple:
While passing judgement on the trailer is purely a case of subjective opinion (and it's only a few glimpses of the film), it certainly appears to be a long way from the book, but at least it looks epic in scope (if not extremely CGI heavy).
Personally, I got sick of zombie movies a long, long time ago and don't usually watch them any more as rule. There's only so much you can do with swarming masses of the walking (or running, or, in this case, falling over themselves in a massive wave) dead, but although I have to confess finding Max Brooks's writings a little over-rated, he at least did what few people have been able to do, and that is to depict a zombie apocalypse (or near apocalypse) on a truly global scale. One of the themes of the book is the idea that the zombies wouldn't be much of a threat if it weren't for the fact that governments and corporations are too incompetent and arrogant to take effective action. Judging by the trailer, this theme has been thrown out the window, since they've gone from shambling hoards to literal waves of 28 Days Later style, people-shaped monsters who seem to clump up, en masse, like ants in super glue. This either looks awesome or ridiculous, depending on who you are and what drugs you're taking.
What is a real mystery is why there was a bidding war between Brad Pitt's Plan B entertainment and Leonardo Dicaprio's Appian Way. The book is made up of interviews and anecdotes set 20 years in thefuture and 10 years after the zombie menace has been eliminated. It's a series of flashbacks with no central character as such and no real 'through-line'. Never-the-less, J Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) was commissioned to write a screenplay that met with universal approval, Paramount set a release date for December 2012. It was to be the first of a trilogy.
Then things started to go a little bit down the toilet.
Pitt, as producer, lobbied for director Marc Forster. That's right, the Marc Forster who directed Quantum of Solace (2008). Now, Forster is actually pretty good at drama. He directed such well-received movies as Monster's Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004) and The Kite Runner (2007). Trouble is, most people think of him as the guy who directed one of the most badly received Bond films ever. In actual fact, Quantum of Solace went into production just as the writer's strike started and according to Daniel Craig, that's what scuppered them. World War Z started to go wrong when a ground-up rewrite was ordered; why is hard to define. Maybe it was because Straczynski's draft was leaked, maybe it needed to be honed down to make it more manageable to film, maybe it fell victim to the Hollywood practice of rewriting everything to death. Ultimately, the draft they shot with was penned by Matthew Michael Carnahan. Regardless, after spending time with his family between films, Pitt arrived to find that, three weeks before production, Forster hadn't even made basic decisions, such as what the zombies should look like, or how they should move. Forster only seems to work well when he goes into production with the screenplay locked. In addition, he was forced to work with a crew he was unfamiliar with.
It was reported that Cinematographer Robert Richardson asked to leave the production several times and was frustrated by the lack of order.
The production was massive, but 2nd Unit Director Simon Crane was, apparently, given only a fraction of the time he asked for 2nd Unit photography (something like 20 days as opposed to the 60 he'd requested).
Then there was the notorious incident about customs officials in Budapest seizing 85 prop weapons imported into Hungary for the section of the film to be shot there; local laws dictated the weapons had to be decommissioned. They were, in fact, still live. In other words, they were gun-guns, not prop guns. Fortunately, no charges were brought, but only because the authorities could not discern who was liable. It is said that Pitt was furious.
The budget shot up from $125 million to a reported $175 million and when the first rough cut was assembled, it was realised only the first 52 minutes of the film worked. Re-shoots were needed. 3-7 weeks of them. The release date was put back to June 2013, making it only one of several major films this year to be delayed (other's being 47 Ronin and G.I. Joe: Retaliation).
At least we'll get to see Tom Cruise and Werner Herzog battle it out in World War Z's original release slot, since Jack Reacher (2012) will open in its place.
Contrary to reports, co-creator of TV's Lost, Damon Lindelof was not hired to write a new third act but was asked to view the film and give 'notes'. Many have despaired over his connection to the film, due to them perceiving him as the man who 'ruined' Prometheus (2012), but the actual writing was carried out by Drew Goddard, the man behind Cabin in the Woods (2012). He is named as a writer on the IMDB but since the IMDB is an unsourced, user-edited site (much like Wikipedia but with not notability), we can ignore this.
By the time re-shoots began in September, and for reasons that remain unknown, Pitt and Forster were no longer talking to each other but for contractual reasons, and DGA rules, Forster had to be kept on. Wild rumours regarding the actual process of the re-shoots were abound; it was said (by some of the more gossip-based film magazines) that Pitt was consulting with George Clooney and that Drew Goddard was more involved than the studio was willing to admit. The Clooney rumour seems like a load of balls and Goddard has downplayed his involvement, saying he did a small amount of work as a favour and didn't contribute enough to even get credited (credits in Hollywood are dictated by the unions, in the case of screenwriters, it's arbitrated by the Writer's Guild of America).
Despite the troubled production and lack of resemblance to the book, the film may still be a hit. Other films, such as Fitzcarraldo (1981) and Apocalypse Now (1979) went on to be sizable hits after being plagued with massive production problems. Others, such as John Carter (2012), Cutthroat Island (1995) and Heaven's Gate (1981) flopped mercilessly. It's worth noting that both Fitcarraldo and Apocalypse Now were massive super-productions shot in the jungles of third world countries; they had to deal with sever environmental factors and wars (seriously), rather than a lack of a good script or indecision.
In the film industry, things get tough and go wrong all the time. It is only when the world at large gets to hear about it that we start to smack our lips at the idea of an overblown multi-million dollar production crashing and burning, or get angsty about a movie we've been looking forward to for years turning out to be a piece of wank-splat.
In the end, World War Z may turn out to be a massive flop or a massive hit. The biggest disappointment at the end of all this is if it just turned out to be bland.
And, regardless of it's troubled history, we must keep in mind Werner Herzog's maxim; 'all that matters at the end of the day is what you see on the screen'.