Book vs. Movie: World War Z

This is actually just a photo after the 7-1 loss to Germany

This is actually just a photo after the 7-1 loss to Germany

Zombies are pretty scary, but it was the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that genuinely helped World War Z scare the absolute crap out of me. Whether you think fast-moving, bloodthirsty undead monsters are scary, the underlying subtext of how easily a pandemic could spread in the modern world is a terrifying thought that sticks with you long after the tale – whether it be the book or the movie.

These are, despite the title, two vastly different accounts of what became the Zombie war that engulfed the planet and devastated the population – but that doesn’t make them entirely different. Filming a tale that encompassed a multitude of stories from around the globe that take place over the course of years would have been an absolutely immense undertaking, and probably wouldn’t have worked that well on the screen anyway. That being said, they could have at least used a bit more from the book.

Where they differ

The book is practically a written documentary. The ‘author’ spent his time travelling the World, well after the Zombie war already had its impact on the globe. He speaks to survivors, and hears a multitude of harrowing stories that vary in the right way in terms of the cultural experience of the region as well as the variety between military and civilian experiences as well.

From the troops who fought on the front line in the battle of Yonkers, to the Finns who had the pleasure of killing off more thawed-out dead every year, to an Australian who was stuck on the International Space Station the whole time, the stories and experiences are wildly different, and that helps paint the picture of a true pandemic. The war is over, but the effects are still being felt in a World trying to find its feet again.

The movie on the other hand is an individual account, with that one individual being Brad Pitt. The Anglo-centric account takes out a lot of the story, and narrows the narrative significantly – but you can’t help but feel that it had to.

Zombies, the real masters of public evacuation procedures

Zombies, the real masters of public evacuation procedures

In the book there is little mention of any massive speeds that can be achieved by the Z’s, but in the film its one of their most horrifying features. Few scenes epitomize the movie more than the thousands of undead making a human period to scale a wall built by the Israelis, although the fact they’re drawn there by loud music from a civilian PA is a bit weak. What disappointed me about the movie was the ‘attempt’ to make it a global effort. The team travels to South Korea for practically no reason other than to have a leading scientist shoot himself in the face, they happen to be in Israel when the events happen, it didn’t need to happen. If you read the book you realise that each part of the world had an experience that could have been its own film – and that patient zero was found in China, not Korea.

Enough happens to the US in the book that they never needed to leave. The final scenes, where Brad and his not-so-crack team have to walk through a Welsh WHO lab filled with Zombies to get to a deadly disease are there for little more than suspense.

And that was another annoying thing, and quite a large one at that – in the films Brad Pitt learns that the way to defeat the Zombie onslaught (or at least get past them undetected) is to infect yourself with a deadly disease, making you practically invisible to the Zombies. In the book this is not the case – there is NO cure or vaccine, and as such the struggle for survival seems so very real. The conclusion of the movie feels like a cop out, but it doesn’t need to be. Even without the cure, the book doesn’t leave you feeling that all hope is lost, but its certainly not as easy as the movie would have you believe.

The key difference (apart from the very big issue of the ‘cure’) is the timing. The book takes place after everything has happened and the world is slowly trying to return to normal – the movie takes place at the start of the experience, when the panic sits in – and if that’s what they sought to capture they do it well. As a parallel for the terrifying notion of a pandemic spread both the book and the film capture it well, but the book just feels so much more real.

Real? What do you mean?

Well when Brad Pitt inadvertently gets caught in a massive, commercial plane crash – only he and the female Israeli soldier he was with seem to survive. A plane falling out of the sky. What are the odds? Did I mention it was a land crash? Yes, being at 14,000 feet and finding an infected person in the restroom is absolutely terrifying – but the way the plane crashes, and the fact they survive, almost makes it comical.

So which is better?

Unlike most of the Book vs Movie posts I’ll end up doing – I actually saw the movie first this time and then had the book recommended to me. The first time I saw the movie I enjoyed it, it was exhilarating and action packed. I wouldn’t call it the best movie I’ve ever seen but compared to the loads of tripe people like Michael Bay can keep pumping out it was enjoyable. Terrifying? Not quite. Intense? Hell yeah. Entirely satisfying? Not quite.

The book, on the other hand, leaves no stone unturned. I’m sure there are movies out there where cutting stuff from the book actually worked to its benefit, but it didn’t here. The development of a vaccine seemed like an easy way out – and they discovered it awful quick as well! The final montage of the film leads you to believe that the war is about to be won, that all zombies have been eliminated. In the book this isn’t the case – they’re still around. Whether they’re frozen in the fields of Iceland or floating beneath the surface of the ocean, they’re still here, and they’ll still rear their ugly heads for a long, long time. We’ll never be 100% sure they’re all gone.

While I can’t say that the movie doesn’t do the overall theme of the book any justice, it certainly falls short of the intensely human, global picture that the book clearly paints.

Movie: 11/20
Book: 15/20

The book wins. Go and read it.

But if you don’t like reading, and don’t like watching a movie for a few hours, then there’s….

South Park – World War Zimmerman

South Park used the story of film World War Z to examine racial tensions in the USA after the George Zimmerman verdict. Instead of Zombies, Cartman is worried that the African American community will rise up in a similar fashion. There’s death, plane crashes, hilarity and even (surprise surprise) some insightful social commentary on media hysteria, racism and gun laws.


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