A few critics are taking shots at Brad Pitt’s post-apocalyptic epic World War Z for its PG 13-Rating. Apparently there were script and production issues that blew up the budget to 200 million. Conventional, if not cynical, wisdom presumes the only way Mr. Pitt will see a profit is to fill the seats with as many 12 year-olds as possible. Interestingly, another summer release one would assume to be tailored for the youth market, The Lone Ranger, is driving the kiddies from the theaters in droves. Something to do with a beating heart getting ripped from someone’s chest and being used for a light snack. Well, the name of Lone Ranger’s director is Gore Verbinski. Parents, there’s your first clue.
As for World War Z, I found myself cheering the restraint shown by the filmmakers. When I say it’s a zombie movie the whole family can enjoy, I’m not necessarily talking about the kids. In fact, the action and suspense sequences are probably too intense for most children. On-screen blood was virtually non-existent in Jurassic Park, but I didn’t let my four-year old see it. He had to wait until he achieved the battle-scarred age of at least 6. But I do think World War Z will appeal to a wider audience than the usual horror movie fans who welcome the sight of spilling entrails the way K-mart shoppers warm to the glow of a blue light special.
As I watched scene after scene unfold where the potential for a disturbing image was suppressed in favor of the action taking place off camera, I felt as if director Marc Forster made a zombie movie just for me. I’m a huge fan of the undead. Sadly for me, I haven’t seen all the genre has to offer simply because I have a very low tolerance for guts and gore. Lucky for me, Walking Dead tends to telegraph when something truly disgusting is about to appear on my screen, so I know when not to look. Ecstatically, jumping-up-and-down triumphantly for me, I was able to watch every single frame of World War Z.
Pollyanna that I am, I see the reason for this as being beyond the desire to make a profit. That reason, I suspect, is the sensibility of producer Brad Pitt. I’m not suggesting Pitt is squeamish. In adapting Max Brooks’ book for the screen, Pitt and his band of screenwriters threw out the unique convention of the source material – first person accounts from multiple survivors – and focused on a single protagonist to capture the essence of Brooks’ theme: “This shit could really happen, and if does, we’re pretty much screwed.”
In Pitt’s War, a virus puts all life as we know it in peril. That’s not a new plot devise in the zombie genre, but what is different here is that these ghouls seem more interested in spreading the virus and moving on to the next host than consuming flesh because brains and intestines are yummy. What we end up seeing on screen are hordes of zombies making lightning-fast strikes. The horror is the spread of the plague itself, not necessarily the eating habits of its carrier.
I attribute this creative decision to Pitt because of a general sense of his political and environmental activism. The most chilling and memorable line from the movie suggests the real culprit is Earth herself, trying to rid herself of bothersome humans through all sorts of nasty means. What could motivate Mother Nature to do such a thing? Dead Dolphins and other man-made calamities shown in the opening credits offer a hint.
I could be wrong. Maybe the reason the movie is as light on the stomach as Lactaid is because the filmmakers really do want kids to see it. But not all kids. I wonder if the six years it took Pitt to get Z to the screen didn’t have as much to do with production woes as it did with the ages of his children. The oldest is now 11 and the youngest are 5. That means he should be able to take the entire brood to see it sometime next year.