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The bad science of World War Z

World War Z was on the Netflix last night, so I made the mistake of watching it. It was terrible. Spoilers abound, so stop here if you care.

The dreadful biology was offensive. Even if the plot were compelling — it wasn’t — and the actors engaging — they weren’t — it would have driven me bughouse mad. As it was, this looked like a movie in which someone had a CGI routine to render frenzied mobs, and they just had to use it over and over again.

  • The central macguffin of the plot was to find Patient Zero of the zombie plague. Why, they don’t explain; it would be scientifically interesting to trace the lineage of the infectious agent, but they don’t even know for sure what it is (they guess, a virus — they haven’t isolated it). But medically it isn’t going to help, especially since this disease promotes total widespread destruction, and all they’re going to find in South Korea, where they initially thought it arose, is wreckage. Which is what they find.

  • They begin this quest at the behest of a pompous Harvard scientist, who is an idiot. Once they’re on the plane to Korea, he smugly informs everyone that Nature is a serial killer who likes to be found out, so she leaves clues everywhere, and you need ten years of training to be able to spot them. So Harvard teaches people to anthropomorphize diseases? Of course, this idiot trips and accidentally kills himself stepping off the plane (I cheered), and Brad Pitt proceeds to continue the mission without the benefit of ten years of Harvard graduate education, so he’s wrong on all levels.

  • Patient Zero wasn’t in South Korea. They are informed by an insane CIA agent that the earliest reports were from Israel. We can believe him because he is happily pulling his own teeth out and laying them out in a lovely pattern on a plate, so the whole crew piles back onto the plane to fly off to Jerusalem. It’s very important to find Patient Zero!

  • Once in Jerusalem, they learn that the plague didn’t start there: the Israelis have a policy of heeding every crazy rumor that comes down the pike, and when they heard a report of zombies running amuck in India, they immediately put up giant walls around the city. Which don’t work. As the zombies overrun Jerusalem, Brad Pitt hijacks a plane and flies to…India? No. Patient Zero is not that big a deal anymore. He flies to Wales.

  • Pitt has had an insight. The infectious agent makes its hosts very finicky — they won’t eat sick people, because they’d be undesirable new hosts. This is a pathogen that kills its victims and reanimates their dead corpses, but is incapable of coping with a bad case of the flu. It is exceptionally fastidious about infecting only the healthiest people, which it then drives into such a mad frenzy that they heedlessly leap off the roof of 20-story buildings to reach their prey, because it wants to maintain the highest quality hosts. So the zombies acquire exquisitely sensitive biosensors to detect and ignore people with diseases, but are completely blind to 200-foot drops.

  • So Brad Pitt gets to Wales in a jet full of infected zombies, conveniently getting it to land near a World Health Organization research facility by lobbing a hand grenade into the passenger compartment, causing all the zombies to get sucked out and forcing the plane to crash violently, breaking apart on contact with the ground. Fortunately, he’s in the one piece of the plane that is intact, along with an Israeli soldier he’d saved from the plague by chopping her hand off — apparently, not only does the pathogen hate sick people, it also turns up its nose at maimed people. Unfortunately, he has a gigantic shard of metal debris jammed through his guts and poking out his back. Fortunately, the movie will completely ignore this debilitating injury for the rest of its running time.

  • At the WHO facility, they discover a group of paranoid (who can blame them?) scientists, who inform them that the part of the lab with the really nasty diseases has been overrun by zombies, but that they’ve gone quiescent in the absence of victims. They can get to the store of deadly diseases if they proceed very, very quietly. So instead of sending someone hale and competent to fetch a few vials, they send 1) Brad Pitt, the guy who just had a giant metal spike pulled out of his abdomen, 2) the recently one-handed Israeli soldier, and 3) the director of the lab. The director turns out to be a mega-klutz who is constantly kicking things and knocking stuff over, so 2 & 3 end up running away, drawing off all the enraged zombies, while #1 skedaddles over to the Death Lab. It’s almost like they planned it.

  • Once in the Death Lab, Brad Pitt scoops up a box full of random vials, but he’s surrounded by zombies! He’s trapped! So he picks a vial, injects himself with it’s supposedly lethal contents, and presto — he becomes invisible to zombies, and strolls nonchalantly back to the safe lab, where they conveniently have an antidote that they give him. All better! Don’t you just love magic medicine?

  • Then the show wraps up rapidly with a brief announcement that they have some kind of meningitis-like vaccine that gives people the disease but doesn’t, so they’re all invisible to the zombies, and you can just walk among them and bash their heads in with crowbars and they won’t notice. I guess when Washington DC is destroyed and all those pesky politicians have been eaten, you get rid of all the annoying regulations that slow magic medicine development.

That was truly awful. I kept watching in disbelief that they could screw over biology and medicine so thoroughly. I haven’t read the book that this movie was based on, so now I’m wondering…was it true to the source? Was the book really this stupid?

Comments

  1. bittys says

    The book was absolutely brilliant, and I really wholeheartedly recommend it.

    As far as I can tell, the *only* thing that the film has in common with the book is its name, and the fact that there are zombies in it.

  2. marko says

    The film itself wasn’t really any more rubbish than I thought it would be, but it was good fun to get to go and wander round the set since the Philadelphia scenes were shot just round the corner from me. Watching the film I was able to adopt suspension of disbelief for most of it, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t accept Glasgow as Philadelphia.

  3. totale says

    Not sure I agree on the brilliance of the book – it’s one of those that I’ve been ‘halfway through’ for about five years – but I’ve read worse. Unfortunately the big gimmick of the book – that it’s a history of the zombie emergency, written retrospectively by interviewing key actors – is let down by the fact that it reads nothing like a history, and the interviews read nothing like an interviewee would speak. It’s just not very well written.

    I actually quite liked the film though. I overlooked the ridiculous science – I wouldn’t be able to watch any sci-fi/horror/fantasy film otherwise. It’s necessary to create the situation. What I really found ridiculous though was the idea that the zombies massing outside Jerusalem would ignore the jets landing at the airport but got enraged the moment that somebody started singing into a fairly small amplifier.

    Oh, and that the hyper-efficient Israelis decided not to put a lookout on the wall. Hell, the Night’s Watch defended their wall better than the Israelis…

  4. says

    World War Ζ??

    What I’d like to know is when they changed the World War numbering scheme from Roman to Greek…
     
     
    Oh yes and (assuming WWI became α and WWII, β) when did (or when will) the other three take place??

  5. vimes67 says

    Try the book. Brooks doesn’t bother with sciency explanations of a fantasy plague, for the most part, and the vignettes he uses to tell the story are much more engaging than the action movie.

  6. doubter says

    When Max Brooks, the author of the book, was asked what he thought of the movie, he said, “I thought it had a great title!” I love, love, love the book, and resolved to avoid the movie as soon as I heard it was going to be a Brad Pitt vehicle.

  7. thetalkingstove says

    It is a fairly terrible film.

    And it’s silly how Brad Pitt is apparently the only person who’s noticed that the zombies don’t attack sick people. In any large population there’s going to be plenty of people with serious illnesses walking around, enough that the zombie’s fussy eatiing habits should be immediately obvious.

  8. Dexeron says

    Seconding everyone else’s recommondations; also, I should note that in the book, they don’t solve the Zombie problem. The book is more about how humanity is forced to adapt to deal with this as the new paradigm. It’s about the socio-political fallout from an enemy that cannot ever be totally destroyed. Humanity survives, but civilization is forced to radically change.

    (And in some ways, one might read a climate change parable into the book, since so much of the book is really about the refusal of various political entities around the world to deal with the problem until it is far too late, and then humanity being forced to have to live AROUND the problem, having failed to solve it while there was still time.)

  9. merpy says

    The brilliance of the book is in the breadth and depth of consequences of a worldwide outbreak of zombie plague. It doesn’t have an overarching narrative, which is presumably why they massacred it for the movie, it “just” has vignettes from perspectives I’d never have thought of myself. Some of my favourites are those from the marine on the ground, wired into all this unnecessary, hindering technology and realizing that the brass’ focus on appearances is going to get him killed; the person-dog teams looking for zombies in the field; and the underwater crew, seeking out zombies below the surface years later. I think you’d like it, PZ…in my opinion, the only suspension of disbelief required to read the book is about the premise, that zombies can and do exist, and he doesn’t linger on any pseudoscience there.

  10. fmitchell says

    World War Z is still in my “I’ll read this eventually, no really” pile, but I read Brooks’s Zombie Survival Guide. Maybe an expert could take it apart, but it sounded pretty reasonable to me. The end that that book implied makes much more sense: the zombies, being dead and rotting flesh, eventually fall apart, and enclaves that survived try to rebuild civilization. But I guess an ending that was good enough for H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds wasn’t heroic enough for a movie.

  11. sbuczkowski says

    causing all the zombies to get sucked out

    blown out. Motive force will be from high pressure toward low. You get to be pedantic about biology, I get to be pedantic about physics :-)

    Can’t comment on the movie, though. I made the mistake of watching 5 minutes of The Core recently. That should keep me away from the tv and huddled in the corner for some time to come.

  12. loreo says

    The book was a great thriller. It’s all about what people do in the face of a crisis, from individuals to groups to whole societies, everything from desperation and panic to heroism both quiet and loud.

  13. dean says

    I don’t know that the book was fantastic but it is enjoyable and an interesting take on zombie books. Two very minor tidbits:
    The author, Max Brooks, is the son of Mel Brooks

    Somehow the movie has become Pitts’ highest grossing movie, yanking in over $500 million worldwide. Since this and Inglorious Basterds are the only two movies of his I’ve seen I don’t know what, if anything, that says about his acting (or lack of it).

  14. says

    Agree with @totale – the book has a fascinating series of concepts that’s squandered by the writing. The characters dialog just isn’t naturalistic; you can always hear the author’s intent pushing things along (and I’m not talking about the narrating character).

    Overall, though, a worthwhile read, for going in some unexplored aspects of the zombie genre.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    Bittys:
    “The book was absolutely brilliant, and I really wholeheartedly recommend it.”

    Seconded.
    .
    And the less famous book sequel even has some zombie-killing vampire vigilantes, trying to stop the zombies from exterminating their only source of food.

    “the only suspension of disbelief required to read the book is about the premise, that zombies can and do exist, and he doesn’t linger on any pseudoscience there”

    OK so the vampires in the second book may be iffy, but if you buy the premise of zombies in the first place…
    .
    Myself, I would blame the zombies to outbreaks of alien military nanotech, left over from some interstellar war, a bit like the unexploded ordnance from Somme and Verdun still claims victims.

    If you are interested in Soviet SF, the Strugatsky* book that inspired the film “Stalker” implied that the mysterious and often fatal things happening in the “zone” were unintentional side-effects of some alien activity.

    *(Piknik Na Obotjina, Wayside Picnic)

  16. tyro says

    The book isn’t about trying to save the world or find a cure, it’s set after the zombie war has already happened and now a UN official is collecting stories from survivors and documents so that the survivors get a more complete picture of what happened. The book zombies aren’t especially fast, they aren’t picky eaters, and there’s no Brad Pitt character who finds a cure (in fact his character doesn’t exist at all).

    Instead the focus is on how people react to this unprecedented disaster. Some are brave, some craven, some foolish, some exploitative. The military tries to blow stuff up and largely make things worse. People react in blind panic and largely make things worse. Early ideas (like moving North to where the zombies would freeze in the winter) have limited success and have unintended consequences. Eventually after some demoralizing setbacks, people start to recognize the situation for what it is and adapt their tactics and are rewarded with some progress. Victory feels less like a Hollywood movie and a lot more bitter sweet, like shellshocked soldiers shuffling off a battlefield after taking devastating losses. Life goes on and even though it looks like the immediate threat is over, humanity will be dealing with zombies and the aftermath for generations to come.

    It has a lot more complexity and depth in every chapter than in the whole movie. It’s a bit like if Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” was turned into a movie and what they came up with was a B-grade “A Perfect Storm”. A common reaction from those that read the book was sadness, not that the movie was bad (though it was) but that this effectively killed any chance that a genuine adaptation would ever happen.

  17. birgerjohansson says

    As I have mentioned before, the best “zombie” film I have seen -“30 Days Later”- is actually an updated and much improved film version of Wyndham’s “Day of the Triffids”.

  18. laurentweppe says

    Harvard teaches people to anthropomorphize diseases?

    Hey, I wouldn’t put it past a stronghold of privilege to teach its alumni to use shitty anthropomorphic metaphors when speaking to the plebs.

  19. playonwords says

    I vaguely recall an old SF short story about time travel or a returning interstellar traveler who finds the human race vanished and a piece of graffiti “War Q” and speculates about a final world war. The writer (from a godlike perspective) tells us that it is not that but actually stands for “Beware infection” because Q is a symbol for bacteria with a flagellum.

  20. playonwords says

    and another thing – it is very similar to Eric Frank Russell’s “Three to Conquer” where the mind control bug is deadly afraid of meningitis.

  21. says

    Do zombies regenerate? Are zombies powered by a form of Matrix-inspired fusion? Because unless that’s true, sprinting zombies are going to be mostly broken and worn out almost immediately. Shuffling zombies make a certain amount of sense, at least by comparison. “Dead but capable of infinite sprinting without rest or injury” doesn’t remotely work from a physics standpoint, let alone a biological one.

    This movie violates one of the things I’ve figured out about artistic stuff, which is that if something is fun and energetic enough it doesn’t need to make a lot of sense. The less sense it makes, the more explody fun times it needs to be. The worst thing a movie can be is both nonsensical and moving slowly enough that you can’t help but notice each individual broken piece of it.

  22. Robbie Taylor says

    I third and fourth all the book recommendations, and I’d like to add one for the audiobook – it’s a full-cast recording with such vocal luminaries as Mark Hamill, Denise Crosby, Rob Reiner, Simon Pegg, Alan Alda – it’s amazing. And what they really needed to do in order to translate it into film was get Ken Burns to direct it. It’s completely written in his documentary style.

  23. Doug Little says

    I have to also agree that the book was far better than the movie. That said I still liked the movie, you just have to get around the biology and physics problems and realize that it is not going to win any academy awards. Good movie for the couch on a lazy Sunday recovering from the night before, fast moving Zombies and not much brain power required.

  24. says

    Watched about 30 minutes of it last night and couldn’t go on. The last straw was when Pitt told the family that had just rescued him that it was important to keep moving, but they refused and decided to stay in their apartment (to eventually be overwhelmed by the zombies). For some reason, though, he neglected to tell them that he had a helicopter coming to pick him and his family up on the roof of the building they were in. That might have been useful information for them, don’t ya think?

  25. Carl Muckenhoupt says

    Reading some of the comments here, it strikes me: It’s a little like Day of the Triffids.

    In the 1960s movie version of Day of the Triffids, the triffids turn out to have a typical 1960s-sci-fi-flick nonsensical weakness to a common substance, which can easily be used to wipe them out for good. In the novel it was based on, there is no such easy solution: instead, people have to go to all the work of building and supplying defensive strongholds to keep the triffids at bay, and then slowly reclaim territory for the human race. At the end of the book, triffids are still around, and still deadly, but they’re no longer a threat to the existence of humanity, any more than any other form of dangerous wildlife is.

  26. shoeguy says

    You managed to watch more of it than me. About the time Mr. Pitt started scooping vials of bacteria and viruses out of an unrefrigerated wristwatch showcase into what looked to be a lunch box I ditched the show and went back to rewatching old Venture Bros. episodes. There is some bad science I can get behind.

  27. conway says

    What bugged me most was that it took eleven seconds from the time of being bit until you were a full-on zombie. So how did the plague spread across oceans?

    One character even says that international air travel makes it easy for diseases to spread around the world. True, but not if you die eleven seconds after contact. Who’d let you on a plane?

  28. typecaster says

    Yes, the book is much better than the movie, which is unwatchable if you don’t have a very high tolerance for trash. But my new standard for such books (not a genre I care for very much) is the Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant. It’s not really a zombie book; rather, it’s about other things, set in a world that has zombies in it. The Rising is this year, 2014, and the book takes place during the 2040 Presidential election. A virus is responsible, and the most powerful organization in the U.S. is the CDC. A blog-based news team following the election finds evidence of corruption in the CDC, and hijinks ensue. Anyone who liked WWZ, and anyone who got hung up by that book’s narrative style, will likely enjoy it.
    .
    Oh, and if anyone’s noticed that the CDC has a web page dedicated to responding to a zombie uprising, it was inspired by the research the author did with them while writing the book.

  29. says

    The movie sounds terrible. The book on the other hand … was AWESOME. “An oral history of the zombie war”, it billed itself, and it was just that. The conceit was that someone was writing a report on the zombie war (that happened ten years previously), and interview a couple dozen survivors about the vignettes that they had experienced. So the book was a series of brilliantly told short stories which, in their disparate parts, added up to an amazing whole. The movie seems to have betrayed its source material entirely.

  30. Drolfe says

    I liked the idea of the adaption of the movie: to preserve the “told by vignettes” style of the original, but they flew off the rails when they decided to string it into a running narrative using whichever famous person they could get as the thread. You start with the idea of having six little movies strung together to tell a story, but then the connective tissue turns out to blow up the whole concept… You have to invent a reason for one person to travel the whole world to visit and interact with each diorama. I think it could have been better if some chain of causation was the thread and not a single actor/character. Then you wouldn’t even need the “search for a cure” plot.

    I wish the movie had taken the risk of doing it in the documentarian style of the book. It could have still retained all the thrilling, scary “show don’t tell” of compartmentalized flashbacks. Oh well.

  31. justsomeguy says

    @31: Don’t you remember the stealth zombie on the airplane? It inexplicably ended up shoved into a closet for some reason, without anybody noticing or bothering to tell somebody else “hey, there’s a zombie in the closet.” Then it just patiently sat there for almost the entire trip from Israel to Wales, making absolutely no noise or basic motions. But wait, the airplane is almost at its destination and this portion of Brat Pitt’s journey is about to end without any problems: wake the zombie up and have it start pounding and scratching at this closet that dozens of people have been walking past all flight.

    The piddly little crap detail that irritated me the most (in a movie comprised entirely of crap details of all sizes) was the Super Crazy Disease Room at WHO Wales. It’s a room filled with vials of the nastiest diseases known to man, and it was being protected by entirely breakable glass and a simple electronic lock that can be opened with a 5-digit code. Access badges? Thumbprint or retinal scanners? Multiple levels of security? Nah, just glass and the most beatable lock in the world.

  32. Cory Waterhouse says

    PZ…uh..you do know it wasn’t a documentary, correct?

    And that almost every science fiction/horror movie (not to mention most romantic comedies) have zero basis in truth or fact? It was just a silly zombie movie, so you’ll need just a skosh of that ol’ “Suspension of Belief”.

    You must have no fun around the campfire as a kid…

  33. johnkent says

    If you were going to make the book into a movie and do it any modicum of justice, it would have to be a faux documentary. The story is utterly wasted in the traditional movie narrative, let alone a dumb action flick.

    World War Z the book is about a wide range of characters each telling their own personal story, all of which fit together into the larger story of how humanity, but mostly America, got its ass kicked by this strange and new threat, only to hunker down, pull itself together, and overcome the problem (I mean “challenge”, there are no problems) over the course of several years.

    World War Z the movie is about a lone hero who saves the world. That’s it.

    Everything bad about the movie comes from trying make it all about this one guy. You can’t have the infection slowly build up in a city for weeks until it’s too big to control, it has to be fast and sudden so your hero can see it all happen, grab a gun, and protect his family. You can’t tell a story about a wasteful military learning how to fight a fundamentally different kind of war and after several years of hard work, enginuity, and coopration, finally succeeding. No, one man has to solve the problem single-handedly so… he finds a cure or something, whatever. Hey, what if we piled a bunch of zombies on top of eachothe- yeah! That’ll make a wicked movie poster!

    As others have said, the book is phenomenal. I seriously put it up there with Issac Asimov’s Foundation. It establishes a concept and examines the political, economic, and social implications of that concept in an interesting and satisfying way.

  34. says

    The crappy security that\s been mentioned makes me think of the 1985 film Lifeforce. A shuttle mission returns to Earth with the crew dead, and 3 human looking aliens in suspended animation in the cargo hold. And what do the authorities do with the aliens? Bring them to a London facility that looks like a high school science classroom, and have the bodies guarded by unarmed rentacops.

  35. wondering says

    I “read” it as an audio book/play. I think it was a fantastic way to convey the story, since it was all “interview”-based. Each character had a distinct voice, telling their story of surviving the zombie hordes. Made it very compelling.

  36. says

    He’s not really. He was cute in the 90s. Now he’s kinda old and grizzled and a little too skinny to qualify as “distinguished.”

  37. =8)-DX says

    I was looking forward to fast zombies. Slow Brad Pitt and slow cliche scenes that switch to uberfast action wasn’t what I was looking for. Perhaps next time they can just have “jogging-speed” zombies? And actual science titbits that at least try to *mimic* how science works (Another “Prometheus-level” attempt by the sound of it).

  38. says

    dean @15:

    Since this and Inglorious Basterds are the only two movies of his I’ve seen I don’t know what, if anything, that says about his acting (or lack of it).

    I recommend Seven for one of his better movies.

    ****

    I haven’t watched WWZ, but I did listen to a chunk of the audio book several years ago and thought the vignettes were quite interesting. Watching (er, listening) to the various ways humanity copes with a zombie outbreak was a nice twist on slice of life stories. I appreciated the differing glimpses into other cultures. When I first heard a movie was being made, I was excited. Then I saw the trailer, and my hopes were ground to dust and scattered to the four winds.

    After reading PZ’s post and several comments, I’m left wondering if WWZ was as bad an adaptation of the source material as I Am Legend was (I quite liked the book. To say I loathed the movie would be a huge understatement.)

  39. says

    Drolfe:

    You start with the idea of having six little movies strung together to tell a story, but then the connective tissue turns out to blow up the whole concept… You have to invent a reason for one person to travel the whole world to visit and interact with each diorama. I think it could have been better if some chain of causation was the thread and not a single actor/character. Then you wouldn’t even need the “search for a cure” plot.

    Do you think it would have worked better if there was one character from each story that transitioned to the next? Like Person A in Location 1 meets Person B. Person B at Location 2 meets Person C…etc
    (I hope this gets my idea across. I’m having a hard time expressing it.)

  40. jste says

    Cory Waterhouse:

    And that almost every science fiction/horror movie (not to mention most romantic comedies) have zero basis in truth or fact? It was just a silly zombie movie, so you’ll need just a skosh of that ol’ “Suspension of Belief”.

    Speaking from personal experience of myself and my friends, “suspension of belief” is really hard when what you’re being asked to believe directly conflicts with your worldview – “Mysterious disease that turns people into zombies” is plausible enough. There’s even real-life examples to lend the idea credence (T. Gondii, parasitic wasps, etc). “Mysterious disease that turns people into zombies with terri-bad pseudo-scientific explanation” is much more difficult when you have a basic understanding of the branch of science in question. I assume it gets even more difficult the more familiar a person is with the science being mutilated.

  41. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    @Tony! #44:

    After reading PZ’s post and several comments, I’m left wondering if WWZ was as bad an adaptation of the source material as I Am Legend was (I quite liked the book. To say I loathed the movie would be a huge understatement.)

    Which adaptation? The one with Vincent Price (The Last Man on Earth), Charlton Heston (The Omega Man), or the Will Smith one? The Omega Man is by far the most hilarious version; it’s a cheesy mixture of Blaxpoitation and post-apocalyptic gun stroking (again, Heston), with “mutants” who look basically like albino monks.

  42. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    @tyro #19:

    The book zombies aren’t especially fast, they aren’t picky eaters, and there’s no Brad Pitt character who finds a cure (in fact his character doesn’t exist at all).

    Well, Pitt was a producer, which explains why he is also the main character. He even says–maybe more than once, IIRC–“Oh, I’m not a doctor.” As if a medical doctor is not who should actually be in charge of going around the world looking for Patient Zero, or whatever it was eventually they decided to look for. Hell, they don’t even really give him a background to survive such an anarchic situation; though he’s at least competent enough to disembark a plane without shooting himself in the head (take that, Harvard scientist!).

    The super fast zombie aspect made the rest all the more silly. For example, how exactly did Israel put up 60ft+ high walls when people are infected in a matter of seconds (and then just eventually climb over them in a big zombie wave thing, anyway)? Or, why does an infectious agent make victims stronger and faster than their body structures even look capable of supporting? That one reminded me of old anti-drug propaganda films they used to show in elementary school, claiming PCP would make criminals strong enough to break handcuffs and resist gunshots (and thus turning me into a very skeptical ten-year-old). Sadly, those never starred Brad Pitt.

    But it’s just a mindless popcorn blockbuster; deep thought is optional. It’s why some parts are hilarious in their absurdity. Like when the Navy tells Pitt’s family they have to leave the ship because he hasn’t called in almost a day, despite how badly they needed him at the beginning of the film. Or Pitt’s impromptu hand-chopping to save the soldier (a doctor probably wouldn’t have though outside the box like that). Or his casual walk back to the scientists after infecting himself with a deadly pathogen–only to stop for a Pepsi (best product placement ever, because the movie just spent the last two hours making every other decision literally life and death).

  43. says

    HolyPinkUnicorn:

    Which adaptation? The one with Vincent Price (The Last Man on Earth), Charlton Heston (The Omega Man), or the Will Smith one? The Omega Man is by far the most hilarious version; it’s a cheesy mixture of Blaxpoitation and post-apocalyptic gun stroking (again, Heston), with “mutants” who look basically like albino monks.

    D’oh, I forgot to mention which one.
    I was referring to the Will Smith one.

  44. porlob says

    @36 Totally. Who would ever want to critically engage with the media we encounter? What a drag that would be, having an interaction with film and television and books, rather than just passively ingesting it.

  45. says

    Cory Waterhouse:

    And that almost every science fiction/horror movie (not to mention most romantic comedies) have zero basis in truth or fact? It was just a silly zombie movie, so you’ll need just a skosh of that ol’ “Suspension of Belief”.

    People approach fiction in different ways. There’s no “correct way” to view fictional tales. I’m a lifelong comic book reader, and suspension of disbelief is a key feature. But for me it works best when you don’t have to suspend your disbelief (SoD) in every aspect of the story*. Yeah, SoD means that people can have superpowers (and yeah, that’s a hefty disbelief, given physics and chemistry), but I like everything else to be grounded in reality. Take that one element-superpowers-and ground everything else in the real world so that you can almost imagine that stuff being real.
    Movies like the last horrible Indiana Jones movie violated my SoD on so many levels that I simply couldn’t engage with the movie. A character like Indiana is ostensibly closer to reality than Superman. He shouldn’t be surviving a nuclear explosion, let alone doing so by hiding in a refrigerator. In fact, violating the rules of SoD so willy-nilly leaves me wondering what the rules are. What am I supposed to take for granted for the story? If humans can survive the detonation of a nuke in a refrigerator, am I supposed to believe they’ll be worried about a gunshot wound? Unless the ground rules include being able to survive a nuke, I find such violations of SoD to be a sign of shitty writing.
    You’re willing to suspend your disbelief differently than others. Fine. I hope you recognize that others draw a line in the sand differently than you do. Is it fair for you to expect PZ to treat movies just as you do?

    *another important aspect is that the characters should sound and act real. They need to have fully realized motivations. That means characterization is important. A woman on a spaceship can be chased by an acid spitting alien that gestated in and burst out of another living creature. I can suspend disbelief in that, but who she is…how she acts…needs to be as real (or as real as possible). What are her hopes, dreams, and ambitions? What is she scared of? Does she react in ways that are reminiscent of real humans?

  46. waybeyondsoccermom says

    As a Doctor Who fan, I loved that the World Health Organization (WHO) facility was in Cardiff, Wales, where the TV series, Doctor Who, was filmed. Plus, the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, played a WHO Doctor in Cardiff. (Foreshadowing….) So, that’s something to like the movie for.

  47. cyberax says

    Tony@51:

    It’s the question of how seriously the story takes itself. Indiana Jones films are kinda tongue-in-the-cheek – you don’t expect much in the way of realism from them. Not so with WWZ – it attempts to be serious.

  48. brett says

    The book handles the bizarre unrealism of zombies in the best way possible: it doesn’t try to explain them away with pseudoscience, and has some characters openly admit that they don’t understand why zombies are still active in certain situation. For example, one of the vignettes where zombies being frozen in winter and unthawing in spring to attack again has the interviewee point out that it doesn’t make any sense – the freezing/unfreezing cycles should ruin them. The closest thing we get in terms of hints is that zombie blood has undergone some kind of strange transformation in the zombification process, since it’s consistently described in the books as an “odd black substance”.

  49. says

    cyberax:

    It’s the question of how seriously the story takes itself. Indiana Jones films are kinda tongue-in-the-cheek – you don’t expect much in the way of realism from them. Not so with WWZ – it attempts to be serious.

    Hey, if it works for you, fine.
    I don’t agree. Tongue-in-cheek is fine in the right movie, but I don’t feel that Indy scene was written with that in mind.

  50. Menyambal says

    Regarding suspension of disbelief in comic books. Back when I read them, Marvel Comics would base stories on what would happen if super heroes roamed New York. Like, Peter Parker had to invent his own web shooters, and the web would dissolve at the wrong time.

    DC comics, on the other hand, would just go bonkers. Stories would hinge on characters being fooled by something that would never work in real life. Somebody would use a film projector to project the image of a break-in in progress onto a slate roof in broad daylight, and Superman would fall for it. Or somebody would kiss with poison lipstick, but be fooled by plastic lips. Or pass vital chemicals through lipstick stains. And the stories would be set up as little mysteries, implying that I should be able to figure this shit out (hey, I had a film projector, and I knew that roof thing was crock).

    I can take Superman flying, as the basis of the story, and even excuse them not exploring all the possiblities of that. But when they use the drawn medium to screw with the reader — I mean when the magic lobo wolf turns out to be a guy draped in a wolfskin on a motorcycle armed with a leafblower — it isn’t fun, it’s just insulting.

    So, sure, zombies. But superfast zombies that convert in 11 seconds, that won’t bother to infect a damaged host, but damage the shit out of theyselfs?

  51. A. Noyd says

    I just watched “Her,” so I have no tolerance right now for arguments about how the high level of stupidity in movies like World War Z is a necessary or excusable element of sci-fi. I mean, romanceable AI operating systems aren’t any less absurd than pandemic-generated zombies, but Spike Jonze went out of his way to make his movie coherent—something that other sci-fi movie makers don’t seem to give a hundredth of a fuck about anymore.

  52. laurentweppe says

    Movies like the last horrible Indiana Jones movie violated my SoD on so many levels that I simply couldn’t engage with the movie. A character like Indiana is ostensibly closer to reality than Superman. He shouldn’t be surviving a nuclear explosion, let alone doing so by hiding in a refrigerator

    He drank holy water from the Wound-Healing-Immortality-Giving Magic Cup, thus earning an extra life, Scott Pilgrim style. Don’t blame Spielberg & Lucas if you can’t keep up with their continuity

  53. says

    laurentweppe:

    He drank holy water from the Wound-Healing-Immortality-Giving Magic Cup, thus earning an extra life, Scott Pilgrim style. Don’t blame Spielberg & Lucas if you can’t keep up with their continuity

    (now entering snark mode)
    Yeah, but that doesn’t explain how the refrigerator survived the nuclear blast :P :P :P

  54. says

    A. Noyd:

    I mean, romanceable AI operating systems aren’t any less absurd than pandemic-generated zombies, but Spike Jonze went out of his way to make his movie coherent—something that other sci-fi movie makers don’t seem to give a hundredth of a fuck about anymore.

    I’m glad you mentioned this, bc it’s been tickling the back of my brain (just a gentle tickle mind you).
    Internal consistency and coherency is important to me in movies. Now, I haven’t seen WWZ, but upthread conway said this:

    What bugged me most was that it took eleven seconds from the time of being bit until you were a full-on zombie. So how did the plague spread across oceans?

    One character even says that international air travel makes it easy for diseases to spread around the world. True, but not if you die eleven seconds after contact. Who’d let you on a plane?

    That’s not internally coherent. I’m trying to imagine a group of passengers boarding a plane. If it takes 11 seconds to become a zombie, and you got bit right after your boarding pass was scanned, you’d turn into a zombie before you got to the end of the ramp. The plane should never leave the runway (unless the pilots were sick, I guess, given that silly bit from the movie).

  55. saganite says

    I haven’t seen the movie (the trailers with the zombie piles was enough), but I heard the abridged audiobook. That was a great one (and I’m really looking forward to the unabridged one so I can hear it while hiking). It is completely different, of course. It’s supposed to be the documented witness interviews from a UN specialist travelling the post-World War Z world, talking to people, hearing their individual stories and some of the overview stories of people in charge at the time. I loved the way it was basically a compilation of “genuine eye witness testimony”. The action was largely limited to descriptions of the new (old) type of combat employed to deal with the zombies and the reconstruction efforts and a few personal anecdotes of fighting off zombies. Completely different. Utterly different from what you described here.

  56. Fynn says

    Regarding the Israeli soldier who was saved by having her hand chopped off – I thought she survived because he chopped off her hand before the zombie infection had time to travel up her arm into the rest of her body – not because the zombies don’t like maimed hosts.

  57. says

    Being scientifically literate makes it harder to suspend my disblief, although that wasn’t a problem with Godzilla, nothing cour suspend my disbelief if it involves Gojira, If you are looking for a seriously science driven horror tale, (won’t that make it science fiction?) “The Strain” is a place to start.

  58. Nemo says

    The quest for the “original strain” of the virus, as a prerequisite to developing a cure, is something that also appears in The Last Ship, and it was even in 12 Monkeys, though not so prominently as to ruin that movie for me. It doesn’t make much sense scientifically, but I think the idea behind it must be a form of Platonic thinking — to obtain the virus in its “true”, “pure” form.

  59. mrjonno says

    The book World War Z and the tv series The Walking Dead aren’t primary about zombies, they are how people survive (or don’t) when facing the end of the world. They are both very good

    The film of World War Z is a high budget action film and a platform for Brad Pitt, it’s not that bad as high budget action films go. Saying World War Z is a poor film due to it not making any sense is a bit like saying 300 is a bad film because its historically inaccurate when in fact they are both comic books

  60. says

    mrjonno:
    It’s great that you’ve shared your opinion on WWZ. Others don’t share it, and have expressed their reasons why.
    If you don’t have a problem with movies lacking internal coherency and consistency, fine. But others do. Or do you think everyone should hold the same opinion as you?

  61. mrjonno says

    Or do you think everyone should hold the same opinion as you?
    ———————————————————————————–

    That’s a very strange question when you think about it, as whether you like World War Z isnt very important I’m not sure I really care.

    For something important not thinking people should hold the same opinion is probably not very healthy as it shows a lack of confidence in yourself. So yes I think people should have the same opinion as me until they can persuade me there is a different better opinion, I will then change my opinion but still expect everyone to have the same one as me.

    It reminds when religious people demand people respect their beliefs, while I respect the right of people to have opinions different to mine I don’t respect the opinions themselves, if I did I would have those opinions

  62. says

    mrjonno:

    Saying World War Z is a poor film due to it not making any sense is a bit like saying 300 is a bad film because its historically inaccurate when in fact they are both comic books

    “I didn’t like WWZ bc it didn’t make sense and here are the reasons why…” is a perfectly reasonable position to have and it’s one backed up by reason.
    You said WWZ was good, which you didn’t back up with any reason. You expressed an opinion for which you provide no argument for. You’re not required to of course, but if you’re going to criticize others for stating they didn’t like the movie bc it didn’t make sense, you ought to explain why you thought the movie was good. Those reasons may not change anyone’s mind though, bc people have differing tastes when it comes to movies (I should think this is obvious).

    That’s a very strange question when you think about it, as whether you like World War Z isnt very important I’m not sure I really care.

    I’ve thought about it. It isn’t a strange question. You seem to expect people to share your view on a movie. I think that’s silly.

    I asked the question bc it seems like you’re expecting others to share the same opinion as you. There’s no reason to expect that. I am not trying to change your opinion (and I haven’t seen anyone attempting to change opinions in this thread, merely express them). People have different standards for what they’re looking for in their entertainment. In the case of this movie, several people have expressed that they find problems with the movie. They’ve stated their reasons why. You don’t have to agree with those reasons.

    For something important not thinking people should hold the same opinion is probably not very healthy as it shows a lack of confidence in yourself. So yes I think people should have the same opinion as me until they can persuade me there is a different better opinion, I will then change my opinion but still expect everyone to have the same one as me

    If I express my opinion that abortion should be available to women for any reason at any time bc it’s a health issue and women have the right to make decisions about their bodies as they see fit, I would want people to share that opinion bc it shows respect for the right of women and an acknowledgment of their human rights (wow, long sentence, that).
    But we’re not talking about an issue of human rights. We’re talking about a movie. There’s no good reason for me to expect others to share my opinion on the quality of this movie. You think there is, and you put forth a poor argument in favor of people sharing your opinion.

    It reminds when religious people demand people respect their beliefs, while I respect the right of people to have opinions different to mine I don’t respect the opinions themselves, if I did I would have those opinions

    I’m not talking about respecting the opinions of others. I’m merely stating what should be obvious: some people didn’t like the movie and they’ve expressed their reasons why. No one said you have to agree with or respect the reasons. But to expect people to agree with you is unrealistic.

  63. Denverly says

    For me, it’s more of a “what am I willing to suspend my disbelief for” question than anything else. Zombies? Heck yeah. 11 seconds until zombification? Totally on board. Giant ants in the sewers beneath L.A.? Sweet. A comet turning everyone who looked at it to ash? Brilliant. Huge alligators tended by Betty White in a lake in Maine? Perfect.

    I draw the line at sharks in tornadoes. Although there was one shark movie I just saw about people stuck in a flooded grocery store after a tsunami with sharks picking people off that was relatively entertaining. So I guess that means sharks in grocery stores = ok, sharks in weather = not okay for me.

  64. says

    Denverly:

    For me, it’s more of a “what am I willing to suspend my disbelief for” question than anything else. Zombies? Heck yeah. 11 seconds until zombification? Totally on board.

    Lack of internal consistency doesn’t bug you I take it? Like I said, if you can be turned in 11 seconds, how is any plane ever going to take off?

  65. Denverly says

    @ Tony, no not really. I’d never enjoy a movie if I focused just on that. Zombies are already outrageous. Worrying about how long it takes to become a zombie is moot at that point, in my opinion. Slow zombies don’t make for Brad Pitt-types of movies, and the 3-hour zombie “conversion” doesn’t make for “holy crap somebody make a fort out of luggage like that will really even help” moments. It just doesn’t bother me.

  66. Nemo says

    @mrjonno #65:

    “300” is a bad film because it’s historically inaccurate. Or, not merely inaccurate, but inaccurate to the point of distorting some historical facts into their very opposites.

    But technically, I guess you could say, that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s just part of what makes it an evil movie.

  67. laurentweppe says

    “300″ is a bad film because it’s historically inaccurate. Or, not merely inaccurate, but inaccurate to the point of distorting some historical facts into their very opposites.
    But technically, I guess you could say, that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s just part of what makes it an evil movie.

    Indeed: I, for one, am convinced that if Hollywood took the the esthetics of 300 and used it to make a reasonably accurate movie about the siege of Montevideo with Lena Headey cast as Anita Garibaldi, they’d have the perfect blend of badass action, historical accuracy, and cheering for the right side.

  68. Kay White says

    All zombie movies have bad science or bad logic of some kind (at least all of the ones I’ve seen, anyway), but the problem with World War Z is that it specifically put this emphasis on the science of the pathogen, thus drawing attention to the stupidity of the science where most zombie movies wisely brush over it. It also had probably the most stupid and inconsistent science I’ve ever seen in a zombie movie, ironically enough. And yeah, it was in no way actually engaging or interesting.

    I’d really like to see a more serious scientific analysis of zombie movies and media in general. I’m not an expert by any means, but I would guess that The Last of Us (a video game, not a movie, I know) probably has the most scientifically sound zombie plague. It’s caused by a hypothetical mutated-to-infect-humans version of cordyceps. Nobody is undead (they just have brain damage that causes them to be hyper-aggressive), infected can be killed in the same way normal humans can be killed (the idea that only a headshot can stop a zombie has always been absurd), and the infection even has an interesting life cycle: 1) infected who are ‘crazy’ and similar to traditional zombies, 2) fungal growths slowly take over their head causing them to go blind, which they compensate for with clicking noises used for a sort of echolocation, 3) the continuation of the previous step, eventually resulting in fungal growths all over the body that almost resemble armor plating, and 4) the death of the host, which causes the fungus to grow through their whole body and release spores into the air, starting the cycle over again.

    Honestly, the only thing that seemed ridiculous to me is that people only wore their gas masks when they specifically saw spores in the air — but I guess that’s just a ‘suspension of disbelief’ issue. I’m sure in a real situation like that, people would sleep with their gas masks on.