Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Ghoul Versus The History Of World War Z

World War Z is based on a book of the same name by Max Brooks, and when I based on I mean “they share the same title”. This is one of the most baffling and frustrating things Hollywood does, they spend millions of dollars to buy the rights to an established franchise and then use virtually NOTHING from said franchise.

This accomplishes in only alienating fans of the established franchise, who admittedly are NEVER the intended audience of the movie. So why go the trouble of jumping through all the legal hoops and spending tons of money that could have been better used elsewhere when you could have just as easily called your movie Nightgirl instead of Catwoman? Robot Uprising instead of I, Robot? Cyborg Avenger instead of the remake of Robocop? Gentleman Freedom Fighter instead of V For Vendetta? Yeah, we'll get to this one someday when I'm brave enough to take on the Wachowski body of work.

As said best by the author of the first two drafts of World War Z's screenplay, “If all you wanted to do was an empty-headed Rambo-versus-the-zombies action film, why option this really elegant, smart book?” In-freaking-deed.

The story behind the making the movie itself is a fascinating one, and very telling of the way the movie industry functions today. Even before Brooks' book was published in 2006 it was already the subject of a Hollywood bidding war, as everyone saw its huge potential as a movie franchise. Brooks ultimately decided to sell the rights to Brad Pitt's company, which ends his involvement with anything.

Writer of about every medium J. Michael Straczynski (commonly known as JMS because damn that name is not fun to type), was hired to adapt it to the screen. We'll also get to JMS someday, because I have a LOT to say about him. Just know he can be quite awesome, and often is. JMS' first draft of the script was considered to be excellent and a fairly loyal adaption of the book. The book itself was considered to be a challenge to adapt due its structure being numerous first person accounts of a zombie apocalypse, but by many accounts he did it justice.

Enter the director of the film, Marc Foster. He rose to fame quickly with acclaimed cerebral films like Monster's Ball, Stranger Than Fiction (a favourite of mine), and the Kite Runner. In 2008 he tried entering the action genre with the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. It got VERY mixed reviews, but they shared a common sentiment, that the action sequences were directed poorly. Foster wanted to prove that he could make a good action movie, so he signed on for World War Z... which was NEVER an action story in the first place.  Yeah. He and JMS are said to have clashed from the start, producing the Rambo quote I referenced earlier. JMS said “Marc wanted to make a big, huge action movie that wasn’t terribly smart and had big, huge action pieces in it.”, so he did a second draft of his script to try to accommodate some of these ideas.

This was also a no go, summed up by JMS as “They slammed the door so hard in my face it came off the hinges.” Matthew Michael Carnahan, a writer known for heavy political thrillers, was brought in to rewrite the script. Under his pen, the script was transformed from being like the book with its first person accounts to a world-hopping action adventure Hollywood style with our hero battling zombies to ultimately get home to his wife and kids. And likely then take them out to watch a baseball game and eat some goddamn apple pie.

Despite all this, doubt still lingered over the story from studio executives. Carnahan's script ended with a gigantic battle in Russia, where the hero had now turned into a Ramboesque zombie slaying bad ass. They feared the ending was too dark for a summer movie, especially since our hero loses his wife to another man. Even with numerous issues over the ending, production began. Yes you read that right, a movie with a borderline unfinished script began filming.

The movie was greenlit with a budget of $150 million by Paramount Studios and with that the Hollywood machine began. Of particular interest is in the book the zombies originated in China, which was in the shooting script. This was changed because China has become the second biggest movie market in the world but they only allow a limited number of foreign movies in their country per year.  It was feared the outbreak beginning there would hurt the movie's chances of getting imported, so it was changed to India.  More and more potential blockbusters are now shot with things like this in mind. Iron Man 3 especially, it even has scenes shot exclusively for the Chinese release.

Almost immediately the movie went overbudget due to things like shooting on location in difficult areas and the number of extras involved. The production teams involved had never worked on a movie of this scope, and really didn't know how to allocate funds properly.  There's a sad story where the clean up crew for one shoot found a drawer stuffed with purchase orders that added up to MILLIONS of dollars, completely forgotten about.  There were also casting issues, stars like Matthew Fox, Ed Harris, and Bryan Cranston all had to drop out because of other commitments. Mix in all kind of accounts of conflicts on the set between the creative team (rumours at one point are Brad Pitt stopped speaking to Foster), producers and executives quitting or getting fired, and you had what was fast becoming a trainwreck.

Things only got worse when they went to Budapest, Hungary to shoot the film's Russian scenes and all of their guns were seized by the government's counter-terrorism force. Their argument was that the guns weren't properly modified to not work, even demonstrating on live television how easy it was to convert them to fire live rounds to once again show how AWESOME European television is. It was around this point Paramount cut off all funding to the movie. Foster and crew were forced to cut many scenes from the ending and improvise as best they could.

Three months later Foster presented his final cut to the studio executives. Word is after the credits rolled, everyone was uncomfortably silent just like you see in comedy movies.  One executive was said to have called that day "the worst of her life".  It was universally agreed the movie needed a new ending. Already an estimated $40 million over budget, the film was given more money to reshoot. Enter Damon Lindelof. ...Record scratch. Just kidding, he actually is the good guy in all of this!

Lindelof's idea was to cut the entire Russia sequence all together and keep the hero the everyday normal man he'd been at the beginning of the film. He also found there were other problems in the story than just the ending, so he brought his friend Drew Goddard (whom he had worked with on the TV show Lost) in to help fix those. The studio agreed, and an estimated $20 million later we finally got the film that made it to the big screen.

So was the film any good? Was all this worth it?  Click here to find out!