Books vs. Movies: World War Z

This post is the first of a new series comparing books and the movies based on them. People are often saying that books are better than movies, and I want to find out why. The first book/movie I have decided to analyze is World War Z.

One thing that I am very aware of is that the way you view the two versions of the same stories is dependent on which you experienced first. I saw the movie World War Z first, despite all my friends’ warnings against it. They were right. I hated it. Brad Pitt is a good actor, but this was a terrible vehicle for him. In the movie, there is a disease that reanimates people when they die, then they swarm around, eating any meat they can find, animal or human. Of course, if a person is bitten, he or she dies and turns into a zombie and rises to infect more people.

The problem with the movie was that I just didn’t care. First, there were the people. I felt some sort of empathy for Gerry Lane, played by Brad Pitt, but I hated his family. They were wooden and stereotypical, giving Mr. Pitt nothing to work off of. Also, I hated the fast zombies. It wasn’t until I read the book that I realized the zombies were supposed to be fast, but it didn’t work for me in the film. Slow zombies are scary; fast zombies are comical.

That being said, there were a couple of things I liked about the movie. One was the special effects, especially the scene where the zombies are climbing on top of each other to scale the wall into Jerusalem (one of the very few scenes stemming from the book). Unfortunately, the zombies reminded me more of cockroaches than of anything really scary.

The second thing I liked was the scene where Gerry Lane was in the zombie-infested wing of a health facility working on a cure. There was some real tension and suspense in that scene, reminiscent of the movie Alien and its sequels. This was really the only part I enjoyed. Even the ending left me cold. They had made progress against the zombies, but were far from eradication, a result move-goers expect. (I just found out there is to be a sequel, which is probably the reason the zombie crisis was not resolved.)

Now to the book. I picked up the book (written by Max Brooks) only because the friends who told me the movie was bad, told me the book was good. OK, this time I listened to them. However, I was very surprised when I started reading. Gerry Lane was nowhere to be found, and the whole focus of the movie (finding the antidote) was also not in the book. Huh?

This is why the order in which you experience the book and movie is important. The book is written as a series of interviews detailing the experiences of people around the globe at the beginning, middle, and end of the zombie war. There is no main character — we don’t even know who the interviewer. So, I spent the first third of the book wondering where Gerry Lane was and when the real action would start. After a while I realized that wasn’t going to happen and sat back to enjoy the book as written.

It wasn’t suspenseful; it wasn’t a book of horror. The dispassionate style of writing may even take it out of the realm of science fiction and into literary fiction. After all, it is a New York Times #1 Best Seller, so it isn’t just a book for readers of genre. Also, rather than relying on plot, it is more concerned with the human condition, a hallmark of the literary novel. Once all my preconceived notions were gone, I enjoyed the book.

Now, having read the book, I feel for screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Damon Lindelof, having to create a movie-worthy plot out of it. They had to start from scratch, using the basic premise of the book, and create something entirely different. I assume director Marc Forster had something to say about it as well. But like I said, for me, the movie fell flat, and I can’t imagine what the sequel will be like. Hopefully, I won’t have to see it.