Monday, July 15, 2019

The Dead That Don't Play Sport

So, did you enjoy that wonderful weekend of sport?  All culminating in a Sunday dominated by three of the most tedious excuses for sport ever devised by man: tennis, cricket and Formula One.  It was non-stop non-excitement.  I thought that I'd just put that out there, to reassure anyone else left unmoved by it all that they are not alone.  It isn't that I've got a downer on sports - just the boring ones.  Which are actually most of them.  Especially when they are wall-to-wall on our TV screens.  I particularly object when the BBC shows Wimbledon simultaneously on its two main channels in prime time - is this what I pay my licence fee for?  (When the Wimbledon Women's Singles finals lasted less than our, it left the BBC with a quandary - for a while they thought that they might actually have to show some proper programming, but they managed to find some tennis still being played somewhere in Wimbledon to fill up a few more hours).  As you have undoubtedly gathered, I wasn't watching the sport over the weekend.  So what, I hear you ask, was I doing instead?  Well, nothing energetic, as my recent lack of sleep thanks to several overly warm nights, although I did put the car through its MoT (it passed), which is always slightly stressful.  Other than that, I've been spending some quality time on my sofa catching up with various films I've recorded over the past few weeks.  The two stand outs this weekend were a Pete Walker would be shocker, Schizo, and the far more recent Brad Pitt zombie epic World War Z.

The latter film is of interest as another example of a property, in this case a novel, being bought by a studio which has no clear idea of how to translate it into another medium. The attraction of the source material was obvious: a critically acclaimed and best-selling novel about zombies, which are, of course, the current movie monster de jour, thanks to the ongoing success of things like The Walking Dead.  The problem, however, is that the novel World War Z doesn't feature a conventional linear narrative, instead presenting a series of fictional reports and reminiscences of a past zombie apocalypse, as collected by a UN investigator trying to compile a history of these past events.  Which, in cinematic terms, for a zombie film at least, would be a non-starter.  Which meant that a whole new narrative structure had to be constructed by the film's makers, which is where all of the movie's problems stem from.  Most crucially, they move the plot's events into the present, so that they are no longer recollections being experienced at a distance by the protagonist, but rather an ongoing story line being experienced in real time by the characters.  The end result is a hugely episodic plot, with the action moving jerkily from set-piece to set-piece, as action sequences jostle uncomfortably with expository dialogue and situations. 

The film's need for a conventional linear narrative means that everything has to be thrown at the audience simultaneously - back story, action spectacle, exposition come so thick and fast that there is little room for character development and the plot's driving mechanism of the lead character trying to find the origin of the global zombie outbreak and a possible way to combat it, never seems to really take flight.  It seems to much of an obvious device to move the main character through a series of widely dispersed locations, with the resolution feeling almost arbitrary and too reliant upon luck.  The whole structure of World War Z is reminiscent of a classic Bond movie, with its constant globe-trotting, action set-pieces and encounters with various groups of characters who either help or hinder the hero. (which might not be entirely coincidental, as it shares its director with Bond movie Quantum of Solace).  Unfortunately, it moves so abruptly from set-piece to set-piece that we never really get to know any of these characters before they are either killed or simply left behind as the plot moves on.  In the case of the climactic sequence at the Welsh WHO lab, we never even learn the names of the supporting characters - they are all billed in the credits as 'WHO doctor'.  It also doesn't help that the zombies themselves are presented as a such anonymous monsters, diluting any sense of menace they might present.  Which isn't to say that World War Z isn't an enjoyable couple of hours - it is actually very well made, with many of the individual set-pieces effectively and excitingly presented.  There are also some very good acting performances, even though many of the supporting cast are short-changed by the episodic script which just doesn't give them sufficient screen time to create characters we can care about.  In the final analysis, the movie's biggest problem is that it simply doesn't hold together as a whole, throwing incident and exposition at the audience which, in its source material, were carefully built up as an analysis of historical events, but here are presented as a frenzied, and sometimes near incomprehensible, stream of currently developing narrative.



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