When you know you’re about to face a horde of ravenous, infected, slavering creatures scrambling to get their hands on dwindling reserves (and that's just the press eyeing the refreshments table), it’s helpful to know Brad Pitt will be around to help out. But though he popped briefly in to say hello and admit he hadn’t wanted to make a zombie film until he read Max Brook’s source novel, it was up to director Marc Forster to bear the brunt of questions after Paramount screened some footage from World War Z on the studio’s lot in Los Angeles last week,
First, though, Empire got to see a couple of scenes from the film, largely building off of what we’ve seen in the trailers. Beware of spoilers, though they will be minimal.
Pitt’s Gerry Lane, along with his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters are caught in a tidal wave of terror when the zombie outbreak hits Philadelphia in the middle of rush hour. In the footage we watched, you realise why a motorbike cop is squished by that runaway garbage truck (zombie at the wheel!)
Chaos builds quickly as the scampering, leaping, seemingly unstoppable creatures begin to pick off screaming people and smashing into vehicles like wild animals. One effective motif is the use of a dropped child’s toy counting down in educational fun, a dark mirror of the 12 seconds it takes for someone bitten to turn into a creepy-eyed zomboid.
Cut to the bowels of an aircraft carrier and Gerry is ordered to help out with the growing global crisis. He demurs; his focus is now on his family, but he’s given a cold ultimatum: help out or his wife and kids can’t stay on board and rely on the relative safety of the ship. Reluctantly (or, let’s face it, there wouldn’t be much of a globe-trotting movie) Lane agrees.
One of his ports of call is Israel, where the city has built a giant protective wall on the urging of one of its officials who explains the concept of the tenth man – whereby any idea, no matter how seemingly insane, should be considered even when nine of those in authority have ruled it out. After hearing chatter coming from China about zombies, the city has gone into full isolation mode, but is still admitting survivors.
Then the swarm – there really is no better word for the way these zombies act in the scene – begins to breach the wall and Lane is quickly led through tunnels and catacombs to a waiting helicopter... But not before running into more of the undead. There’s one moment in particular, even given the PG-13 rating, which will have you flinching. It involves an arm, but we’ll say no more.
After the lights go up, Forster arrived to talk about what we’d seen and the film in general. When asked if he thought the talk of trouble and rushed development was true, he quickly shot down such thinking. “I wouldn't say it was rushed into production, it's not the right way to talk about it. We were developing the script and when you're developing a film on a massive scale from scratch, on these productions you're never completely prepared because you can prep the movie for a year and still come up with things.
"There's never enough time to prep something on that scale. We walked in there and were prepared. We finished the film on time, we didn't go over schedule, so that's a sign for me that we on time in that sense, and that's usually a sign that things are out of control. We recreated the ending, but everything else worked.”
When asked why it takes 12 seconds in the footage we saw for the infection to turn someone into a zombie (one of many elements not in Brooks' original book, which only ever features slow creatures), Forster explained that it was a narrative choice. “We discussed it for a long time and I decided that for dramatic reasons, we decided it was 12 seconds. You'll see in the movie, in different parts of the world, sometimes it takes a little longer, and it was a number we felt for dramatic storytelling it was the right amount.”
As for why he wanted to tackle a giant zombie thriller in the first place? He’s a fan and, according to Forster, the time is right once more. “Zombie movies seem to become popular in a time of change. In the '70s when they were popular that was a time of change and now it's the same thing,” he says. “So many things are changing in the world and I think that's why people are attracted to zombie movies. So whatever that change may be, there are signs everywhere and I'm an optimist and hope it'll be a positive change. But still... change can be scary!”
There’ll be more from Forster on the movie in the next issue of Empire, out at the end of next month. World War Z hits our screens on June 21.