Script Rewrites Plague 'World War Z'

Monday, 24 Jun 2013 10:51 AM

By James Hirsen

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With a $66 million take, the zombie movie “World War Z,” starring Brad Pitt, did reasonably well at the box office in its opening weekend. However, the film still faces challenges to its profitability, due to the movie’s swollen production and marketing budget.
 
“Z” was denied the weekend’s top spot by Disney’s “Monsters University,” a G-rated animated film in the same vein as countless other super-successful family-style flicks, which these days are pretty much paying the bulk of Hollywood’s bills.
 
“Monsters” beat “Z” by about $16 million, hauling in over $82 million.
 
“World War Z" is based on the 2006 book of the same title, written by the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, author Max Brooks.
 
The plot of the film revolves around a world that has been besieged by hordes of zippy zombies, who are able to turn average folks into fellow zombies with a single bite. Pitt’s character is eventually told that, because of his expertise as a former U.N. operative, he must investigate the cause of the zombie phenomenon, which is thought to be viral in nature, and assist in finding a cure for the outbreak.
 
He reluctantly agrees to take the assignment for the sake of his family's safety, and Pitt’s character sets out on a journey to various far-flung locales in order to find out how to combat the zombie plague.
 
The road to the big screen for “World War Z” features a rather bumpy history. It's one of those nettlesome projects that can give film professionals nightmares. Reportedly, the initial script, written by “Babylon 5” creator J. Michael Straczynski, faithfully followed the book’s premise, focusing on the main character’s investigation of the origin of the zombie plague.
 
In Hollywood, scripts that are repeatedly rewritten frequently get trapped in a cycle known to insiders as “development hell.”
 
In his producer role, Pitt, with the backing of executives at Paramount, discarded the Straczynski script and hired Matthew Michael Carnahan, writer of political thrillers including “Lions For Lambs” and “The Kingdom.”
 
China was the country of origin for the zombie virus in Brooks’ book, related to the segment in the novel that involves a black market trade in human organs. However, Paramount executives, like so many others in the industry, are afraid to upset the film gatekeepers since China now ranks as the second biggest film market in the world.
 
Consequently, the film’s story line was altered to have the virus originate in the country of North Korea, a place with an inconsequential movie market.
 
Even after the new script had been completed, the project became bogged down in pre-production because of the difficulty that was being experienced in putting the financing pieces together. When the film was thought to have been finished and the final edit was presented to the studio, Paramount executives were less than satisfied with the director’s cut after having screened the zombie saga, so the December 2012 release date was cancelled.
 
Paramount exec Marc Evans told Vanity Fair that, following the screening of the film, the room was filled with the worst possible commentary from studio bosses — dead silence.
 
“It was, like, 'Wow. The ending of our movie doesn’t work,'” Evans said. “I believed in that moment we needed to reshoot the movie.”
 
Paramount studio chiefs made the decision to rewrite and reshoot the final 40 minutes of the film, almost a third of the total footage. After a new script was completed, it then had to be cast and reshot, so the previous $125 million budget quickly ballooned to $200 million.
 
Pitt and his fellow filmmakers turned to television for fresh ideas. “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof was recruited to rewrite the new final act of “Z.” Lindelof brought along Drew Goddard, who is a fellow “Lost” staffer and a co-writer of “Cabin in the Woods.” As a result of the multiple scripts and numerous rewrites, the movie’s credits ended up being loaded with writers.
 
The resulting film has some annoying incongruities, such as zombies who walk stiffly with apparent partial rigor mortis but are nonetheless able to run like Olympic sprinters.
 
Additionally, the updated ending of “World War Z” possesses a totally different look and feel from the first portion of the film. It features Pitt and a whole new set of cast members exploring the dimly lit hallways of a medical lab facility. It makes one think that the “Lost” writers may have had too much influence on the segment because it comes across more like the production quality of an episode of a television show rather than a motion picture.
 
Inconsistencies aside, the first part of the movie does present a global catastrophe with an enormous epic scale, wide shots, massive action scenes, and a breakneck pace.
 
Paramount is said to be considering whether to green-light a sequel. Everyone in Hollywood craves a franchise film series a la “The Dark Knight” or “Iron Man.” The filmmakers said publically that they aspired to make “World War Z” the first in a trilogy.
 
In a not-so-subtle hint of things to come, the new final act ends with Pitt telling moviegoers, “This isn’t the end. Not even close.”
 
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
 
 

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