Culture

Can Brad Pitt's Besieged Adaptation of World War Z Be Saved?

Brad Pitt/Photo © Simon James/Shutterstock
Brad Pitt/Photo © Simon James/Shutterstock

The movie adaptation of World War Z has come under siege. The filmmakers behind this adaptation of Max Brooks' zombie apocalypse novel starring Brad Pitt have been beating back an onslaught of attacks and setbacks so relentless that it makes an un-dead invasion look like an ant infestation.

On Friday we learned that screenwriter Drew Goddard (TV's "Lost") got his hands dirty with a series of substantial re-shoots on the film's ending. Taken alone, there would be little reason to interpret re-shoots or a revised finale as a distress flare from a troubled production. But it's an ominous sign nonetheless, particularly given Goddard was actually sub-contracted by his "Lost" boss, Damon Lindelof ("Prometheus"), who was brought on last month amid revelations that the production had been a magnet for calamity and chaos from the get-go.

Add to this dark picture today's revelation that Brad Pitt and director Mark Forster have stopped speaking to each other and the film's future begins to look undeniably bleak. In the best case scenario, this is the moment when the project hits rock bottom, paving the way for a code-red rescue effort. The doomsday version: This development represents the equivalent of the terrifying sequence in the book, when the people of India are doomed after zombies lock down the ports preventing any hope of escape.

These are tense times for fans of the book. The production seems destined to to take its place alongside "The Lovely Bones" as cautionary tales about how, left unattended, Hollywood struggles to suppress its primal instinct to do very bad things to very good books. (Other recent examples of tragically botched adaptations include: "Time Traveler's Wife," "The Road," "The Golden Compass," "Gulliver's Travels," and "John Carter of Mars." )

The problems on "World War Z" can be sourced to a power vacuum that goes along with having a heavy-hitting movie star like Pitt pulling double duty as both producer and lead actor while dividing his attention between a slate of high-profile projects, including the Cannes breakout hit, "Killing them Softly," an adaptation of George V. Higgins' Cogan's Trade. Forster, who lacked experience overseeing a big special-effects tentpole like this one, then became somewhat of a lame duck director, unable to command the troops hired on to bolster his inexperience. The production then became a revolving door through which key crew members have been brought on to plug holes in the leaky vessel before exiting in frustration.

Right now, the film's most immediate and pressing issue surrounds the film's ending. Or lack thereof. Given that the film's star and director have stopped speaking to each other, it's unlikely that they'll solve this riddle to anyone's genuine satisfaction. And, to be fair, Brooks' book did not easily lend itself to adaptation. The job called for a screenwriter skilled in the art of smuggling complex political allegories inside crowd-pleasing action spectacles to tease a cohesive narrative out of the book's series of interconnected journalistic accounts of a zombie invasion. Our first picks might have been Stephen Gaghan, Tony Gilroy or even "Breaking Bad" show-runner, Vince Gilligan. In fact, we'd love to have seen what either of those guys might have come up with if they directed the thing as well.

Either way, given the highly visible players involved (and the $200 million or so at stake) there is a chance the film will emerge from this series of obstacles intact -- if not stronger -- as a result of its struggles. But if recent experience is any precedent, odds are Hollywood may have already succeeded in eating World War Z's brain and sucking its soul dry.

This is a make-or-break moment in the life of this film. Weigh in before it's too late with your prescription for how to save it from following "John Carter of Mars" through the black hole of books lost in translation.

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