World War Z: Hollywood’s latest in a string of high-profile book murders. These murders have been notable for the way the victim is left mutilated beyond recognition, even by close friends: those that knew them best.
The trailer for World War Z was released yesterday. The movie looks to be less related to its source material than to a staccato parade of Hollywood disaster films, issuing loudly forth over the last ten years. I say “disaster,” but there have even been a zombie entry (I Am Legend.)
In the trailer’s 2:27 running time we see, by my count, 130 cuts, yielding an average shot-length of… 1.1 seconds. This type of assaultive cutting seems to suggest that seeing nothing new will be all right, if we can only see it fast enough. I checked the I Am Legend trailer to see if things had changed since 2007. (I recognize that a single, vaguely-related film is a questionable sample.) They had. In that trailer (2:43) we get about 100 cuts. Granted, that trailer has some world building to do.
World War Z doesn’t waste any such time getting to the zombies. It drafts in all the signifiers of pretty, white American privilege as quick as it can. Then it menaces those privileges briefly with zombies. I won’t go so far as to say that World War Z’s trailer menaces American people with zombies, because it doesn’t look that the people with actual faces (Brad Pitt, his family) will suffer any real harm. If they do, I can guarantee that their deaths will be as clean as the medium permits.
Shaky-cam photography springs up at the perfect moment to capitalize on 9/11 imagery: ground level POV of smoke and flames rising after an unseen explosion/collapse. Then civilians flee, screaming on foot, and Brad Pitt climbs into his shiny black car. But ultimately, they have to ditch the car: slummin’ it.
In this sort of film, the 9/11 assault on urban America happens. What’s different about the fantasy is, after the initial trauma, the enemy is present in an enormous faceless horde. This endless horde can be shot at with an endless array of expensive weaponry. They’re among us, and available for slaughter.
The CGI horde is popular and convenient, partially because we don’t believe in it. The CGI figures piling up in this trailer don’t actually register as humans (or infected/zombified humans) but rather as something altogether different from us. That difference is important, because it allows for any number of horrific acts of violence and dismemberment against them to be permissible– and entertaining. In real life, unfortunately, our “enemies” seem to be quite human, and, maybe fortunately, quite far away.
This unrealism is one of the other reasons that assaultively fast cutting is becoming, in these sorts of movies, the norm. It allows for comfortable distance between content and viewer. It’s no secret that long takes nurture an (often uncomfortable) sense of reality-as-lived. The long we remain in one cinematic place, one perspective, the more we begin to form an identity within the reality of the film. So if you insist on cutting multiple times in the same second, you can safely sanitize your film of any reality.
The trouble comes when the reality you’re attempting to sanitize away is: those people your military is dismembering? They’re human.
But of all the films guilty of the tendency I’m describing, it’s true that World War Z looks pretty toothless. The main problem with the trailer, if one can be narrowed out, is that it’s all been done before. Some have described the movie as a scaling-up of the zombie film. But it doesn’t really look like a zombie film to me. It looks like a disaster film with zombies slipped in, in the same place that a disastrous-weather-pattern or a giant-roving-beast or a disease might be.