I’ve been highly critical of and already disappointed in World War Z for like, three years now. I’ve called it a nightmare, I’ve been harsh on Brad Pitt’s responsibilities and decision-making regarding this project, and I’m not optimistic for the film’s chances at the box office. Like The Lone Ranger, the hole WWZ is sitting in is so deep they’re going to have make a metric ton of cash to break even and while WWZ opens against Monsters University, which isn’t direct competition, it follows one week after Man of Steel, which I’m expecting to have tremendous word of mouth carrying it into a strong second weekend. If WWZ were placed in August I’d feel a lot better about its chances. Apparently Brad Pitt and Paramount are sweating it, too, because Pitt’s on the cover of Vanity Fair for a feature called “Brad’s Big Bet” that’s all about the troubled making of WWZ.
So this is the angle now, is it? Painting Pitt as the guy who loved the project so much he shepherded it through a tumultuous pre-production period and hellish film shoot (that included forgetting to pay millions of dollars in cast and crew expenses in Malta, which is disorganization on a grand scale), and reshooting the ending of the movie as some kind of heroic maneuver instead of calling it what it is: a f*ck up. When you reshoot the entire third act of a movie, it’s not a fix-it, it’s a f*ck up. You’re only in that position because you’ve f*cked up. Having Damon Lindelof wax rhapsodic about the Paramount executives having the stones to choose the harder “road two” of completely re-writing and reshooting the ending doesn’t suddenly make it a story of bravery and commitment. It’s just a story about a colossal f*ck up.
What baffles me is Lindelof’s statement that as they started working on the script, “a lot of stuff had to fall away for the story to come together”. I’m not exaggerating when I say the industry-wide opinion of WWZ’s script as drafted by JM Straczynski—replaced by Pitt & Co. by Matt Carnahan, writer of preachy political thrillers like State of Play—was Oscar good. It was the closest thing to a sure bet a movie can ever be. It seemed impossible to screw up. So I’m not sure what Pitt and Lindelof thought needed to “fall away”. It had the geopolitical angle Pitt loved, it had shady government figures and corruption and cover-ups. So why did it need extensive re-writes not once but twice?
I don’t doubt that Pitt loved the book. After all, he engaged in a bitter and expensive bidding war with Leonardo DiCaprio for the rights. But I really wonder what Pitt thought he was buying. Did he really think he was getting a PG-13 summer tent pole out of it? WWZ is DARK. It’s not family friendly. I don’t know who looked at it and thought “summer action movie romp!” And I don’t love that Pitt is being portrayed as a savior when the project was actually in good shape all the way back in 2009, only to get dismantled by Pitt & Co.
This was not an “unfilmable” film, no matter how dense the book. They had a script, it was great, and yet somewhere along the way it devolved into Attack of the Killer Ant Zombies. The question VF should be asking isn’t “how did you make this difficult movie” but “how did you blow a no-brainer?” The answers to the second question are less about Pitt the Savior and a lot more about money and fear.
Click here to read the Vanity Fair excerpt.