Geek Speak

Did the World War Z film ruin the book?

Welcome to a new column called Geek Speak, in which we take on an aspect of geek culture each week.

After years of hype, numerous setbacks and rampant rumors of a troubled shoot, the big-screen adaptation of Max Brooks' World War Z, the greatest zombie novel of all time, is coming to theaters on Friday. And fans couldn't be more pissed.

The trailer reveals zombies that not only run, but act like army ants in some kind of hive-mind cooperative system. Just as bad, there's Brad Pitt's pretty-boy face trying to save the world. Needless to say, none of that was in the book. On millions of blog posts and forums, on Facebook and Twitter, and wherever angry nerds gather to gripe, the refrain is the same: They ruined the book!

That's nonsense.

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When I met Max Brooks last year at the Zombie Town Hall, we talked briefly about the film. He was serenely nonchalant about the whole thing. To paraphrase, his take was that they had made a movie with the same title of his book. They didn't ruin the book, because hey, his book was still the book. In other words, all they can ruin is their movie -- no matter what happens, the book he wrote is still the same as it ever was.

That's an important point, so let me belabor is a bit. World War Z, the movie, did not ruin World War Z, the book. It cannot ruin World War Z the book. It's just not possible. Let's say, for the sake of argument, you go see the movie. And you hate it. It's awful and nonsensical and takes nothing from book, or maybe what it does take it twists it in some stupid way. Okay, that sucked. You just spent $10, plus whatever outrageous amount for snacks, to see a shitty movie.

But when you come home and open your copy of World War Z, the book you have known and loved, proselytized to friends and read over and over, is that book going to be any different? Is the storyline going to have somehow been altered to match the shitshow you saw on screen? Is Brad Pitt going to have been magically inserted into your favorite scenes? No! No matter what happens in that movie theater over the two hours you watch the movie, the book will be the same as it ever was.

But wait, you say -- what they ruined was the chance for the story you love to be made into a movie. Instead we got this thing with Brad Pitt and running zombies acting like army ants and because of that, there will never be a movie that lived up to the one in your head while you read the book. To this I say, "eh, so it goes."

Look, this was all but a foregone conclusion when the book rights were sold. It almost always is, and with a book as non-Hollywood friendly as World War Z there was no chance for a "pure" adaptation. There's no main character! The book is written as a series of interviews compiled into a comprehensive report to the UN about the history of a years-long conflict! What the fuck was Hollywood going to do with that? Of course it was going to turn it into a big dumb action movie with zombies! I'm not even sure the book as written could be made into a movie, at least not one of reasonable length. Maybe a six-part faux documentary, which would be totally sweet, but not a two-hour movie that people -- and by this I mean people who weren't already rabid fans of the book and/or the zombie genre in general, not people like you and me -- would go pay $10 to see in a theater during the summer blockbuster season.

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato

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