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Rants And Raves: Max Brooks And 'World War Z'

June 20, 2013 7:54 a.m.

Hollywood’s version of the zombie apocalypse invades theaters this weekend with Brad Pitt and “World War Z” (opening June 21 throughout San Diego). But the film uses little more than the title of Max Brooks’ best-selling novel.

Related Story: Rants And Raves: Max Brooks And 'World War Z'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Max Brooks transcription

ANCHOR INTRO: Hollywood’s version of the zombie apocalypse invades theaters this weekend with Brad Pitt and “World War Z.” But KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says the film uses little more than the title of Max Brooks’ best-selling novel.

WWZ (ba).wav 3:55

TAG: “World War Z” opens in theaters tomorrow.


Brad Pitt and a massive horde of zombies invade theaters this weekend with World War Z. But the invasion really began 6 years ago with Max Brooks’ book.

CLIP It goes by many names, the Crisis, the Dark Years, the Walking Plague, as well as newer and more hip titles such as World War Z or Z War I, I personally dislike this moniker as it implies an inevitable Z War II.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando wants to drive people back to the book and speaks with author Max Brooks. That’s coming up next on Morning Edition.

As someone who read and loved Max Brooks’ “World War Z,” let me just say that the film opening this weekend should be renamed “Brad Pitt Saves the World.” There’s a reason the best zombie films – starting with George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” -- come from outside the Hollywood system. It’s because at their very core, zombie films are about anarchy and destruction of social order. Hollywood, on the other hand, is all about maintaining the status quo with the reassuring message that everything will be okay, even in the zombie apocalypse.

CLIP Trailer I won’t leave without my family

The film of “World War Z” turns Max Brooks’ reflective collection of interviews into a summer action blockbuster in which a handsome white American male sets out to single handedly find the cure to the zombie plague as well as save his family. It’s precisely the story Brooks did not want to tell.

MAX BROOKS: Every zombie story that I have ever come across in any medium always dealt with a guy or a group of people and they have to get from point A to point B and all the adventures they have along the way.

Brooks wants to look at zombies as a global crisis, what he calls a macro-threat.

MAX BROOKS: So I had all these questions whenever I would see any of these micro adventures, I would say well what is the government doing? What are other countries doing? And how would you actually fight a war like this?

Brooks answers these questions in his 2006 novel. His approach is to build the macro picture from micro stories. It’s like a photo mosaic made up of hundreds of smaller individual images. The movie focuses on the big picture and the epic scale of the zombie onslaught, but it’s the smaller details of the book that prove more chilling and memorable. Like this scene set in Finland.

CLIP As the weather warms and the bodies of frozen zombies begin to reanimate elements of the UN N4 have arrived for their annual sweep and clear. Every year the undead’s numbers dwindle at current trends this area is expected to be completely secure within a decade.

Brooks’ book explores what happens when a global crisis causes all the infrastructure you have always relied on to fall apart and then have to be rebuilt.

MAX BROOKS: Zombies are a great tool for exploring societal collapse. I think the world has become so interconnected that all you have to do is pull a few of these threads and the whole tapestry unwinds. I wanted to explore what would happen when the global supply chain is cut? What happens when the military sets up to fight one kind of war and is suddenly confronted with another?

Brooks says the popularity of zombie is tied to the times we live in.

MAX BROOKS: The last time you had a zombie craze was the 1970s. And that was a time of anxiety, that was a time when we really did feel like the system was breaking down politically, economically, socially. There really was this feeling that it’s not working any more.

Enter zombies. These vacant-eyed re-animated corpses allow us to deal with our apocalyptic fears of society breaking down, government disintegrating, and people turning on each other but with a fictional catalyst. But the “World War Z” film misses this complexity by targeting a core American audience that thinks it can handle the zombie apocalypse.

MAX BROOKS: They’ve got the right guns, they’ve got the right backpack, and they feel like if a zombie movie happened it might not be a bad thing cause then they get to be the hero.

In other words, they want to be Brad Pitt. The film’s main mistake is that it thinks it’s a story about zombies. But Brooks understands the zombies are merely the blank slate onto which you write your social commentary. The film -- with it’s eye on summer box office – doesn’t want to explore the genuinely dark themes the book takes on. Things like pharmaceutical fraud, corrupt politicians, or harsh realities about who lives and dies.

CLIP Those who were left behind were to be herded into special isolated zones there were to be human bait. You see the genius, the sickness. Keeping people as prisoners because every zombie besieging those survivors will be one less zombie throwing itself against our defenses.

The unabridged audiobook of “World War Z” just came out. I urge you to stay home and listen to that rather than give your hard earned dollars to a brain dead Hollywood film.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.