World War Z

By Jared Young

Mailed on June 19, 2013


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Dear Marc Foster
Director

Dear Marc,

We love you, Marc. You know that, don't you? We care for you. We just want the best for you. That's why we're writing this letter. Because you have a problem. Everyone sees it. They see it, but they don't necessarily understand it--and that's the heart of the issue: common sense, comprehension, spatial logic. You've given up on these things. You've given up on us, Marc. You've given up on your audience.

You're an addict.

There…I said it.

How did it start? Did some older kids trick you into it? You've been hanging out with that Paul Greengrass again, haven't you? And now you're hooked on the crystal meth of cinematographic styles: the hand-held shaky-cam. Cheap, easy thrills--that's what you're after. And it's clear, with World War Z, that you just can't handle them.

I can't help but feel like this is partly our fault. Much of the respect for Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland was accorded (disproportionately, maybe) towards the actors: Halle Berry, for her Oscar-winning performance; Johnny Depp for his Oscar-nominated performance. The knock on you, Marc, was that you were invisible behind the camera. In an industry so obsessed with style, that praises big personalities not for their talent or skill but merely for their bigness, the proletarian competence of your filmmaking went unnoticed. And I feel like maybe you took that inattention to heart.

And so we ended up with Quantum of Solace. It was…not good. While Hollywood might sometimes fall short in delivering coherent narrative or moral complexity, it rarely produces something as ugly as your follow-up to the dashing James Bond reboot Casino Royale.. It's one of the most incomprehensible studio films. Ever. Of all time.

Don't bother with the excuses, Marc. I've heard them all before. Sure, yes, it was your first pure action movie and maybe you were overcompensating for your inexperience. And, yeah, all the other cool directors were doing it, too: JJ Abrams, Alfonso Cuaron. But you took their spasmic kineticism to a whole new level. You mistook agitation for excitement, obscurity for intensity. You thought that your epileptic camera and impressionistic editing mimicked the turmoil taking place within the world of the movie, when, in fact, it was causing sensual turmoil in the world of the movie theater. It was assaulting. You assaulted us, Marc.

And here you are, making the same mistakes in World War Z.

Sure, the eye adjusts--after a while. But by then it's too late. We've already missed much of what happens in the opening action scene, as we follow a former United Nations diplomat/mercenary/doctor (Brad Pitt's professional history is about as clear as the camerawork) and his family as they escape from a Philadelphia traffic jam overrun by the sprinting undead. Later, he's trapped in a stairwell. And attacked (I think). And (somehow) escapes. Then (possibly) runs.

It's an imitation of action. And a bad one. But worse, it clouds some potentially interesting moments. When Pitt and his family find themselves trapped in a drug store besieged by looters, a policeman appears, seems about to help them, but instead walks past and starts pulling items off the shelf. What we are just barely able to catch a glimpse of (since the inattentive camera immediately swings back for a reaction shot) is that the officer is sweeping boxes of baby formula into his arms. What could have been a poignant way to demonstrate how individual desperation leads to collapse of the infrastructure is, instead, a gimmicky, meaningless misdirect.

But I wouldn't be writing this intervention letter to you, Marc, if I didn't think there was light at the end of the tunnel. You're not a lost cause. As much self-destructive obfuscation as there is in World War Z, there is hope, too.

After an hour-and-a-half of messy chase scenes and generic CGI shots of hundreds of thousands of human bodies hurling themselves against walls and windows and sometimes twining together like a colony of ants, the climax of the movie take place in a quiet laboratory, and unfolds slowly, silently, with a clear sense of the surrounding space and how the characters are moving through it. Finally your camera settles down (the operator's arms got tired, I guess) and we get a sequence that captures the queer tension inherent in all zombie movies, the isolation, the creeping sense of danger.

It's credit to you, in a summer season that seems the apex of Hollywood's penchant for inhuman, empty spectacle, that this mostly-inhuman, mostly-empty spectacle resolves in a moment of complete stillness. It's the one part of the film that works.

Please, Marc. We love you. We want you to get better. And you've already proven that you can. Please give up the hand-held shaky-cam. It's destroying you. And it's destroying us (seriously, I think I'm developing astigmatism).

There's a car waiting outside. We've already packed a bag for you.

The rest of your life begins right now.

Sincerely,

Jared

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