Moriarty’s One Thing I Love Today! JMS’s WORLD WAR Z Script!
Published at: March 27, 2008, 6 a.m. CST by Moriarty
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
I am weary of all things zombie.
One of the reasons I am drawn to horror as a genre is because of the versatility of it. You can comment on almost any social situation or offer observations on any facet of daily life using horror, if you just figure out how to bend the various tropes of the genre to your purpose. Or, if you want, you can just scare the shit out of someone. Either or, really.
The best horror films are the ones that do both, and I think they are the films that not only endure, but that actually push the genre forward as a whole. Zombie films have certainly offered up some great examples of that type of horror film over the years. The Romero movies, for example. And there’s a film opening in limited release around the country right now called AMERICAN ZOMBIE that does some very smart things with the conventions of the zombie film as well. But for the most part, I am tired of seeing people make the same film over and over, and it takes a lot to get me interested in yet another zombie story.
When Max Brooks published WORLD WAR Z a few years ago, I couldn’t help but notice. It’s a beautifully written book that has a fantastic central conceit, and as much as I loved reading it, I was skeptical about a film adaptation. It seemed like it would probably be an excuse to do a big-budget lowest-common-denominator horror film.
Hats off, then, to the folks at Plan B, which is Brad Pitt’s production company. They were the ones who optioned the novel, and they hired J. Michael Straczynski to adapt it, fresh off his success on THE CHANGELING.
Now, with THE CHANGELING coming out this November as a Clint Eastwood-directed prestige picture, JMS is finally poised for that breakthrough in features that he hasn't had yet. I hear Eastwood’s movie really works.
Now who's going to step up and direct WORLD WAR Z and turn it into the Oscar bait it should be? Peter Jackson? Sam Raimi? This demands a big name who can handle a big picture. This isn’t just a good adaptation of a difficult book... it’s a genre-defining piece of work that could well see us all arguing about whether or not a zombie movie qualifies as “Best Picture” material.
The book is an oral history of the great zombie wars, compiled by a nameless editor as part of a government report. The book is all of his unfiltered data, since much of it was censored from the official report. That’s all the narrative that the book offered, but it was enough for JMS to use, and the result is much sadder than I would have expected. In the first five pages, we see GERRY LANE collecting stories, and the first two interviews are with a flight attendant and a border guard. Both manage to play as horror shock beats, but the way they’re told also sets the tone right away... JMS is after the human truth underneath the horror, and in a way, that makes it much, much harder to take.
The world of the film reminds me of CHILDREN OF MEN on the page. Realistic but set in the near-future, in the aftermath of the zombie wars. We see a flashback to Gerry being given his assignment to write a report about “where the system worked, where it didn’t, how and in what ways the various organizational infrastructures failed.” It’s a politically shitty job because no one wants to know that they were responsible for anything that went wrong. Gerry’s hesitant because it’s going to take at least six months away from his family, just as the world is starting to right itself. He takes the job, and as he travels to his first interview, we see how hard travel has become. I hate going through airport security these days, but at least I don’t have to strip naked and subject myself to a blood test. Yet.
JMS does a great job of etching the details of a world that has already faced its darkest moments and is now trying to put things back in order. His first stop is China, and right away, he can see that it’s not going to be an easy job. His first subject, Dr. Tsai, is supposed to be interviewed through a “translator,” despite the fact that he speaks flawless English.
Tsai’s account of his first encounter with zombies at New Dachang is awful and horrific, and right away, it’s apparent that a combination of bureaucracy and military strategy is responsible for a sort of passive evil, and Tsai feels enormous guilt about it. He leads Gerry to his next interview, which leads him to his next, and one of the things that the script does so well is depict survivors who are starting to wonder if survival is a victory of any kind. There’s a story about black market organs that is just brutal, an off-the-record conversation with a CIA friend, and an insane beach sequence that I can’t wait to see on film. All in the first 50 pages.
Right now, I’m dying to know who’s planning to make this film. I haven’t heard a director’s name attached to it yet, and that astounds me. This was already done, felt like, ready to be filmed, and I’m curious if more work’s been done since this April 2007 draft.
But whatever the case, I love this script. Love every dark, somber, upsetting page of it. This is a horror epic, a serious, sober-minded adult picture waiting to be made, and it’s one of the best pieces of screenwriting craft I’ve encountered in a while. It’s not often I get excited by the actual words on the page as a read, but JMS pulled it off here, and I hope some badass filmmaker steps up to the challenge he laid down in the very, very near future.