Hello there dear loyal reader, we are going to try something new for the site. Like most nerds we’re big readers here and avid movie watchers, and like anyone who does that we can’t help but pick out the differences between books and movies. So we decided that we’d start a column based upon that.
Like our Casting Call column this won’t be a weekly article but something we do from time to time when we finish a book or a movie finally comes out (The Martian, Ready Player One, hint, hint), and also we’d love to hear suggestions on comparisons you’d like to see up here.
To kick-off this series we’re starting with the Max Brooks instant classic World War Z and comparing it to the Brad Pitt movie of the same name. Before I delve into this, a quick did-you-know-fact, Max Brooks is the son of comedic legend Mel Brooks.
As far as spotting differences between the two sources this will probably be the easiest that we will ever do. For the most part, the only similarities we get are the title and a few things from the book thrown into the film as a nod (I guess) to people who read the book. The vast differences between the two was a sore spot for a lot of fans of the books. For me though, I like both versions and they’re both unique in their own way, but as far as which is superior I’ll get to that in the end.
So without further a due, and no restraint on spoilers, here is the Book vs Movie, World War Z.
So the biggest difference is the time setting of the two. The book takes place after the Great Panic, which is the name of the outbreak in the book. On the other hand, the movie throws us right into The Great Panic.
The book is subtle the way it begins. We are introduced to our main character who is simply an unnamed narrator (we’ll call him Max) who works for the UN and went around the world collecting stories from various different people about their experiences before, during, and after the Great Panic. This approach gives us a slow build. Our first real contact with Zombies come from a small Chinese village where a Chinese doctor is flown in to check on some sick people who were bitten by a boy. This is the early stages before there was any outbreak. For all intensive purposes the characters in the novel believe the outbreak began in China.
From there the book tells startling tales on how it all spread. The main causes was smugglers smuggling people (infected and not) out of China which included a chilling off-hand remark about the French outbreak, as well as the black market trading of organs out of China, which leads to a great account about an organ transplant zombie.
None of this is mentioned in the movie, in fact the movie is very ambiguous about the origin of all of it. Several countries’ names are thrown around, but China’s is absent from this and a lot of blame rests on South Korea, which kind of co-ops the Chinese doctor story from the book. Now, I’m not going to get into politics here, but I suspect China not being the origin of the outbreak was because of Hollywood’s new found love of Chinese box office drawing, and didn’t want to offend them. This is a growing problem with Hollywood, the unnecessary remake of Red Dawn had a ton of digital work done to it to change the villain from the Chinese to the North Koreans.
Another big spot missing from the movie that’s in the book which is the development of a vaccine for the outbreak. In the book the virus is originally just called the South African Rabies so an American Pharmaceutical company began marketing a new vaccine to combat this. The company knew it was bullshit and explained it all to Max that what they were really selling was piece of mind, and that they figured the government would have this all figured out before it would affect America. Speaking of the government, the movie has the outbreak in America just seem to catch everyone by surprise, in the book high ranking officials tell Max that they were aware of it and were trying to sweep it under the rug. They had a plan but unfortunately it didn’t work. In this part of the book Max interviews the former Vice President and the head of the CIA. These characters aren’t in the movie. In fact the movie makes mentioning of the President dying in the outbreak and the Vice President’s where abouts unknown. The President not only survived the outbreak in the book but would lead the offensive to take back the States, and the world.
At this point in the movie, our protagonist, Gerry, played heroically by Brad Pitt, is running to save his life and his family’s lives. He has his wife and two daughters, one of which is asthmatic. None of these characters are in the book, and the only thing that Gerry and Max have in common are that they work for the United Nations. Well worked, where Max is still employed, Gerry retired to be a stay at home dad. This is where we meet Gerry and his family at the start of the film, Gerry getting breakfast ready for everyone with the television on in the background. You can the news and can catch glimpses of shit going wrong throughout the world.
This is the only build up we really get in the film. The next moment the family is stuck in traffic and then they’re running for their lives. The scene is intense and we the viewer are along for the ride. The entire scene is filled with fast zombies jumping everywhere and gabbing folks. In this scene Gerry sees a zombie bite someone and he does a countdown on how long it takes them to turn. In the movie it’s 12 seconds. This isn’t in the book at all. The only thing the book makes mention to turning is that it depends on where the bite is and the person has to die first. The book never gives and exact time frame of the transformation but makes mention of so many bitten people smuggling themselves out of China and to other parts of the world so it had to taken a few days.
From here on out Gerry takes a similar path as Max, where Max was interviewing people for the book, Gerry was interviewing people in order to find a cure. Gerry’s first stop is South Korea to speak with an US Army Platoon. Max too goes to South Korea but that is much later in the book. In both instances the two main characters hear rumors about the North Koreans pulling every citizens’ teeth and evacuating to underground shelters. That’s all the movie says about North Korea, the book elaborates a little more though. Max and his interviewee speculate on why the Notherners have not come out of their bunkers? Are they not aware the war is over or are those bunkers filled with millions of zombies.
From there Gerry goes to Israel and even though it has a giant wall surrounding it, it too is quickly overran by zombies once an immigrant girl begins singing it attracts the ones from outside the wall and they begin climbing over one another to get in. Now the zombies in the book don’t do this, but there is a mention of one of the characters thinking that they were. The character thought he saw a bunch of zombies climbing over each other to get into the celebrity compound he was guarding, but it reality it was people just trying to survive. This scene from the book may have inspired the Israel scene in the movie, considering Israel was never overrun in the book, but there was conflict in Israel, it was the orthodox Jews not liking that their country was allowing people who were not Jewish into their country.
With Israel overrun Gerry heads to the World Health Organization. On the flight over though the plane is overran by zombies and crashes. Max doesn’t experience anything like this in the book, however a flight 445 is mentioned several times but it is never said in the book what happened. I suspect this inspired the scene in the movie where everything goes to shit on Gerry’s plane. Of course the plane crashes but Gerry survives and finds his way to the WHO. WHO is not in the book at all and everything here is made up for the movie.
Through out his time from where he first encountered the zombies until now, he’s noticed they haven’t attacked anyone who was sick. Gerry theorizes that the zombies are avoiding sick people because they’re weak. So he decides to infect himself with a disease and what do you know it works. This leads to the fight back for the humans against the zombies. There is no zombie repellent in the book. The humans take their planet back the old fashion way, by just straight up killing zombies.
World War Z the movie only gave us Gerry’s point of view of the Zombie War, Max’s adventure has us seeing the perspective of the war from all around the world. China, Germany, Japan, Scotland, England, Korea, the high seas, the US, and Canada. These extra viewpoints ranging from a feral little girl, to a blind Japanese gardener who took to the woods to survive, to a Chinese sub commander, all of these stories are so rich and is why the book is so loved by those who have read it. The major difference between the two are that the movie is by far a zombie movie, the book is about humanity and zombies are just used to show what man is capable of when his back is against the wall and he needs to survive.
Both mediums are quite good and I like them both, but by far the only thing they really have in common is the title. World War Z would have been better served as a mini-series than a 90 minute movie. However the book just has more heart and is just plan better. I highly recommend both though, both are truly terrifying in their own way but the realism of the book makes it a far more hair-raising experience.