Marc Forster has made a number of solid dramas (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball), but he's since become notorious as the man who sucked all of the fun out of the Bond franchise in Quantum of Solace. And now he's done the same thing with the zombie sub-genre in World War Z, a frenetic, globe-trotting action movie which has so much in common with his Bond film that it may as well be called "Quantum of Zombies". What's Forster got lined up next, I wonder. A fast, frenzied, cold-hearted romantic comedy?
World War Z begins where most zombie films leave off. Within minutes of the opening credits, half the world's population has been zombiefied, cities are in flames, and the American government has established a mobile command centre on board an aircraft carrier. Go, USA! The plan is to develop a vaccine by locating the source of the plague and the only man for the job is James Bond – sorry, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN investigator turned doting stay-at-home dad. After four seconds of soul-searching about whether to leave his family, Lane is hopping from America to Korea to Israel to Wales. Fortunately, the collapse of civilisation isn't enough to stop passenger jets flying. Nor does it prevent our hero finding the leading zombie-expert in each country he visits, in the time it would take the rest of us to find our suitcases on the airport carousel.
Forster's brisk, let's-get-this-over-with efficiency is exciting at first, but it soon takes away any tension. We've barely registered that Lane is in danger before he's out of it again. And because the film is in such a hurry to race on to the next overblown set piece, there's no time for anyone to talk about the situation, or even to acknowledge that it's not the kind of thing that happens every day. You'd think that someone, somewhere might wail: "Aarrghh! The planet's being overrun by decomposing cannibals!" But no. No one seems even mildly surprised. It's difficult to say which group shows less emotion, the humans or the zombies.
This calm acceptance may be partly because the monsters in World War Z are such an unfrightening bunch. There are crowds of them, mostly computer-generated and all of them sprinting faster than Usain Bolt, so whenever they attack it feels as if we're watching the tie-in video game, rather than the film itself. Perhaps the producers should have called it "Quantum of Zombies", after all. The title they went for just begs reviewers to type the letter "z" a few more times at the end of it.
The phony horror in World War Z stands in marked contrast with the real McCoy in Fire in the Night (Anthony Wonke, 94 mins ****), a powerful first-person account of 1988's Piper Alpha conflagration. Its director, Anthony Wonke, makes use of heart-stopping archive footage and crackly radio transmissions, as well as some dramatic reconstructions, but he wisely devotes most of the documentary to the testimonies of 10 men who were on the North Sea oil platform when it was ripped apart by explosions.
Some of the men are able to joke about the ordeal, others can't hold back the tears, but they can all recall the hellish noise and heat with dreadful clarity. And they can all remember the full names of the men who were standing beside them one second and who were gone the next. As a film, Fire in the Night doesn't have the brio of Senna or One Day in September, but the tales of bravery and tragedy it has to tell are like Titanic and The Towering Inferno rolled into one.
Austrian social chronicler Ulrich Seidl begins a trenchant trilogy with Paradise: Love about female sex tourism in Africa. The Edinburgh International Film Festival continues all week, with Britpics galore, Sweden and Korea in focus, and Doctor Who's Karen Gillan headlining the closing comedy, Not Another Happy Ending.
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