I love my monsters, sacred or straight up. I’m not as fond of zombies as I am of vampires. Vampires are urbane shape-shifters, sophisticated, seductive and nattily dressed. Unlike vampires, their undead brethren, zombies don’t age well. Their muscle tone is shot. The rotting ghouls just groan and lumber about, except for the most highly evolved, who precede a meal with a succinct request: “Brains!”
But this weekend, zombies were kicking off the summer movie season. So naturally, I was at the first showing of “World War Z,” where Brad Pitt fights an army of crepuscular demons to save the world — and without even having Angie’s help.
One minute Pitt’s character, a former U.N. investigator, is making pancakes for his family, and the next, twitching zombies are dropping out of the sky onto his car. After decades of zombies who lurched like Frankenstein’s monster, Hollywood has finally realized the monsters are scarier if they are fast enough to actually catch someone. The ones in “World War Z” dart about like velociraptors, and they love sinking their teeth into humans, as one soldier puts it, “like fat kids love Twix.”
Vampires have always been rich fodder for metaphors, standing in for everything from bloodthirsty capitalism to AIDS to teenage desire.
Max Brooks, the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, who wrote the book the movie is based on, told The Times that his zombies were proxies for everything scary that has happened since 2001: 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, anthrax letters, global warming, global financial meltdown, bird flu, swine flu and SARS.
The anxiety that we may have doomed ourselves and our planet through our own heedlessness pervades the culture.
But the metaphor about the broken global system is less vivid than the metaphor about the broken Hollywood system.
Before Pitt could save the planet, he had to save his movie, a feat on which a fortune was spent. People always want monsters to have a larger meaning, but in this case, the larger meaning is about the monstrous waste of money and the dearth of creativity in Hollywood.
The last 40 minutes of the movie had to be rewritten and reshot, and the ending still isn’t fixed. The $190 million 3-D, CGI-enhanced spectacle is kind of fun, but it isn’t a classic of the genre, like George Romero’s 1968 “Night of the Living Dead,” Val Lewton’s 1943 “I Walked With a Zombie,” and the 1932 “White Zombie,” the first full-length zombie feature, with Bela Lugosi playing the evil voodoo master of Haiti, Murder Legendre.
Pitt just seems happy that the blockbuster is not as dreadful as it was when he saw the first cut. “It was pretty rank,” he told USA Today.
In the movie, Washington gets wiped out quickly, of course, because the politicians can’t even come to an agreement on survival. The zombies seem to enjoy chowing down on the creaky joints of the Joint Chiefs.
It seemed that no one had read the real-life Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blog called “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.”
“You may laugh now,” wrote Dr. Ali S. Khan, the director of the CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, “but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”
The CDC recommended a kit including water (one does get dehydrated from running away from these speedy zombies), nonperishable food, medications, knives, duct tape, a battery-powered radio and first-aid supplies. “Although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you,” Khan noted, “you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane.”
In the movie, the two smartest countries turn out to be Israel and, less predictably, North Korea. The Israelis erect a Great Wall that protects them until the zombies learn teamwork and make a nonhuman pyramid to scale the wall.
In a crisis, tyranny has its benefits. The North Korean dictator orders that all 24 million citizens have their teeth pulled within 24 hours so that humans who turn into zombies can’t infect anyone by biting.
A French military pilot, no doubt trying to abide by his country’s 35-hour workweek, flies off, leaving Pitt stranded with Israeli zombies.
If the movie scares you, you can always calm down with a zombie, the paralyzing rum concoction invented at Don the Beachcomber’s bar in Hollywood. With the recipe a deep, dark secret, the drink was so popular that the tiki bar got nicknamed “the Zombie Palace.”
Ava Gardner, who had many nightcaps at the bar when she was a teenager dating Mickey Rooney, revealed the ingredients to the British journalist Peter Evans: “Bacardi, dark rum, light rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, apricot brandy, orange juice, a sprig of mint and a cherry.”
But, she advised, the secret of a good zombie is this: “Hold the mint and the cherry.”