Why They Wrecked World War Z

I thought World War Z was a mediocre film. And now I know why: it was. It was an almost-great movie that was lacking a certain something.


I’m not talking about the kind of gore that makes the ending of Shaun of the Dead  nauseating, I’m talking about simple human blood. Like a pool of blood on the floor of a pharmacy.

The scene happens pretty early on in the movie (14 minute mark unrated, 13:40 theatrical, if you want to compare). Brad Pitt (fighting zombies with nothing more than his sheer movie-star hotness) needs an inhaler for his asthmatic daughter, so they take to the streets of zombie-infested Philadelphia to raid a pharmacy. During which, they meet this guy:


Oooh, scary! Dangerous!

No, not really. The guy is a little bit off, but seems more shell-shocked than psycho, and he has a gun, but so does Pitt. He locates the daughter’s medicine, hands them several inhalers, even suggests another medication that might help the daughter more.

Nothing untoward happens at all, yet Pitt and the daughter act like the guy could jump up and bite their face off for no apparent reason (and the editing and music agree), even without him being zombified. It’s confusing. It’s just an odd little scene, in a movie where odd little scenes aren’t exactly rare.

Then I saw the “Unrated” version of World War Z, and suddenly everything became clear. There’s a bit, a small but key bit, that’s in the Unrated version, but not the theatrical release. Right after the frame above, the camera pans down to the floor and lying behind the counter is a body in a pool of blood.


Suddenly the scene becomes much more tense. Did the freaky hoodie guy kill him? Was it a murder or in self defense? And is he going to shoot Pitt or the little girl? I was tense and anxious even though I had seen the movie before and knew what happened. I knew he wasn’t going to shoot, and still I was worried. It was an effective scene.

Cutting this little tiny piece of the movie took a tense and ominous scene, one which moved the audience, and rendered it a mess which only confused the audience. Nor was this the only instance. Just about every second of actual blood was cut from the movie, leaving a string of half-hearted, unaffecting scenes and wrecking what had been a tense and thrilling zombie movie.

In the Unrated version, the combat scenes were more gripping, the death of the doctor more shocking, and the whole movie seemed more viscerally real. The movie came alive, all because of the blood. When the blood was cut, the movie became plastic and unreal.

The Theatrical Release is almost great. The Unrated version is great.

In movies and books, tiny details make a huge difference.

So why did they wreck the movie? To get it down to the Holy Grail rating, PG-13. Movie studios believe, against all available evidence, that taking a movie which was shot and edited as an R, and gutting it to make it PG-13, will result in a great and popular movie which will net them trillions in gold bullion, cocaine, and hookers. It never does.

Not every movie should be an R. By the same token, some movies must be R-rated. I hate to run to the obvious and lazy example, but Schindler’s List. Case made.

There is no good reason to take a movie which must be R, or which was shot and edited to be R, and eviscerate it. Yet a lot of movies have been gutted recently, all in the hopes of studio double-dipping (release once in theaters at PG-13, once on DVD as “Unrated” R versions). And none of them have been helped by the tactic, either as pieces of cinema or as items of commerce. (Expendables 3 being the most recent example, it having bombed.)

I’d like to take several weeks and produce a cool video, showcasing the history of the PG-13 rating, what passed for PG before it, and how modern ratings decisions have caused a big problem. I’d include cool clips from various landmark films, go into tons of detail, and do a bangin’ voiceover and soundtrack.

I just don’t have the time, but fortunately someone else did that exact same thing for me right here. The vid is short and highly informative. Give it a watch, and you’ll be edified and informed.

You’ll also understand perfectly why the movie studios wrecked World War Z.

17 thoughts on “Why They Wrecked World War Z

  1. Great post, and yes, not all R-rated movies should be PG-13. I think it all started with the original The Fast and the Furious, but I could be wrong about that. I remember in the DVD commentary how the editors were trying to cut as much as they could to get that sought-after PG-13 rating. Nonetheless, it couldn’t have started even before then.

  2. Pretend WWZ had a different title (which is all it had in common with the book). Change just the title, and nothing else. Would that change the quality of the directing, acting, editing, or any other element of the film? Of course not. A well-made move is a well-made movie.

    Fidelity to source material cannot make a movie either good or bad. It may make it unsatisfying to those who love the source material, but it can’t make it a bad movie.

    What can make it a bad movie are random edits which steal the vital urgency of several scenes, and render character actions and reactions nonsensical. Which is what happened to WWZ.

    (A bad adaptation is something different. You can have a stupendous movie that is a bad adaptation. Or even a slavishly accurate adaptation that is a bad movie, like Ender’s Game.)

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