By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist June 25, 2013 at 12:31PM
How It Transitions: So the movie is generally the same in the script as the finished movie (aside from a few things here and there that we’ll get to) up until Israel. The zombies still get over the wall and attack, and Pitt and Segen (who still gets her hand chopped off) jump on a plane as well. But instead of crash landing because of a grenade, the plane lands safely in Russia. But not all is well on the ground and the situation is actually much worse than it was in Israel (minus the zombie hordes attacking).
The Last Act: Gerry and several random people deplane, only to find themselves prisoners of a ruthless Russian military that has taken over (the face of which is an evil Russian Lieutenant who butts heads with Gerry early on and steals his precious cell phone). The weak are instantly shot and killed, the rest are enslaved in underground tunnels where they have to move around cargo for the government and fight off zombies who have penetrated the breaches of Moscow’s fortification. The movie cuts to Gerry months later, emaciated and with a thick beard (the Entertainment Weekly piece talks about how Pitt starved himself for the role, but obviously we didn’t see any of that evidence on screen). His UN crisis skills and survival instincts have made him a leader in this underground setting that the script compares to a type of Dante’s Inferno; it’s dark, there’s little light, everyone is starving, everyone whispers and one by one they’re being picked off by zombies that are akin to dirty rats in sewers coming to feed on this group whenever they can. “Listen to him. That’s how you survive,” is how one new detainee is introduced to this world, meaning: do whatever Lane says. He teaches them how to fight in teams using whatever pieces of scrap metal they can for shields, hammers, and spears and creates ragtag battalions, lopping off the heads of the surging zombies with shovel-like weapons. “Relieve the desperate” is the motto for fighting.
How It’s Political: In this version of the movie, the frontlines of the enslaved battling the zombies are divided into religions, with Jews, Christians, Muslims and Atheists fighting in their own groups. The reasoning? If you’re bitten, better to die than to turn amongst your own kind. So the procedure if one is bit, is to cross the line, raise your arms and yell “I’ve done my duty!” and the snipers will instantly shoot them in the head.
What’s The Zombies' Weakness? In the theatrical version, Gerry Lane and co. do not find a cure or a weakness for the zombies per se, but they do find a reprieve; injecting themselves with various diseases which makes them blind to the zombies' need for a healthy kill (or whatever it is exactly). It’s a type of camouflage which humans can use to get around zombies. There’s no such thing in the Carnahan draft, but the zombies do end up having a “weakness” which is the cold. When Gerry Lane and his hordes are forced to fight the zombies at gunpoint by the rogue Russian military, they discover— when attempting a little side mission— that the zombies are huddled around fire and taking turns attacking. The warmest, most alive zombies go into the field to attack while the shivering ones try and warm up. It’s all in keeping with the idea of zombie hordes as schools of fish, flocks of birds or pride of lions working together, that runs throughout both versions of “World War Z.” So how do they beat them? In Russia anyhow, Pitt’s Gerry Lane convinces the Russian commanders to extinguish all fires. At first the initial thought it's, “Are you nuts?” as half the Russians and slaves are dying of the cold anyhow, but it’s their only option. Cut to a few days later and all the zombies have died from the cold and the Russians and the slaves are victorious.
Why It Changed? While this ending sounds better in some ways, there’s a reason they changed it. "It was just atrocious," Pitt said of the first cut of “World War Z” to USA Today. "You see some first cuts and you go, 'Oh, it's everything you want it to be and more.' It's working on certain levels that you didn't even understand when you were shooting it. Like, I had this feeling seeing 'Moneyball.' And here was the exact opposite."
If you dig deeper into the Vanity Fair piece, it’s clear that Pitt is exaggerating somewhat -- or being hard on himself --and that everyone was happy with about the first two-thirds of the movie; a sentiment echoed months before the Vanity Fair piece. “It’s a great first 45 minutes, maybe even an hour,” one source told THR. Even the studio was candid about the movie's problems back in June of 2012. “The footage from this film looks fantastic, but we all agreed it can have a better ending,” Paramount president Adam Goodman told the trade. “Getting the ending correct is essential, and we are in that creative process. “
So it’s clear that the Russian ending didn’t work. But why? Well from most accounts, many of them from the Vanity Fair piece and various interviews, it was incoherent and poorly shot. Not only that, the entire movie was already at pitched to an intense level and the Russian sequences only tried to top it: louder, more furious and scary. But the result was something messier, with a rhythm off from the rest of the movie. And you can get a hint of that at the end of ‘WWZ’ as there are a few shots from around the globe and clearly a few shots from the Russian footage that looks like a blur of quick cuts and hard to understand fighting imagery (sort of like the more poorly shot action sequences in Philadelphia that we discussed here). "Our summation of the thing was just a complete failure," Pitt said of the ending. "You develop this sense I guess as you get on in your years, and we all knew. We just didn't know how much it would smell. And it was pretty rank."
Or as a source put it to Vanity Fair, “Russia never worked. It wasn’t character-driven anymore.” The magazine also describes his character as a calculated zombie killer instead of a family man. In truth it reads like the same ol' Gerry Lane— smart, canny, thoughtful and sharp enough to put the group’s needs over the individual if they’re going to survive— but obviously it went sideways in the actual execution.
Final Verdict? The new ending. While it sounds cool, both on the page and in what they could have done right, it sounds like Pitt, Forster and the producers made the right decision even if the new ending of “World War Z” is also kind of uneven. Going against the expected payoff was a smart, anti-move that most creatives in Hollywood would never have thought of (props to Lindelof and Goddard), however it does sacrifice some intensity and the existing ending is kind of anti-climatic. It also doesn’t provide much room for a sequel— we discussed why here— because the movie concludes with a sort of time-out reprieve story wise, and it will hard to gear up for another salvo when the movie ends with a interim solution. The original obviously does make for a “What will happen now??” finale, but obviously it tonally didn’t work.
Evidently development on a “World War Z” sequel has begun as the movie should prove to be a hit, if not quite profitable. But as we’ve said elsewhere, we do not envy the task of putting a movie that ends in neutral back into first, second and then third gear. Let's just hope they get the script right before they start shooting the next one.