Monday Morning Critic – World War Z And A Treatise on The Problems Of Novel To Film Adaptation – James Gandolfini and The Sopranos
by Scott "Kubryk" Sawitz on June 24, 2013

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When World War Z was announced as being optioned for a film, especially with Brad Pitt in the lead, I wasn’t super excited for it. Not because I tend to loathe the zombie genre or I’m not a fan of Pitt, either, but because I knew that no matter what the film was going to be a letdown from the book. I’ve never been a fan of horror films in general, of course, and Pitt has never impressed me as an actor. But those weren’t the reasons why I wasn’t anticipating World War Z as a film.

World War Z is about as un-cinematic a book as it gets … despite it being remarkably brilliant and being worthy of some sort of adaptation.

It’s the one downside of trying to adapt a novel into a film, especially one like World War Z which isn’t really all that cinematic. It’s a human story, not the usual sort of “let’s kill some people and not have a problem with it” type of tale that a lot of zombie tales are designed around. It’s kind of the unwritten rule behind the appeal of zombie films: you get to imagine yourself surviving without societal rules binding you to anything other than staying alive.

But trying to adapt Max Brooks’ novel was difficult to begin within a format under three hours for a film is nothing but trouble to start with. The novel was about the human experience, about how humanity bonded together to fight off an enemy and innovated en masse. The film is essentially Pitt as a Jason Bourne type, brought out of retirement to save the world, and doesn’t really capture anything about the novel in it. The film is essentially mankind battling zombies on a grand scale, with some anti-Semitism slyly thrown in, and has nothing to do with the novel outside of sharing the same name.

That’s what bothered me the most when I watched the film; the novel was about various perspectives on battling the zombies, et al, and there was a human element in it. This essentially was a war novel but the enemy was the undead; you got the perspective from all aspects as opposed to merely reading about the fight itself. It’s a history, which is why it was so enjoyable and accessible to even those who dislike most things about zombies like me.

It wasn’t just about battling zombies, which was what the movie was about. An action film set in a world wide extinction event involving zombies isn’t interesting because we’ve seen it before. This is just a globe-trotting version as opposed to the usual variants, of course, but nothing we saw here was significantly different than Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead or any other of the mountain of zombie films out there.

You could argue that the only reason why it was adapted, and with such an audacious budget, is because of Pitt being attached to it and not because it had a great script or cinematic concept of adapting the source material. It just had the pedigree of a great novel behind it … and even then didn’t take much from it besides the novel and some conceptual framework of the generic concept.

If this had been a Game Of Thrones style mini-series, in that each chapter of the book was filmed like a movie but given a proper 10-12 hour full running time when all is said and done, we’d have had the World War Z that we deserved. Instead we just got Jason Bourne: Zombie Hunter.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

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This Week’s DVD – The Sopranos (Season 1)

The big story this week was that of James Gandolfini’s passing. He was a young guy and an actor that was beloved but not massively popular; Gandolfini was immortalized as Tony Soprano and a number of shockingly good supporting roles in film. But his enduring legacy will be that of the television show that sprung him to worldwide fame.

Thus I decided to go back and watch Season 1 of The Sopranos this weekend.

The Sopranos follows the life of the head of the New Jersey Mob, Tony Soprano, and his family & associates. When we meet him he’s just had a panic attack and is going to therapy with a shrink (Lorraine Bracco). From there we follow the day to day working life of a mobster as Tony goes from being a Captain to being in charge in short order as his Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) gets indicated by the Feds.

It’s a brilliantly written show and The Sopranos remains relevant because it’s the reason why pay cable has been the home of almost all of television’s best shows of the past decade or so. Without HBO taking a risk on The Sopranos the plethora of shows that have gained wide acclaim over the years probably wouldn’t have been made.

It’s crazy to think but if HBO passes on The Sopranos they probably don’t take a chance on The Wire or Game of Thrones. Showtime probably doesn’t go after Homeland or Dexter, among others. Does a station like Starz go after Spartacus, among others, without the envelope having been pushed? Would AMC have tried to bring in a pair of edgy shows like Mad Men or Breaking Bad without pay cable pushing the envelope?

The Sopranos was a television moment that changed everything.

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It’s hard to think of a world without someone being the first to go through the door and take a risk. Entertainment companies are like any other company; they loathe to take any sort of risk unless someone else has already done so (and succeeded). They also put the time and effort to making it as good as it could be, hence why it stuck around and garnered as good ratings as it did.

For Gandolfini it’d be his defining role as Soprano was one of the greatest characters in TV history mainly because it’s so profoundly well written. I think that was part of its staying power; it was a show that was violent and featured tons of nudity but at its heart was about good characters and a better story. And its opening season remains one of the greatest in television history.

Strongly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Heat – A wacky buddy “comedy” but with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in the cop roles … and Bill Burr pops up somehow.

Skip it – This looks so wildly, painfully unfunny that I think in some countries being made to watch this film qualifies as a war crime.

White House Down – Jamie Foxx is the President and has to pair up with Channing Tatum to save the day.

Skip ItOlympus Has Fallen was solid but this has the look of “awful action film” all over it.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz.



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