As a guy who’s, er, enjoyed the experience of having one his books adapted for the screen (and stage, he added, dipping his lid to Mr Bedak and Ms Clumsy) I feel obliged to say a few more words about the Brad Pitt adaptation of World War Z. I have no idea how Max Brooks feels about what’s happened to his book, but I know from a couple of days of super-fan snark on the twitterz that even if he isn’t a hot mess over it, there’s plenty who are.
Fair enough. It is a great book. One of the touchstone titles of the last ten years and it probably played as big a role in revitalizing the zombie genre as Joss Whedon’s Buffy did with bringing the vampire back into the centre of mass culture.
I understand it when fans of a book feel disappointed by the film adaptation. But sometimes that disappointment is inevitable, even if the adaptation is great. Cinema and the novel are two very different forms of story telling, and there is no reason to assume that a faithful translation from one form to the other is desirable, let alone possible.
He Died With A Felafel In His Hand was not a book that would lend itself to a faithful adaptation. The stage play, in all its various iterations, about fifteen of them now, was closer to the original text than Richard Lowenstein’s film, but it was still a thousand miles removed from the directionless vignettes which made up the book. There are about three lines of dialogue in Felafel. Maybe four. There are no characters who survive more than a page, other than the narrator, floating over and through it all. Nobody goes on a journey, except to the fridge, and even that comes with no guarantee of success. Nobody learns. Nobody grows. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was not a book made to be filmed.
Neither was World War Z.
Brooks was inspired by a lot of things, but few more than Studs Terkel’s oral history of WW2, The Good War. If you’re familiar with that book, and you should be if you have any pretensions to civilisation, you’ll recognise it’s form and rhythms in Z immediately.
But what you won’t see is a shooting script.
There are any number of brilliantly realised scenes, but none are connected to each other in any way but at the most rarefied thematic level. Filming Z as a faithful homage to the text would have been a fascinating project for a recent graduate of film school. It could have been a brilliant hour long mockumentary, without the lulz. But it was never going to work as a mainstream feature.
Should the producers have gone so far from the source?
The fuck do I know?
The only question you can legitimately of World World Z, when it’s finally released and you have actually seen it, is whether it is a good film. The question of whether it’s a good adaptation is entirely separate.