Thursday, September 26, 2013

Blu-ray Review - "World War Z"


If there was film released this past summer that everyone had written off as a sure-fire bomb, it was World War Z, the Brad Pitt zombie picture based off the Max Brooks novel (in name only though). Imagine everyones surprise when it was released to mostly positive reviews, ended up earning back its enormous budget (over $200 million) and became a bonafide international hit (its total gross beat out Man of Steel!).

Now the highly anticipated Blu-ray release of the zombie apocalypse blockbuster has arrived, complete with an all new unrated cut that apparently was "too intense for theaters!" and a bevy of extras that depending on where you buy your copy at, will vary in quality. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:
Blu-ray/DVD Release Date: September 17, 2013
Format: Blu-ray
Player: LG Model 370 
Monitor: Samsung 40' LCD Series 5
Picture Quality: 1080p
Sound Quality: DTS HD - English

To read my original review for the Theatrical Release of World War Z, just follow the link below.




The theatrical cut of World War Z arrived with a very general audience friendly PG-13 rating. While it is certainly strange to see a zombie feature dealt such a docile rating as that, it was also the key to its immense success. This was a bold move for a number of reasons, but most of all it risked alienating the true hardcore fans of the zombie horror genre by ostensibly pulling the teeth out of what they loved most about it, the gore.

Despite that hurdle however, the theatrical cut managed to find a good balance between its more action oriented side and its more subdued horror tendencies. That doesn't change the fact that as a zombie fan, the film was somewhat of a disappointment. For a film that depicted a world overrun by zombies, there was little to no blood, very little tension and a journey that despite faced perilous obstacles, ultimately felt danger free.


Thankfully, this unrated cut fixes nearly all of those issues. While it only runs about 7 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, those scant few minutes prove invaluable at creating the tension and danger that was noticeably missing before. The differences are subtle, but they are there. Blood spurts out of wounds now, action sequences such as the chase through the apartment complex in the beginning are no longer an edited mess and most of all it just feels more zombiefied.

What additions have been made exactly? During the initial outbreak in Philadelphia there are some additional shots of zombies actually biting people (complete with blood) and Gerry's escape from the city is a little longer as well. In New Jersey, when they are making their way to the apartments we see Gerry shoot a couple zombies in the head (something we never saw in the theatrical cut) and Karen stumbles into a room with some bodies and a blood covered floor.

During the Israel sequence, there are more shots of zombies pouncing on people once they breach the wall, and once again we get to see the actual bites and plenty of blood spurts. The most significant scene alteration however is when Segen (Daniella Kertsez) gets bit in the hand and Gerry lops it off. Before we had to figure out on our own what had happened, now we get to see the bloody stump in all its gushiness.


Also of note is that when the zombies are killed there are now blood sprays, but what makes it noteworthy isn't so much the blood as it is more about the color of it. Fans of the novel will remember that the zombies had a black oil like substance for blood and although the PG-13 cut of the film showed zombies with black stains on their clothing, it felt more like a workaround for the softer rating. As it is now though, it remains one of the only other links to the novel which for fans of the book is better than nothing.

Here is the real question then, does any of this added blood and extended action scenes make the film any better? Well, it certainly doesn't make it any worse, unless you are squeamesh when it comes to blood, in which case you are better off with the theatrical cut (which is available on the same blu-ray disc). However, if you were hoping for the film to feel more like a zombie movie instead of just a summer action flick, then this unrated version does an admirable job of filling in those gaps.

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What's on the disc?

Here is where things get a little silly. Paramount seems intent on screwing over their customers because it has twice now (this and the Star Trek Into Darkness blu-ray as well) adopted this ludicrous promotional deal to spread out the film's special features as exclusives to certain stores. This sort of marketing sucks for a number of reasons, but most of all because there is no definitive version of the film to own.

Worse yet is that you really don't know what 'store exclusive' extras you will get until you get home. But in an attempt to make the situation even worse than usual, these extra "bonus" features are digital only! That's right, you can only watch them on your computer (commense long list of explatives right now). To split up features amongst different stores and not even put them on the disc is horrible, but then you run into the sloppy way they assemble them (see below) and you have one of the worst debacles ever for a blu-ray release.


So, that leaves the content itself to help salvage this clusterf**k of a release and fortunately, it is mostly all good with only two exceptions, one of which was expected. First of all, for someone so integrate to a film's production and success, Brad Pitt appears NOWHERE in these features, not even in a traditional promotional video sort of way. Second is the lack of information on all the troubles the film ran into during production. While it is expected that a studio would try to keep that stuff hidden from the public as much as possible, much of what they wanted to hide is already all over the internet, so why not at least include it here?

In any case, let's get to it and have a look at what we do have, shall we?

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Origins (8:20) (HD) - This is your basic behind the scenes look at the film. A few interviews with the cast and crew (although, Brad Pitt is surprisingly absent) who discuss many of the themes behind the film and their unique approach to doing a zombie movie that spans the globe. Nothing too in depth, but worth a look regardless.

Looking to Science (7:28) (HD) - Now this is more like it. One of the more interesting things the filmmakers did with the film were its zombies. How they moved, how they behaved and how they looked, they were familiar yet different. This feature goes into the actual science behind their decisions, such as their similarities to insect behavior and the rate at which a living corpse would decay. It's all really interesting stuff, especially for a zombie fan.


WWZ Production (HD) - A four part documentary covering the several set pieces of the film that can be played all as one or in its individual parts as listed below. These featurettes will only appeal to those looking for more technical information on the making of the film. Standard stuff for sure, but still welcome.

- Outbreak (8:30) (HD) - This section shows behind the scenes footage for the Philadelphia outbreak and the New Jersey apartment sequences.

- The Journey Begins (8:40) (HD) - This section covers the Air Craft Carrier segments and the night time arrival to South Korea.

- Behind the Wall (9:40) (HD) - This section covers the biggest action set piece of the film in Israel.

- Camoflage (9:25) (HD) - This section covers the subsequent plane crash and the entire WHO sequence.


BONUS DIGITAL CONTENT
(Best Buy Exclusive)

Aside from the asinine way Paramount has provided these extras, they are still worth your while and provide plenty of background on how the filmmakers were able to achieve the look and design of their unique take on the zombie genre. It must be mentioned that there is no way to view these individually, as Paramount has seen fit to lump them all together in one 30 minute package that can ONLY be viewed via their Cinema Now service.

Re-inventing Zombies (5:33) HD - This feature goes into how the filmmakers decided to use a combination of both practical and digital effects to create the unique look and fell of their zombies as well as the extensive testing that went into their final decisions.

Becoming a Zombie (10:43) HD - Deciding to go practical effects for the more up close and personal parts of the film meant they would need actors to mimic the crazy movements that the digital zombies made. Using actors with a background in dance and theater, they were able to pull off some amazing visual trickery that unless you saw this feature, would think was all digital. Great stuff.

The Score of World War Z (6:15) HD - A look at the score for the film done by composer Marco Beltrami. You get some interesting tid bits, such as how Beltrami used the emergency broadcast system to develop the film's impressive soundtrack.

How to Survive the Apocalypse HD (8:30) - This is a strange, but oddly fitting extra feature. There are 5 very short interviews done with a variety of survivalists who each explain a different way to prepare for the apocalypse. These sections are titled as Take Shelter, Bug Out, Heal Thyself, Stock Up and Head for the Hills. Interesting if you are into this type of stuff, otherwise it is very skippable.



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Movie   -  B
Video   -  A
Audio   -  A
Extras B (for content) F (for delivery method)


FINAL THOUGHTS:

World War Z will never be looked at as anything other than a horrible disappointment by all those who read the far superior novel. However, taken on its own and judged solely by its own ambitions, this is a zombie action flick that just about anyone can enjoy, even if you aren't too keen on zombies. This unrated version of the film adds that extra bit of danger and zombie action that was missing from the theatrical cut making this version the definitive cut of the film.

The extras are a mixed bag, with a lack of Brad Pitt and nothing on the film's now notorious production problems (along with Paramount's horrible distribution of said extras), unless you have never seen behind the scenes footage of any film before, most of what is here is serviceable but very underwhelming. As an overall package though, the blu-ray comes recommended for fans of the film and a solid rental for the curious few who missed it during its theatrical run.

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