The “Z” stands for “Zirony.” (It’s a silent z.)

I went to see the $150 million zombie undeadtacular World War Z starring my doppelgänger, Brad Pitt, and a cast of thousands of very fast and very digital revenants.

Yay, the movie

I had been quite worried about this movie since I adore the Max Brooks “oral history of the zombie war” and didn’t want to see it shot in the head, so to speak. Luckily, my fears were (mostly) unfounded — it’s a very, very suspenseful film, and Brad Pitt is so natural it doesn’t even seem like he’s capital-A “Acting.”

Sure, it doesn’t have much to do with Brooks’s novel, but let’s face it, a really faithful film adaptation of the novel would have had to be essentially Ken Burns Presents Zombies at War and not much of a compelling visual narrative ’cause that ain’t what the book was about.

So two thumbs up on the movie. Go see it — but be warned: It respects its source material in the way of zombies being treated as a serious existential menace, and this is one unrelentingly grim ride. How a war movie should be, actually, not glamorizing but really showing pain and sorrow and weapons that end up more of a problem for those wielding them than for their ostensible targets.

Irony has teeth what bite

Anyway, now that I have spoken upon the movie (I’m sure everyone is breathing much easier now, a-heem), I must address the intense irony of World War Z as it has made its way from the page to the screen. In particular, the issue of China.

Those of you who have read the book may remember that Patient Zero was a young Chinese boy who either was bitten by or scraped his foot on something that was on the bottom of a shallow, muddy river near his rural village. He did the 12-hour zombie drop and revive, and boom — the zombocalypse was born.

In the movie, they’re not quite sure who Patient Zero was (there might be multiple simultaneous or near-simultaneous cases), and it seems to have started in South Korea instead of China. (North Korea SPOILER ALERT has come up with a novel solution to infection: Pulling out all the teeth of all 23 million residents of the closed-off nation. Hurray?)

You may be hungry for human flesh an hour after eating a Chinese zombie

This may not seem like a big deal, but O Gentle Reader, it is huge. In the book, Max Brooks the Novelistic Interviewer (as opposed to the author and son of Mel) presents evidence after piece of evidence that China’s secrecy — not wanting to show weakness or ask for help, which as we know is how China in real life acts on the world stage (which is their perogative, of course, to act how they want) — is to blame for the epidemic not being snuffed out early on.

Also, Brooks makes a very pointed … um, point that human organs trafficked from their political prisoner hosts and which made their way around the world carried the Solanum virus silently and made it seem like people were randomly dropping dead and reviving as zombies. In the book, I believe, exactly what happened is not discovered until well after the War is near its end.

Official opacity. Unethical medical practices. Lies and recriminations instead of buckling down in a multilateral way to solve a problem. These are all like China (and sometimes other countries including the US, but I mean as an apparent rule of behavior) in the real world, and so seem like really salient points in the novel of WWZ.

I’m not bashing China here — this is a book about zombies taking over the world, after all, and so we shouldn’t necessarily look to it for trenchant political science — I’m just saying that the public face China shows to the world works extremely well in the novel as a place where the epidemic could spread before most of the world was even aware of it.

Money talks, but all mine ever says is “BLARGH KILL HUMAN ARRRRRRGH”

The irony of all of this is that the filmmakers changed the location of Patient Zero from a very plausible (for the reasons noted above) China and its buddy-in-secrecy North Korea to a bland-if-not-nonsensical South Korea. You can almost here the producers saying with an aw-shucks grin, Hey, Asia’s Asia, right?

Well, no, not really, because South Korea is a close ally of the West and it ruins the — anyway, why is it now South Korea instead of China? The answer, as usual, lies in the green stuff that isn’t gangrenous zombie flesh: Money.

China is the number-one overseas market right now for American action movies. It is huge — so huge, in fact, that foreign revenue can count for more than half of a movie’s gross, and so every effort is now taken to avoid offending our easily offended neighbors to the East. (Remember that character called “The Mandarin” in Iron Man 3, but who had an accent placing him somewhere between Baton Rouge and Raleigh? There you go.)

Not offending potential customers is not a bad thing in itself, but it weakened WWZ with the heavy irony that in the book, one of the reasons the exploding zombie infection is already a pandemic by the time China admits it’s even happening is because officials want to placate China, our important trading partner, and not, you know, imply that they are hiding on one hand and spreading on the other a world-killing epidemic. It’s not exactly political correctness — it’s more like business courtesy. And it kills 3/4 of the world.

That’s the book. In the movie, people just ignored the “zombie memo” that came out of South Korea (except the Israelis, who are tough as goddamn nails but not into SPOILER ALERT turning down the stereo when a hundred thousand sensitive-eared undead are waiting fifty feet on the other side of a wall). It puts the blame … nowhere, really, because would you believe a memo saying zombies are attacking? (Okay, bad example — if you’re reading this then you, like me, would probably totally believe it. Forget I said that last bit.)

Everybody play nice, we’ll all be undead soon

It takes WWZ from a haunting and all-too-plausible novel to a scary but kind of random horror movie. Which is fine, really — I love horror movies, and this is one is particularly well done, acted, directed, and paced. But by not wanting to offend the Chinese, the producers of the movie act exactly as the government officials do early in the novel, valuing smooth relations over the possibility of doing something really singular and right.

If anybody wants to talk WWZ, book or movie, have at it in the comments below and I’ll jump in.

Methinks my 15 minutes of zombie fame are just about up.


“Video” of my gorgeous punim while I talk zombies on the WMAL morning news show. I have an mp3 on my website at

They pronounce my name incorrectly and also say I’m writing a “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies,” which I’m not (they already have one), but that’s showbiz for you, I guess.

This has been very fun this week and it’s been great connecting with zombie enthusiasts and other assorted lunatics this past week or so, but now that World War Z is out, I think I’ll be settling back into my writer’s life where I think about things other than the undead menace.

Okay, other things in addition to the undead menace.

When reporting on zombies is this sloppy, is there ANYTHING from the media we can trust?

After my New York Post coup of yesterday, there is now the interview I did with the San Francisco Chronicle. I include the link, but you have to be a subscriber to actually read it online. (How’s that business model workin’ for ya, SFC?)

Anyway, because of that, I include the bit from the article that my HALF-HOUR OF BEING INTERVIEWED went into. The Post article was better, not because there’s more of me in it, but not because there isn’t, if you get me. Also, I have annotated this bit of “reportage.”


Sean Hoade, another zombie specialist who taught a course at University of Alabama on “Zombies! The Living Dead in Literature, Film  and Culture,’’ is willing to cut a wide berth for “World War Z.’’ [I like how she uses “specialist” here instead of “enthusiast” or “expert.” It’s weird.]

“I am forgiving. Besides loving zombies I am also a movie lover so in my mind I can put a disconnect between the novel and the movie. Max writes one book and the movie is going to be another vision,’’  said Hoade, who is himself writing “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies.’’ [I am not writing any such book, as one has already been published. I think the writer saw this on some old Web page.]

“People are fascinated by the idea of zombies, and they don’t care of it is a fast zombie or a slow one, or a smart zombie or any other kind because the [initial] cause itself rises above any vision. And people just eat that up.” [Get it?]

Nor does he see an end to the steady stream of the undead in popular culture. “Yes there has been a zombie trend, and people keep saying ‘Oh zombies are played out.’ “Then the next big zombie movie or TV show or whatever comes in and it does well. So zombies never have to be over.’’

[And that was it. Pfft, San Francisco Chronicle. You’re no New York Post.]