In this monthly column we spotlight new Blu-ray/DVD releases by interviewing directors about the scenes that stood out most for them while making their movies. This month, we talk to Marc Forster about his Brad Pitt-starring summer blockbuster World War Z (out September 17).
It’s likely you heard about the problems surrounding the making of World War Z, Marc Forster’s big-budget adaptation of Max Brooks’ best-selling book. Starring Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a former U.N. investigator who races around the world in search of a way to stop a sudden zombie pandemic, the buzz around the film quickly shifted from the anticipation of Pitt’s first foray into a CGI-heavy summer blockbuster to its issues while shooting—which included everything from a Hungarian antiterrorist squad seizing the production’s prop guns to numerous screenwriter’s brought on during filming to punch up the story to the most notorious: that the original ending was scrapped and drastically overhauled before its release.
Here, Forster explains what went wrong with the original ending and why he’s so proud of the more intimate finale set in a zombie-infested World Health Organization building that was finally used. He’s specifically fond of the thrilling scene where Gerry has to try out his theory on how to camouflage humans from the zombies while he’s face-to-face with one.
“The Battle of Moscow”
“Basically in the original ending, after the Israel sequence and the plane crash, Gerry is in Russia, and the storyline of what he finds out at the WHO lab is what he finds in Russia but he applies his theory in a battlefield setting. We called it “The Battle of Moscow,” and it’s a huge battle with zombies and multiple other characters and ultimately Gerry defeats them by realizing that the zombies avoid him and go around him [after injecting himself with a virus]. So it’s in Russia, at night, in a snowstorm with thousands of zombies and big battles; kind of the scope of the Israel sequence. Some of that footage is still in the film, you see it during the montage when Gerry journeys back to his family on that small boat, we see a few glimpses from that battle. We never finished that footage because we all agreed after Israel and the plane crash you’re battle fatigued and you really want the movie to be more quiet and you don’t want it to go into another huge combat situation.
“The problem with that battle sequence is you get lost because obviously you can’t just stay with Gerry, you have so much more going on. So you lose the connection with him. What the ending should really be about is solving that riddle [of how to combat the zombies] with him. And to make it a more quiet and suspenseful is a much more interesting approach than to do it in a big battle way. That’s how these discussions came about and why we ended up setting the ending in a World Health Organization lab. As in all of my movies, I’m always about the character, about these quiet moments. So I was really happy when everyone came around and agreed and supported that vision.“
“…loss of humanity.”
“It was very important for me to first cast the actor who would play that zombie [that Gerry confronts in the lab]. His name is Michael Jenn. He’s a performer and had all these different skills, but the key thing with me was to make you feel with this zombie this mirror that this used to be a human. We hadn’t had that moment in the film, this loss of humanity. I put a wedding ring on his finger and he’s banging it very subtly against the glass door. So to give this man a history that he was married, he had a life at one point. There’s also the reflection in the mirror that’s very metaphorical. And then you have Gerry being isolated in this capsule but at the same time being observed by this zombie. There’s a tension created by having the zombie outside, him inside and then the people observing through the security cameras, and then, of course, what is Gerry going to inject himself with? And as one of the lab people says, “It doesn’t matter what he takes,” because we don’t even know if it’s going to work or not.
“That idea actually of the sick being avoided by the zombies was an idea that screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan came up with originally and I was a big fan of it, I thought it worked. And what’s great about that scene is it’s all done in silence. Gerry is on his own for the first time in the movie. He’s a reluctant hero in a sense, an every man, this is a moment when he becomes a hero because he puts his own life on the line to prove an idea he has and I think it’s almost sacrificing his life for the greater good. That sort of idea is the ultimate in heroism. But at the same time he’s not doing it over the top, because Brad knows how to play that and even how he plays it, his look as he stares up to the camera while he’s being observed and looking back at the zombie at the door, that whole triangle in that scene and all parties being in their own space, it was a lot of fun to shoot and direct.”
“He needed to be alone in there.”
“We developed the pages and went back and forth a lot, but I thought it was key to get Gerry isolated from the other two who go in the B wing of the building with him. That his character ends up on his own and is on this journey alone, that was important for me. In the first draft of the pages the three of them were all in the glass lab and I said we have to split them up. He needed to be in there alone. At that point Brad and I were on the same page. So we shot that and a few different versions and played around. It was fun because it was just him and the zombie, you have time to explore the performance and play around with it. The inspiration from this came from the ending of Alien 3, the confrontation of Ripley and the Alien where the Alien avoids her because she’s pregnant. Personally, that was the inspiration when the glass door opens and you have the zombie face-to-face with Gerry and then walking by. I enjoyed that.
“I believed in this ending more than anything. What I also liked about it was every summer blockbuster is trying in the third act is to do a bigger set piece that’s bigger and louder than what you’ve seen in the rest of the movie. I felt going against the grain and doing something more quiet and simple will be so much interesting and refreshing and something that we’re not used to. I was excited coming from a concept standpoint that everybody was willing to go there and not be like everybody else and do this big battle set piece, which was huge and loud and long; that we would go and take it in this smaller more quieter space.”
“It was too big…”
“I don’t think you’ll ever see the Russia sequence, because we never really finished it; we never spent the money to do the visual effects. Once we shot it and we did a rough cut, everyone agreed that this is too big and too exhausting, it would be better to go a simpler route. So to finish the sequence aside from fine tuning it you would have to do massive amounts of CG work, which would be in the millions of dollars, so I don’t think anyone would want to spend the money on that. It’s a fantastic sequence, like the Israel one, but it’s just too much. It was too big and not the right ending. “
MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB: