Stephen McGinty: World War Z keeps zombies moving

BRAD Pitt’s new film has ensured that even the new electronically-fired youths of today will take time to brood on how they can survive in a world infested by the undead, writes Stephen McGinty

Scenes from Brad Pitt's new film World War Z were shot in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry

How does one prepare for the zombie apocalypse? Of the many questions that tumbled around the head of my ten-year-old self this is the one that would surface most often, usually during the duller lessons or rainy Saturday afternoons when the television offered less exciting fare. For it was, as any young boy with a healthy interest in horror movies and magazines could tell, surely a matter of time before the dead wearied of their dank, sepulchral slumber and decided to rise up and view the general population as a moving buffet. Like the conveyor belt at Yo Sushi, but with screaming on the side.

After all, hadn’t George A Romero warned us of the impending crisis, not only once in Night of the Living Dead, but twice with Dawn of the Dead and his classic tagline: “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” Surely everyone should have their contingency plans in place?

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The question I would ponder with my mate, Dave, was where exactly would be the best place to sit out the inevitable rebellion of the dead? The movie Dawn of the Dead had popularised the notion of the shopping mall. Adults may have seen the movie as a critique on consumerism, drawing parallels between the masses and their unthinking purchases and unwitting slavery to trends.

Dave and I just thought: where else would you find a gun shop, food supplies, even a bed all under one covered roof? The shopping mall was the perfect place and Clydebank had recently opened a vast – to a ten-year-old – new shopping centre. We were sorted: bring on those shambling, decayed corpses.

Then we hit on a rather substantial snag. The shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead was outside Philadelphia and so benefited from America’s fabulous – to a ten-year-old – gun laws, but where were we to find a pump-action shotgun, a .44 Magnum, (if it was good enough for Harry Callaghan, it was good enough for Dave and me) and a sub-machine pistol in Clydebank? Age and experience would teach me there probably was, sadly, places to obtain such items in my home town. Sure, we had made guns out of Lego. We had even copied out Dave’s design for a Lego pump-action shotgun in case the company might be interested in the patent but, when faced with a shambling denizen of the undead, it wouldn’t do much good.

You would have to get up really close and try and use the Lego barrel to blind them, but even then the pieces would probably break off and, besides, to get that close would mean running the risk of being bitten. Then, the best-case scenario is they bite you and move off to someone slower and juicier, allowing you to turn, over the next 24 hours, into a zombie destined to spend the rest of eternity ­hungry and bored, like a supermodel. The worst-case scenario is: they start feasting on you like a steak pie with the puff pastry pulled off.

No, clearly that wouldn’t do. No-one in their right mind wants to face a zombie apocalypse with a Lego gun. We would have to arm ourselves. From then on, the timing of the return of the dead would coincide with a school trip to rural America, allowing us to hole up in a cabin on a hill having first raided the local gun shop for various weapons and ammunition. It is a fact, one rarely pondered, that part of the appeal of the zombie to the adolescent male is the means of their despatch. While the vampire requires a stake through the heart, the werewolf a silver bullet, the zombie requires a “head shot” to destroy the brain, either that or decapitation. So the prospect of a zombie revolution allows the otherwise law-abiding kid to shoot the undead, free from moral qualms, since they are being restored to their natural state.

Like all my electronically deprived generation, we (note how I’ve cunningly lassoed everyone else into my own twisted youth) had to fantasise about how to cope with our scenarios based on the classic shambling zombie of the 60s, 70s and 80s. With an average speed of about 1mph, the standard Romero zombie could be out-pedalled by a toddler on a tricycle; it was their sheer volume that made them so deadly.

Today’s youth, however, have to contend with a more agile foe as birthed in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) where the average reanimated corpse had the agility and speed of Usain Bolt at his Olympic best. However, where Dave and I had to imagine how best to survive a zombie apocalypse, the rise of shoot-‘em-up computer games such as Resident Evil have given this generation an added advantage when the dead rise again.

It is strange to think that when the dead did, finally, rise it was in Glasgow’s George Square, barely five miles from where my childhood fantasies began. Two summers ago Hollywood came to the Clyde and military vehicles, once sent in to dampen calls for revolution in the days of Red Clydeside, were back in George Square, this time in a futile attempt to defend the population from a new dawn of the dead.

The filming of World War Z, in which Brad Pitt plays a United Nations’ adviser trying to find a cure for the worldwide pandemic of undead, was great fun for the city’s residents, who watched as careful set-dressing – the addition of American street signs, chevy cars and blue US mail boxes, – turned the city of the Glasgow kiss into the city of Brotherly love, Philadelphia.

And then there was Brad Pitt. On the first day of filming, a sequence now visible on the film’s trailer, I watched from a raised booth in a city bar, cunningly discovered by The Scotsman’s photographer, Robert Perry, as Pitt spend hours in a car with his screen wife and daughters. Once in a while a US police officer on a motorcycle would ride by. When Brad climbed out the car to get a coffee and waved to the girls in the bar there was a level of hysteria that made you think what must it have been like for the Beatles.

The director, Marc Forster was hunched behind a monitor. At the time, as well as thinking what my ten-year-old self would make of all this excitement, I kept thinking about what the finished film would be like and what was going on behind the scenes. Well, we’ll find out the answer to the first question in two weeks’ time when World War Z opens in the UK, and we found out the answer to the second question in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair: chaos.

According to reports World War Z began shooting with a budget of $150 million and an unfinished script.

By the end of their first block of shooting in Malta, they were over budget, which was only discovered when someone chanced upon a stack of unpaid bills. One senior producer had quit before the Virgin train hired to ferry cast and crew rolled into Glasgow’s Central Station and a new producer was flown in from LA to get the production under control. Then, when they had finished filming and cutting the film, they didn’t like it, so scrapped a 12-minute action sequence finale and re-shot the last 40 minutes at an estimated cost of $40m.

Today the estimated budget is $220m-$250m and it could yet be one of the biggest flops of all time. Personally, I don’t quite think so. If zombie movies have taught us anything it is that the dead can be reanimated, in this case with re-editing and extra footage. Yes, Mr Pitt has embarked on the most expensive zombie movie ever made, but he’s been savvy enough to ensure the rating is a PG-13 in the US or “15” in Britain to ensure a new generation of teenagers will brood on how best to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.

There is even some hope zombies might knock the vampires of Twilight off their plinth. what with the arrival of the new French drama, The Returned – which begins this weekend on Channel 4 – in which the undead don’t want to eat the living but to seduce them.

Now that’s what I call nasty.