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World War Z Doesn’t Need a Sequel; It Needs a Series

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Let me tell you a quick story: My father hates horror in all forms. Movies, TV shows, video games, comics… Whatever kind of medium horror comes in, he’s not having it. Now, this isn’t to say that he denies its validity and importance. It’s simply him admitting that he’s a “scaredy-cat,” in his own words. What my father DOES love, however, is reading. He’s voracious when it comes to books. Leave a novel close to him, and he’ll absolutely have to leaf through it to decide if he’s going to start from the beginning. Once he makes that decision, that book will be finished by the end of the day, if short, or the week, if long.

Knowing that my father can’t resist a good book but also knowing that he can’t stand horror, I decided to run a little experiment. What I did was take my copy of Max Brooks’ World War Z to my parents’ house, and then I left it on the couch where my dad likes to sit. I had tried earlier to convince him to give it a read, but he refused, so I sneakily chose to play to his instincts, a tactic that worked. Apparently my father couldn’t stop side-eyeing the book, his hand beginning to reach towards it before being snatched away, as though he felt like he was betraying himself by having the desire to flip through the pages.

Well, instinct won, and he took the book to read a passage here, a paragraph there. Next thing he knew, he was at the beginning and couldn’t put it down until it was over. I know all of this because the next time I came over, I went through the front door and he was standing there, World War Z in between his hands and a look of wonder on his face.

This book was wonderful!” he practically gushed. Me/horror 1, dad 0.

We spoke at great length about the book that night, going over what made it such a brilliant read. We ended up agreeing that one of its biggest draws was Brooks’ ability to create a unique and distinct voice in each chapter, one that honors the local cultures and lifestyles while remaining authentic to each region. The foundation of the book — a UN Postwar Commission agent collecting accounts of people during a zombie plague — was wonderfully realized and made for an engaging read that took me and my father across the globe.

When the film came out, it was the first time that my father actively wanted to go see a horror movie in theaters, so I leapt at the opportunity. I couldn’t resist some father-son bonding over zombies. Unfortunately, we weren’t terribly impressed with the film, and it was mainly due to our love of how the book’s story played out.

Okay, so I said it was going to be a quick story and I got a little long-winded, for which I apologize. However, I feel like that story is necessary in explaining where I think Marc Forster’s 2013 film adaptation of World War Z went wrong and why a long-planned sequel isn’t the smartest idea.

As mentioned previously, Brooks’ novel follows a UN agent who travels the world to collect accounts of those who survived through a zombie plague that nearly wiped out humanity. However, more than just being a story about survival, each chapter adds to the ways that the near-apocalypse changed the world’s politics, the social and religious ramifications, and even how the environment of the world shifted to accommodate such a cataclysmic event. I honestly believe that this is why Brooks’ novel was so critically acclaimed. The zombies were not the focus of the story. Rather, they were a plot device to envision a new kind of world that must be rebuilt out of death, loss, pain, and, ultimately, hope.

Films have a tendency to squash the stories of novels. Hell, just look at any Stephen King adaptation! There will always be sacrifices when it comes to adapting a novel for the screen, be it big (theaters) or small (television). To give you an idea of why that happens, here’s a little bit of trivia: One page of a script is considered to amount to one minute of runtime. So if a script is 90 pages long, it’s aiming to be a 90-minute movie. World War Z is nearly 350 pages long, which means a true adaptation would run nearly six hours. Since they couldn’t do that, they opted to create a story that was similar enough to the book but strong enough to stand on its own. I can’t fault them because almost no one is willing to sit through a six-hour movie, Lord of the Rings marathons notwithstanding.

However, what we see that people are willing to take on are binging series that appear on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or whatever your streaming service of choice might be. This is something I will openly plead guilty to as I plowed through the second season of “Stranger Things” in one sitting. The difference is that there are clearly defined breaks in the form of one episode ending and another beginning. I know where I can take a break and how to get a solid amount of story should I want to go do something else.

If someone wants to do World War Z true justice, the best approach, in my opinion, would be to turn it into a high-production series, one that takes viewers to new parts of the world each week and acts like a documentary. Use “interview” footage to open and close the episodes, much like how HBO’s “Band of Brothers” did, and then fill the middle with reenactments that take us into the heart of each story. The intensity of geopolitical strife between the Israelis and the Palestinians as they deal with having to work together during this crisis would make for an especially fascinating episode. Furthermore, the studies of how national governments attempt to survive and maintain control would be of great interest to anyone who finds political thrillers their thing.

With each country attempting to find their own way to survive not only the threat of zombies but also their own misinformation, lack of action, and potential extinction, the immediacy of a World War Z series cannot be denied. In fact, I believe it’s where the story could be at its most effective.

Horror on television has already proven to be a winning combination. “The Walking Dead” is in its 8th season with no signs of slowing down. “Hannibal,” while cancelled prematurely (again, my opinion), was a tour de force of beauty, phenomenal writing, and absolutely stunning visuals. “American Horror Story” is divisive, to put it mildly, but never fails to draw interest. The aforementioned “Stranger Things” is one of the most talked about shows in recent years. “Twin Peaks” made a phenomenal comeback that entranced viewers while never dumbing itself down. “Channel Zero” is shocking viewers with its astonishing visuals and clever writing, becoming one of the most appreciated shows on television, at least within the horror community.

If horror can be so smart, so engaging, and so well-produced on television, then perhaps World War Z needs to understand that by going from the big screen to the small one, it doesn’t have to sacrifice its epic capabilities. In fact, it might become even more of a sensation than ever before.

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