At the movies: World War Z

At the movies: World War Z

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This post needs three caveats. First, I’m by no means a zombie expert. Second, I have not read Max Brooks’ novel, although appreciate the narrative device is dramatically different.

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Finally, at just shy of 1000 words, it turns out I have a lot to say about zombies! My guess is that this stems from a traumatic experience as an 8 year old watching a cannibalism story on BBC’s Crimewatch. I still get the shivers on hearing the theme tune.

Valerie over at Emergency Management suggests that Zombies could be considered a Disaster Preparedness Meme; having appeared on official channels such as the CDC blog.

I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say that we’re in meme territory here, but we’ve certainly got a lot of zombies about at the moment. Here’s my take on what World War Z tells us from a resilience perspective.

Establishing what happened

  • There are several hints throughout that the government (in itself this is interesting, usually it’s a scientist or a conspiracy theorist that the Government don’t take seriously) knew that there was a potential for something significant. This isn’t confirmed in dialogue, but a spattering of lingering looks between government officials provides enough to read between the lines.
  • Despite the disruption to phone networks, we still see traces of international surveillance. Quite why so much of this had to be first hand data collection from Brad is a mystery, but I suppose it’s difficult to dramatise an exchange of emails.

Prior Levels of Preparedness

We begin in the middle of the action – as a result, examples of emergency preparedness are scant, but I did make a few observations

  • That said, there are one or two examples of emergency preparedness. The best example is probably the family in New Jersey who have stockpiled food (and weapons) and have candles on hand for when the power goes off.
  • The film also hints at some of the perils of not being prepared. As new of the outbreak becomes common knowledge, we see supermarkets ransacked – a reminder to have a stockpile at home perhaps?
  • Thankfully for us, the protagonist has a history working with the UN, which stands him in good stead for the rest of the film, adapting to circumstances and being resourceful with equipment


With much of the US Government taken out early on in the film (the film makes a stong mention of the UN – an organisation to which Pitt is connected) it’s down to Brad and dude on the boat to try and save humanity. Whilst this is probably a stretch of the imagination, it reinforces the point of ensuing resilience and sustainability of your own team, an important business continuity consideration.

I did think it was interesting to see cordons being used for containment. There are very few occasions where this is permitted in the UK. However, a double line of police cars is no match for Pitt’s RV, which effectively conveys the lengths people will go to not to be contained.

Unlike other disaster films, there are no casualties. You’re either alive or undead. This means we don’t see too much in the way of how medical facilities cope with a surge in demand.

The Science Part

As is often the way in these films, the young virologist who is confident of finding the solution, manages to accidentally shoot himself. A reminder about the risks associated with a single point of failure.

From soldiers in South Korea, we’re told that that Jerusalem has isolated itself by building a large wall (surely this is a topical reference to Israeli/Palestinian policies? Turns out Al Jazeera made this connection too).  This reminded me to the small Derbyshire village of Eyam, which successful avoided the Plague. Simultaneous infection of cities all over the globe seems a little unlikely. However, real-life experience from H1N1 flu was that many large urban centres identified their first cases within a week of the declaration of an event of international significance.

The 12 second ‘conversion’ from human to zombie is incredibly quick. The timescales and convulsions shown present more like nerve agent exposure than bacteria or virus. Whilst the ‘flocking’ behaviour of zombies toward the source of noise isn’t new, the collective emergent response to form a pyramid of zombies to breach the wall was interesting (and technically not unfeasible).

Communications were a dominant theme in the film. The trusty satellite phone made an appearance; I must have missed the part where they realise that it’s cloudy so it won’t connect, or how Brad was able to recharge his device. I thought perhaps the filmmakers glossed over the true impact that a loss of telecommunications would have. We’re now so used to texting/emailing/tweeting/skype-ing (and yes, even phoning) that the distress caused when these systems are not available would be significant. It seemed overly convenient that the family groups depicted were all together, rather than being separated.

I did think it would be unlikely for a research facility of that nature to store all their ‘deadly’ samples all in the same fridge, but I guess it makes for an easier storyline.

The part that I found hardest to believe (apart from Pitt’s hair) related to the ‘cure’. Let’s give the whole population a disease to ‘camouflage’ ourselves. Whilst giving ourselves disease is nothing new (vaccination) I’d expect it would be more thoroughly assessed before inducing meningitis. Did they consider just using the pathogen as an aftershave? Eau de Ebola? Perhaps they did, but with Brad beard never getting past ‘rugged’ it was difficult to tell how much time was passing.

Other observations

Brad Pitt’s hair. Need I say more?

Whilst he might have had irritating hair, I liked Brad Pitt’s cautiousness. Too often the leading man just goes in all guns blazing. Brad was a (slightly) more considered hero, resourceful and aware that there were no second chances.


brain  brain  brain  brain (4 brains)

Final Word: Not a cross bow in sight and another innovative use for duck tape (surely a staple of anyone’s Grab Bag?!)


Image Source: Plan B Entertainment

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