Supersonic Zombies
On the Movie Adaptation of "World War Z"

The movie adaptation to the runaway bestselling zombie apocalypse book World War Z is coming out later this year, and the first trailers have appeared. Have a look at the one below:

The zombie genre is on a high of late. Already strong to begin with, it was revitalized by the movie 28 Days Later which transformed the slow, lurching zombies of Night of the Living Dead into rage-infested monsters who could run at you full tilt. Here’s a sample scene, which has been dubbed over with the Benny Hill theme tune, because Benny Hill makes everything better.

Now, look: Benny Hill music aside, 28 Days Later does show the advantage of giving the zombies a speed bump, but The Walking Dead shows the advantage of keeping the zombies roughly as they were when George Romero basically invented the genre. The adaptation of World War Z appears to have done neither.

What they have given us is a rather startling image of zombies so ravenously going after living flesh that they’ll pile up on each other to make gigantic towers of hands and teeth. They move faster than Rage-induced fast. They move like a literal tide of humanity. And while I am momentarily caught up by the imagery here, it doesn’t take me long for my suspension of disbelief fail warning flag to perk up and start waving. And what irks me more is the liberties taken with the original source material here, as I’m pretty sure that these towers of flesh and teeth aren’t in the original manuscript.

There are two key incidents in the book World War Z which describes how humanity deals geopolitically with the zombie apocalypse: there’s the Battle of Yonkers where the US military tries to use “shock and awe” fighting techniques on one million zombies in New York City and gets pasted, ripped and torn apart live on CNN, and there’s the Battle of Hope, New Mexico, which takes places years later, after the US Military has had time to re-think its strategies.

Note the description of “The Battle of Hope” as seen in the book World War Z:

The new tactics and equipment developed during the past seven years were atonement for the mistakes made at the Battle of Yonkers.


At Yonkers, soldiers inexperienced at facing the undead panicked. Furthermore, while soldiers at Yonkers were told that the only way to kill a zombie is with a head shot, for years they’d been trained to shoot for the chest of a human target because it is the hardest to miss, and it was difficult to adjust to shooting a smaller target. In the years leading up to the Battle of Hope, the new model army trained extensively. They were trained to use the new Standard Infantry Rifle (or SIR, usually pronounced “sir” with affection) to consistently make accurate long-distance head shots. In addition, captured and chained zombies were used on training courses in extensive combat drilling to remove the soldiers’ panic about facing them.

On the unit-level, the plan was to “out G the G”. Soldiers were taught to fire with mechanical precision in a steady stream of head shots that might last for hours, alternating with a partner: one soldiers fires while the other re-loads.


Unlike Yonkers, the new army was not made to wear heavy bio-hazard MOPP gear. Nor did uniforms have any camouflage: concealment serves no point against zombies. Ultimately, camouflage would result in more friendly fire than anything: thus uniforms were now navy blue (resembling police SWAT team uniforms). More importantly, the new uniforms were made of a special fabric weave, still a government secret, that consists of many interwoven metal fibers; this makes it difficult for zombies to bite through, though it still allows the soldier’s body to breathe and not become overheated.


One of the strengths of the book World War Z is how realistically it applies the human response to the zombie threat. The American response in particular mirrors what the US army had to do after the Chinese invaded North Korea during the Korean War, and key divisions broke and ran. The US army had to rethink itself from top to bottom, improving the soldiers’ conditions to improve morale, and this massive rethink helped them retake the Korean peninsula up to the current line of demarcation.

The heart of the book World War Z is this transformation of the arrogance of the world’s leadership, as personified by the generals that commissioned the disastrous Battle of Yonkers, which then retools the army’s fundamentals to produce the spectacularly successful Battle of Hope. These changes included the plain and simple techniques of manufacturing guns that were accurate and would not jam, and training an army that relied on the intelligence of sharpshooters, and not the blunt-force instrument of shock and awe. The world is humbled by its own arrogance, rethinks itself, and comes through redeemed.

But the Battle of Hope could not happen if you have supersonic zombies able to build towers of flesh and bone able to scale twelve-storey walls. Which tells me that the film is an adaptation of a different book altogether. Which is a shame. I’d been looking forward to something more like this piece of fan fiction and less like Brad Pitt, Superhero.

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