I recall watching “Quantum of Solace,” the 007 movie directed by Marc Forster, and thinking, “This man should never have been put in charge of an action movie.” A fine director of art-house fare such as “Finding Neverland” or “The Kite Runner,” Forster handled his cherry chase scene — always a signature moment in the Bond movies — by filming and cutting it as an incomprehensible blur.
Despite “Quantum” being the least successful of the Daniel Craig 007 movies, Forster is back doing action again, this time with Brad Pitt in the global-zombie-apocalypse blockbuster “World War Z,” and it would appear he hasn’t learned much in the interim. This film features sprinting zombies — as opposed to the slow, lumbering ones — and while there are many panic-action scenes of Pitt and friends frantically scurrying to avoid their ravenous clutches, you’d be hard-pressed to say what’s going on in most of them.
Forster’s visual style is nothing but a series of blurry, lurching handheld camera shots, which make you feel like some really fast stuff is happening, but with no idea to whom or why. Narrative coherence and the precision of clean, storyboarded sequences — essential to creating a clear sense of peril and how to overcome it — are thrown aside for sheer sensation, motion removed from context. Then again, perhaps I should be shifting the blame onto editor Roger Barton: whenever you see a hyper-edited blur posing as a movie, it’s a safe bet that the name of this hack — best known for the “Transformers” series — will be in the credits.
It’s telling to compare this approach with the precision of AMC series “The Walking Dead.” Take the episode “Prey” in the third season, in which the Governor stalks Andrea in a deadly game of hide and seek in an abandoned factory full of walkers; director Stefan Schwartz makes maximum use of the location for sheer suspense, and resolves it with a simple yet clever conclusion, something Forster is entirely unable to do in “World War Z.” The panoramic CGI shots of hordes of zombies in motion, particularly the sequences in Jerusalem, are impressive, but anything that involves filming real actors and stunts just falls flat on its face.
It’s worth furthering the comparison: “The Walking Dead” takes you into the micro, a random bunch of survivors trying to get by with little ability to glimpse the bigger picture after society’s collapse; in “World War Z,” Pitt’s character, a former U.N. troubleshooter, must single-handedly solve the entire zombie epidemic and save the planet if he is to protect his own family. “The Walking Dead” focuses on an ensemble of characters and the tough moral choices they face — how to remain human in an inhuman environment; “World War Z,” despite being based on a novel by Max Brooks that features a vast number of different narrators, doesn’t even hint at this and instead goes with the prototypical “one man” beloved of Hollywood movies.
Finally, and this is no small point, “World War Z” must be the first zombie movie to feature absolutely zero splatter or gore, which I’m afraid to say is rather like alcohol-free beer: It looks the part but comes minus the kick.