By ANDY GRAY
With all the zombie films out there, not to mention 35 episodes (and counting) of "The Walking Dead," it would seem all of the possibilities have been exhausted.
Brad Pitt stars in 'World War Z.'
All it took for "World War Z" to dispel that notion is $170 million (or much much more, depending upon which of the budget estimates being reported is accurate).
It is a zombie film on a scale that's never been attempted before. Until now, zombies have been the domain of low budgets and B movies. Stories have focused on small groups struggling to survive in a ravaged landscape. The reason the zombie/virus movie "28 Days Later" took place four weeks after the outbreak is that portraying those initial days of anarchy believably would have been cost prohibitive.
"Z" does the zombie apocalypse with an epic, international scope, showing the tipping point as major cities like Philadelphia go from being blissfully unaware of the impending doom to dealing with the rapid-fire transformation of folks from human to ... something else.
WHAT:?"World War Z"
STARS: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Elyes Gabel
STORYLINE: A former U.N. employee, trained in dangerous situations, tries to track down the source of a possible virus that could destroy civilization
DIRECTOR: Marc Forster
RATING: PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images
The "28 Days Later" reference above is an apt comparison. These aren't the shambling zombies of George Romero movies and ''The Walking Dead." The infected are driven by an unquenchable desire to bite others and spread the disease. They race after potential victims like sprinters, head-diving into windshields to get to their prey.
They also swarm like ants, becoming more dangerous as a collective than they are individually. That shot in the trailer with thousands of zombies climbing on top of each other to scale a wall? It's even more impressive in the context of the film.
Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former UN employee - the kind of guy sent into volatile situations - who quit to be with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters (Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove). After watching disaster unfold on the streets of Philadelphia, he makes contact with his former U.N. boss (Fana Mokoena). The president and most of the joint chiefs are dead, the vice president is missing and the government wants Gerry to accompany a Harvard virologist (Elyes Gabel) to South Korea, where the source of the virus may exist. Finding the source is the best chance of developing a vaccine. Gerry agrees only because his involvement will mean his family will be safe on a U.S. aircraft carrier.
Let's just say plan A doesn't go as expected, and Gerry goes from South Korea to Israel to Wales and points in between, picking up and losing allies along the way.
Director Marc Forster creates several well-staged set pieces within the context of the larger story. In that initial attack, Forster (and screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof, adapting Max Brooks' novel) show the full range of humanity inside one drug store being looted. While a man helps Gerry find the inhalers his asthmatic daughter needs, a gang attacks his wife a few aisles over. And the cop who sees Gerry with a rifle after shooting her attackers? He's too busy grabbing supplies for himself to care.
The transformation after a bite only takes about 10 seconds, and another powerful scene early on has Gerry standing on the ledge of a building counting down to 10 after getting some infected blood on him in a fight. He wants to be sure he can kill himself if he starts to turn.
An extended chase through the streets of Israel, a couple of terrifying plane rides and a search through a laboratory while trying to elude the infected also are staged to create maximum tension.
Pitt essentially is in every scene of the movie. The story might not need a ''movie star'' to anchor it, but it doesn't hurt.
''World War Z'' is not without flaws. All that money spent means needing to reach the widest possible audience, so ''WWZ'' is rated PG-13. It seems silly at times when the movie cuts away from the kind of action that can be seen on a Sunday afternoon on basic cable when AMC is running a ''Walking Dead'' marathon, but, if anything, the limitations seem to have forced Forster to find more inventive ways to express the devastation beyond covering the screen in entrails.
I'm not sure how well the story holds up to close scrutiny. The infrastructure - i.e. communications systems, power supply - seems to hold up longer than it should. A zombie turns up in one place where there is no logical explanation for its appearance. Pitt's character may be trained for extreme situations, but he survives more than anyone reasonably should.
But in the moment, I didn't care about any of that. "World War Z'' is frightening, riveting, edge-of-your seat entertainment.