World War Z‘s movie history is a checkered one. The rights to the hit novel were acquired by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B Entertainment, way back in 2007. After multiple rewrites, reshoots, and swirling rumors that Pitt was abandoning the project, it finally debuted five years after the fact in 2013. The film itself bore almost no resemblance to the book in an I, Robot sort of way: It was set in a similar universe to its source material, but shared only the most basic aspects.
Leaving out some key touchpoints of Max Brooks’s novel, Plan B even went back and reshot the ending to exclude the Battle of Yonkers, a climactic fight between humans and zombies that fans felt was a required element of any film adaptation. Back before the movie released, The Guardian detailed a bloated $400 million budget that had the potential to have Pitt “making the most expensive disaster of all time.” Lucky for the studio (and Pitt), despite its divergence from the novel, IMDB estimates it made upwards of $540 million worldwide, just enough to merit a sequel. Apparently, it wasn’t enough for Plan B to want to expand on their original premise though.
Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) was recently tagged to write the next installment for the franchise due out in 2016, and he may have some plans for an extreme overhaul in the works. In an interview with Indiewire, he detailed an ambitious plan that may please fans who were upset with the first movie. “I thought, ‘why not? What fun.’ It’s not quite like the other, we’re starting with a clean slate. When they’ve signed off we’re on.”
So what does a “clean slate” entail? There aren’t any details that elaborate on what exactly it means, but we have a few guesses. The movie we ended up getting in 2013 made its massive built-in audience angry. The people who flocked to the theaters though were likely those simply interested in seeing a decent zombie flick. The fans of Max Brooks’s novel, although curious, for the most part probably stayed home in protest.
Starting over from scratch though, gives this franchise a chance to please everybody. The people who just want to see monsters eating some brains and doing general zombie sort of stuff are easy to please. If the sequel can bring the book audience back into the fold (ideally with a scaled-back budget), Plan B stands to make a whole lot of money. Viewers get a better overall movie characterized by more loyalty to its source material, and the people in charge can get rich. Could Knight’s proposed “clean slate” be the win-win scenario we’ve always wanted? It’s hard not to think so.
With a spin-off of The Walking Dead in the works and 28 Months Later well on its way according to AV Club, the zombie window is still wide open. But if World War Z sees similar production issues that set it back by years once again, that window may very well slam shut. It’s critical to both the sequel and the franchise as a whole that this one doesn’t bloat its way to a sky-high budget full of rewrites and reshoots; lightning likely won’t strike twice, and zombies can only be cool for so long.