Yesterday, news hit that Brad Pitt was heavily recruiting his old buddy and frequent collaborator, David Fincher, to direct a sequel to Pitt’s problematic blockbuster, World War Z. The courtship has, according to Variety, grown from casual conversation to extensive meetings:
According to sources, Fincher and Pitt met two weeks ago to discuss the possibility of Fincher boarding the zombie tentpole. The talks were initially lukewarm, but sources now tell Variety that negotiations are much further down the road and that no other director currently has an offer.
This would mark the fourth teaming of the superstar and super director, who previously worked together on Se7en, Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Immediately, fans who knew better were #MadOnline about the prospect of the great auteur David Fincher lowering his lofty standards to wallow in such mediocrity as a zombie tentpole sequel. “Has he learned nothing from Alien 3?” was a common battlecry. But what’s so horrible about the prospect of a filmmaker as keen and detailed as Fincher tackling a major studio sequel again?
Let’s think about this. World War Z‘s source material, the Max Brooks novel, is a sharp geopolitical thriller. It travels the globe and touches base with a number of different cultures across the world who’ve been affected by the zombie apocalypse. It’s teeming with possibilities, and Brad Pitt knew that going in to the original film. Except he and director Marc Forster butted heads almost from the beginning. Forster scrapped the original plan to set up the film as a documentary-style drama, claiming it was “too intellectual” (seriously), and had Matthew Michael Carnahan re-write the story as an action adventure.
Then the studio interfered, shrinking the scale of the film to focus on Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane (and his scarf) trying to save his family. Damon Lindelof came in to redo the ending, the budget soared to $190 million, and Pitt was ultimately disappointed with the absence of geopolitics, which was what drew him to the project in the first place. Nevertheless, World War Z brought in over $200 million worldwide, the largest gross of Pitt’s career, and a sequel was inevitable.
Personally, I didn’t care for World War Z. It had its moments, but the final act is a complete mismanaged disaster. Still, there’s room for something wonderful in this story and the world surrounding it.
Fast forward to the Fincher news. For fun, let’s theorize that Pitt’s production company, Plan B, has pushed for more creative control over the sequel. The original, despite critical indifference, was a big hit for Paramount, and the brand has been built – albeit delicately. There is a fanbase, and Pitt is a box-office draw when he’s in the right project. Pitt clearly wants Fincher to come aboard because he still believes in the story Max Brooks crafted in his novel; that story, more about the aftereffects of the zombie war, would actually fit perfectly in a sequel to the 2013 picture. It could be the chance for Pitt to make the movie he wanted to make from the beginning.
Also, who says David Fincher is “too good” to direct a sci-fi/horror sequel all of a sudden? The guy’s style is impeccable, often perfectly cold and distant, always captivating. But let’s not pretend he is a filmmaker who only deals in highly-intelligent subject matter. His last film, Gone Girl, was a (great) hyper-stylized indictment of America’s gossip journalism culture. Fight Club, another book adaptation, was a scathing criticism on the toxicity of male machismo. Se7en was a serial killer picture, Zodiac a newspaper thriller, and perhaps his best film was about a social media platform you’re more than likely reading this through right now.
Plus, and don’t tell anyone this, but Alien 3 is pretty effing awesome.
The subject matter of David Fincher’s work has almost never been haughty high-society – ironically, what many consider to be his worst film, Benjamin Button, is that very kind of highbrow thinkpiece material. What is so wonderful about Fincher’s directing is he takes subjects like this and adds a dead-serious tone and pitch-perfect style to elevate the story and enhance the cinematic language. The craftsmanship of a Fincher film is what makes him an auteur, not the topics he chooses.
Which is why the project, when you think about it beyond how you felt about the original World War Z, fits into David Fincher’s world. Besides the fact that it’s his buddy Brad in the lead role, and the subject matter – and the fact it’s a novel adaptation – fit Fincher’s skill set despite first glances, maybe Fincher wants another crack at a sci-fi franchise sequel. I can’t imagine he would come on board this time if they force a release date on him and stand over his shoulder telling him what to do and when to do it.