Posts Tagged ‘ World War Z ’

A Plausible Zombie Apocalypse?

It seems a shame that Comic Con is taking place and I haven’t written one geeky thing the whole time.

The end-of-the-world horror du jour seems to be all about the zombies. This pop culture zeitgeist has been building for a while, but definitely reached its apex with the rise of the Walking Dead TV series (and, one might say, jumped the shark with the Brad Pitt blockbuster World War Z).

These walking undead beasties have evolved tremendously in the popular imagination from their origins as voodoo slaves. In some of the classic zombie movies of the fifties and sixties, it was radiation or toxic sludge that led to the bodies of the dead to walk the earth again. It’s a pretty silly scenario, but then, most science fiction is pretty light on the science. Sometimes it’s magic, but the most common solution to the “How’d that happen?” question in audiences’ minds these days is to answer: “I don’t know.”

In both Walking Dead and World War Z, the cause and origin of the undead pandemic is left unexplained. The dead just walk–live with it!

So what’s my point?

Last week, my son tried out a new game called The Last of Us on Playstation 3.

I noticed two things about this game as I watched him play: Firstly, it’s really graphic in both language and violence. I’m constantly having to comment on the profanity and the gory ways in which both the living and the undead are dispatched (Which is totally working. After grabbing one human bad guy and holding him as a human shield, my son asked, “Isn’t there a way I can just make this guy surrender?” There wasn’t, and he had to shiv the dude. But just that he wanted to spare this poor schlep shows that my counter brainwashing seems to be working.)

Secondly, though, I noticed that the writers of this game had chosen a different approach to their zombies. In The Last of Us, the zombie infection is caused by a fungus. In fact, my son and his non-player character companions in the game had to don gas masks as they navigated a spore-filled room with dead human bodies with fungal projections rising from their bodies. Very cool!

Why so cool? Because not only is this different from other zombie narratives, but it’s also kind of plausible.

You see, nature has already done it. In the jungles of South America, the fungal genus Ophiocordyceps infects insects and uses them as zombies to spread itself. Best known for the particular species that infects ants–each species pairs with a specific insect–the fungus rewires the brain of the ant, directing it toward a nice, cool location where it makes the ant clamp its jaws in a death grip on a leaf, and grows a fruiting body through the ant’s head to spore and spread itself.

So hats off to the producers of the game for cooking up a scenario that makes sense. After all, if a fungus can evolve to mind control ants, then why not humans?

Of course, as he played on, they had to go and ruin it by having the fungus turn humans into monsters that use echolocation and look like an extra from Pirates of the Caribbean 3, but for a minute it was really cool!


It’s That Time of Year Again


Today marks the release of Iron Man 3.

Screws the constellations. Forget the movement of the sun. Marvel Studios now marks the official beginning of summer.

There’s a lot that could be said about the Modern American Blockbuster® and the commodification of the imagination that underpins its monumental construction as a cultural artifact. As someone who used the word “postmodern” sixteen times in his graduate dissertation, I should probably be more interested in deconstructing these massive, bloated consumer vehicles–or at the very least critiquing big Hollywood’s corrosive effect on the art of cinema.

But here’s the thing: I love the movies.

I remember a moment in Duffy’s The World as I Found It when his protagonist, none other than Ludwig Wittgenstein, prattles off a deconstructive diatribe to his companion as they sit down to enjoy a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Yes, he tore it apart in his mind. Yes, he turned his intellect on the motion blur and its cultural resonances. But first and foremost, he “enjoyed” it.

Movies are tradition and ritual of my family’s life. My wife and I courted by holding hands in the dark theater, marking the progression of our life from sweetheart to fiancé to spouse to pretty-much-everything with art house dramas, award show wannabes, rom coms, sequels, remakes, and adaptations.

We are creatures of habit and so we have passed our legacy to our children who crowd around the laptop screen to watch trailers for upcoming movies and speculate endlessly based on the glimpses offered by the marketing machine.

You know what, somebody made money at the margins of the odeon in Ancient Greece, too. Commerce is woven into civilization. Artists have been as aware of that fact as they have been that there are critics and audiences to please. This isn’t exactly a new dynamic we’re talking about here. If there were a debate in front of me about the issue, I might be forced to concede that today’s film industry is probably the worst example of that corruption of the artistic process outside of fascist propaganda, but here’s the thing: the kids love it.

So I love it, too.

I’m henceforth unapologetically embracing the Summer of Sci-Fi®. Oblivion was meh, but we’ve still got Iron Man, Star Trek, Elysium, World War Z, Man of Steel, Wolverine.

Geez, you get the idea. It’s going to be a good summer to be a geek. So stay tuned.