It’s the $200m Hollywood blockbuster in which Brad Pitt travels the globe trying to stop a pandemic of brain-eating zombies from wiping out mankind.
But after World War Z’s spectacular Russia-set climax flat-lined during test screenings with the movie’s studio bigwigs, a brand new ending had to be re-shot earlier this year – with South Wales stepping in as an unlikely, last minute substitute.
So now, instead of the action culminating in a blood-soaked battle against armies of the undead in a ravaged Red Square, the hope for humanity’s continued existence is revealed as lying in an underground research bunker somewhere near Cardiff – Pitt arriving there after his plane crash lands in the neighbouring Valleys.
The scene – in which part of London doubled up as the Welsh capital – is among some 40 minutes of footage to have been re-jigged by Lost and Prometheus writer Damon Lindelof and has been shrouded in secrecy ever since.
All that’s known about it is that it involves Pitt’s United Nations investigator and Peter Capaldi – The Thick Of It’s expletive-happy spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, here playing a white-coated boffin – being chased around the zombie-infected facility in search of a miracle cure.
However, while the homegrown setting may have provided a much needed resolution to a story that’s faltered at every step in its transition to the big screen – rewrites, in-fighting and spiralling costs have all been factors – not everyone who’s seen the new finale so far has been impressed.
“That bit, in particular, looks spectacularly cheap,” wrote one critic from The Telegraph.
“The screen-stretching vistas and computer-generated zombie hordes from earlier in the movie are nowhere to be seen. In their place is Peter Capaldi, who plays a World Health Organisation director, and when you first glimpse him in an otherwise empty office you can’t help wondering if Malcolm Tucker has somehow saved the day by swearing the zombies into submission.”
Brutalashell.com was another to pick up on the incredulity of it all.
“The ending , where Pitt finds himself in Cardiff with a host of British TV actors feels tacked on,” went the site’s review. “It’s still quite effective in that it gives us a taste of the tension first created in the opening sequence, but it feels alien to the rest of the film as a whole.”
Meanwhile, others like US showbiz bible Variety were kinder, calling it “the film’s most elegantly crafted setpiece,” while The Hollywood Reporter said: “The sequence is a fairly simple, reasonably well-executed cat-and-mouse game in which our heroes are forced to sneak through a zombie-occupied building to grab a substance that may hold the key to stemming the war’s tide.
“Its quiet, pared-down nature contrasts strongly with everything that’s gone before, which – although not a bad thing – wraps everything up rather flatly and too quickly.”
And, as movie pundit Garry Slaymaker pointed out, the third act isn’t the only thing to have changed in the Hollywood-isation of Max ‘Son of Mel’ Brooks’ 2006 source novel.
“They’ve also skirted over the fact that in the original text the outbreak starts in China, probably because the movie execs didn’t want to risk upsetting Asian cinema audiences given that they’re the second biggest in the world outside of the US,” he said.
“Because they’re going to need to recoup as much money as they possibly can once this comes out, given how much has been spent on it.”
He added that he urged zombie fans to read Brooks’ book rather than shell out for a ticket to watch World War Z in theatres.
“It’s a fabulous yarn and is written as a collection of individual accounts by those who survived the zombie war, whereas the film is more a first person-led, epic-scaled action thriller.
“It’s like Hollywood kept the title but jettisoned all the rest,” said Slaymaker.
Including, it seems, the book’s references to Conway and Caerphilly.
“Yeah , in his book Brooks cites the castles in both those towns as naturally effective forts in helping keep out marauding zombies.
“Cardiff castle wouldn’t be any good, mind,” he laughed. “I remember talking to a bloke who used to work there once and he told me that they could never get the back gates to lock properly.”
* World War Z opens in cinemas nationwide on June 21.