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Did you hear that audible sigh of relief from Brad Pitt and Paramount Pictures Sunday morning?
Despite all the well-publicized trouble, Pitt and Paramount's "World War Z" cashed in at the box office this weekend, raking in $66 million domestically and $111 million worldwide – Pitt's largest opening ever.
And to add to Pitt's mirth, on the heels of the film's success, Paramount's vice chairman Rob Moore announced plans to develop a sequel. But odds are good it won't be the sequel Pitt and company originally had in mind.
After Pitt and his Plan B production company won a bidding war with Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, they optioned Max Brooks's novel, "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War." Plan B began developing the film as part of a trilogy, hoping to kick start a franchise that Pitt would both star in and produce. They hired screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski to perform the difficult adaptation, but when he began quarrelling with director Marc Forster, Stracynski was replaced by Matthew Michael Carnahan.
Ultimately, neither screenwriter could deliver the ending Paramount wanted.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
After principal photography had finished, director Marc Forester showed a cut of "World War Z" to the studio, which featured an epic battle as the ending sequence. According to an expansive article in this month's Vanity Fair, the battle took place, "in Russia, where the undead lay siege to Moscow’s Red Square but are beaten back by an army of thousands, who, enslaved by the Russians, are forced to fight in ragtag battalions, lopping off the heads of the surging zombies with shovel-like weapons called lobos, short for 'lobotomizers.' The Russia battle not only was the pivotal action scene for the movie’s ending but also set up Gerry Lane [Pitt] as a leader in the war against the zombies for potential sequels."
Apparently, Brad Pitt running around Red Square chopping off zombie heads didn't appeal to Paramount's sense of global marketing.
Paramount quickly pushed the release date back from Christmas 2012 to summer 2013 and hired another screenwriter to rewrite the ending. Enter Damon Lindelof, the writer who got everyone confused with the TV series "Lost" (2004) and perplexed by "Prometheus" (2012).
To Lindelof's surprise, Paramount didn't feel at all bound to the footage Forster had already shot. He was given carte blanche to create an entirely new ending. After inviting friend and fellow "Lost" writer Drew Goddard to help deliver the goods, they pitched ideas to executives from Plan B and Paramount.
In less than a month's time, Lindelof and Goddard delivered around 60 new pages that kept Gerry Lane's sympathetic family man appeal intact. Instead of loping off zombie heads, Lane would outsmart the undead, using his wits to find a defense against the creatures. And ultimately returning to the family he was forced to abandon earlier in the film.
When it came time to reshoot the additional footage, Paramount hired yet another screenwriter – Oscar award winner Christopher McQuarrie ("Usual Suspects," 1995) – to serve as the on-set script consultant. Though McQuarrie isn't credited, Lindeloff tweeted thanks to him for doing the "heavy lifting."
In case you're counting at home, that's five – count 'em, five – screenwriters.
At the end of the day, the creative team was probably correct in changing the ending, even though it took the story even further away from its original source material (at this point, they seem to be related in name only). http://theoatmeal.com/comics/wwz While the final sequence does feel tonally different from the rest of the film, from a story standpoint, the more heady approach is not only more rewarding intellectually, but also emotionally. One could argue that more summer blockbusters could tone down the spiraling violence that often ends a film (we're looking at you "Man of Steel").
But with an entirely new ending, whatever story material Plan B had originally been developing for sequels will likely need to be scrapped. In other words, they'll likely need to find a plan b. Fortunately, they know a lot of screenwriters who can help them out.