By November 12, 2012

How Sprinters Ruined the Zombie Genre

When the film 28 Days Later hit the screen in 2002, it signaled a huge shift in the zombie genre. Prior to 28 Days Later, zombies were slow and shambling. If I had to compare them to something from nature, I’d say they were glacial. Once 28 Days Later came out with its sprinting non-zombie zombies, everything changed. Zombies were now fast and agile. They could climb and could run, seemingly forever. Zombies were now more of a pissed off horde of fire ants, running at full tilt forever without taking a breath. The remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004 cemented the idea of the sprinter zombie.

Shamblers allow the human characters an opportunity to prepare, and time for introspection. Survival seems possible, but not probable. The glimmer of survival, of being able to defeat, escape or evade a slow moving mass of death, gave characters a reason to live. Suicidal characters do make their way into a shambler’s narrative, but only by weaker characters or those assured certain death.

Sprinting zombies, if explored logically, would never allow for the humans to do anything more than scream “HOLY SHIT WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” Sprinter zombies deprive the human characters of a realistic chance for success, and accelerate the action to such a pace that it does not allow for the study of the human condition. Romero’s zombie films and the Walking Dead comic book are good because the slow speed of the zombies allow for narrative pacing. Sprinters, if done properly, would not. There would never be a chance for an introspection of how people can be brave or cowardly, generous or selfish, because a tidal wave of runners would smash any hope for survival.

To that end, World War Z may be the worst zombie movie ever made. Not only does it feature sprinter zombies on a scale never seen before, but it destroys everything interesting about the characters and situations in the original book.

Okay, further discussion of the World War Z movie requires the following:

  1. You’ve read Max Brook’s book World War Z
  2. You’ve seen the official trailer for the movie.

Okay, so if you’ve read the book, it chronicles the near extinction of humanity, then a huge rally, and then the eventual retaking of the planet from the undead. The book highlights the lives of normal people — very few of the characters have any prior military or law enforcement training — and how the deal with the zombie apocalypse.

If the trailer is any indication, the World War Z movie is about how amazing Brad Pitt’s character is, and how he’s one of the “only ones” with the specialized training to combat what’s going on. Who else is going to fight a horde of pissed off fire ants? A superhero-like character. The sprinter zombies present such an overwhelming foe that the protagonists have to be even more incredible.

And that is the opposite of what the zombie genre has always been.

Zombie fiction has been more about human interaction, or humans as the true monsters. Someone’s kid gets bitten, and the parents refuse to do the right thing. The kid turns and kills a lot of people. Or someone wants to leave a shelter, or stay too long, or makes a decision to split the group, and the decision kills a lot of people. The human characters are just as responsible for their deaths as the zombies. The shambler is just a foil.

When the zombie is a sprinter, it becomes the menace. The humans become purely the defender. It’s hard for me to imagine the slow, grinding drama of survivors running low on supplies when a giant stream of sprinters stack on top of each other up a sheer wall:

The World War Z movie scheduled for release in June of 2013. It is going to be an action movie, and not a survivalist / zombie movie. I am sure I’ll see it at some point, but this takes the sprinter zombie to such over the top proportions that I’m not excited about it.

What do you think?

Posted in: movies, zombies

4 Comments on "How Sprinters Ruined the Zombie Genre"

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  1. Brian C says:

    Not to mention the energy source for a fast zombie. The amount of energy a fast zombie would need to keep up its speed would run out fairly quickly unless it were able to feed pretty regularly.

    A slow zombie could shamble for days on just one feeding, but a sprinter should run out pretty quickly, even if you assume that they are very efficient food-to-energy converters.

  2. Selki says:

    I agree, sprinters are not as good zombie genre material. I think they’re popular b/c they allow mindless shooting w’out guilt. I liked WWZ a lot, but it looks like this is just another disaster movie.

  3. Brice says:

    The book was awesome, I was sad to see they gave this movie the same name because it has absolutely nothing to do with the book.

  4. DrFaulken says:

    Yep, exactly. The idea that it’s about a single superhero-esque badass instead of humanity banding together I put this on my Rent List.