HARDBARNED! The Blog

Prepping For The Walking Dead and WWZ

I’m addicted to The Walking Dead. Or am I? I still haven't decided whether to break my self-imposed "all content comes from Netflix discs, no matter how long I have to wait" rule (again) and stream the new episodes the day after they come out via Amazon, like I did with the second half of season three. I did this because my lovely wife and I simply had to see what happened next in this soapiest of operas of the undead and the near-dead, but also because I had an Amazon gift certificate, so the expense factor for streaming high-def episodes at $3 a pop was lessened considerably. I guess I have a couple weeks to decide how addicted I really am, as season four begins on Sunday, October 13.

I suppose a zombie fiction addiction is preferable to quite a few other addictions I could be saddled with. Following The Walking Dead comic book and its eponymous television series doesn’t require copious amounts of money, result in ruinous relationships or shirked responsibilities, cause my body grievous harm or require illegal transactions with nefarious characters in dark and potentially dangerous locales. It doesn't make me fat, stink up the room or require injections to enjoy. Well, I guess if I watched or read enough of it from a sedentary position instead of from a treadmill, it might make me fat.

Uh-oh. I don't have a treadmill. I guess if I did, I'd be in a lot better shape for the real-life zombie apocalypse. Hmmm. Do you think the Doomsday Preppers watch their show from a treadmill instead of from a couch? I haven't seen the show, but it seems like they should, if they're as serious about prepping as they seem to be.

The Walking Dead is not the greatest show ever, but it is the most popular. I think there are two primary reasons for this: Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard's compelling, perpetual cliff-hanger-generating source material and an American obsession with post-apocalyptic survival scenarios. However, obsession is probably the wrong word for me. My interest in the comic and the TV show does not begin to approach the universe of those fans who are so obsessed with The Walking Dead and other apocalyptic scenarios that they are literally preparing for what they are thoroughly convinced is the actual, (coming soon!) end of civilization.

While I love reading gritty, harrowing, epic adventure and post-disaster survival against-all-odds tales of both fiction and non-fiction and enjoy movies on those same subjects, I'm not a paranoid obsessive prepping for the impending "Barackalypse." I have not secured and stockpiled an elaborately outfitted bunker with canned goods, weapons, water, medicine, body armor and freeze-dried meals-ready-to-eat (MREs). I have not reorganized my entire life around my survival plan. I'll admit that if TSHTF, I will wish that I had. 

Okay, I so do keep a few MREs handy for camping trips, but I haven't designed elaborate defensible fortifications and escape routes or initiated plans for self-sustaining aquaculture and sniper towers around my castle walls, but maybe I should. You never know. I don't have any castle walls either, but again, maybe I should. Take it from the Boy Scouts' classic motto: Don't Be Gay, but Be Prepared. It's something like that, right? Even the CDC released a zombie-apocalypse survival guide.

There's nothing wrong with being ready for trouble when trouble arrives, but many of us remain unconvinced that the End Times are upon us, can't afford all this expensive prepping stuff anyway and kind of want to just focus on the present and not worry so much about the apocalypse. Life is tough enough without prepping for armageddon, right?

The zombies will most likely eat we, the unbunkered masses, first. But maybe that's okay. Who really wants to live in a never-ending horror movie wherein your friends are torn apart before your very eyes, nothing works (including lights, toilets, showers and phones) and you're perpetually fleeing in terror before being eaten alive yourself, or--perhaps worse--you are forced like our man Rick Grimes and his crew of survivors to face down the human monsters that rise from the ashes of society--monsters that are inevitably, exponentially more despicable, unpredictable and deadly than the zombies--who do their worst to use and abuse you and those you hold dear?

Don't get me wrong, if it happened, whatever "it" was, I would fight to survive, protect my loved ones and go down swinging until my last breath, but for now, let's have popcorn and a movie instead of AR-15 practice and a moat-digging party. On second thought, maybe I should at least pack that bugout bag. There's a fine line here. I really like some aspects of prepping. I admire the ideals of self-sufficiency, homesteading, working your own plot of land, being "off the grid" to whatever extent possible, using solar power, gardening organically, perhaps even with aquaponics, and escaping the chaos of the caustic urban milieu and the masses of people, pollution and noise.

All those things sound really good. So does being ready for emergencies. You can't really fault someone for being prepared when you're not. So as I write about preppers, there's a little poking fun, but there is also a degree of reverence and respect. It's kind of like heavy metal: Metal is fun, and metal is funny. Metal is absurd and fun to make fun of. But metal can also be incredibly awesome. Simultaneously brilliant, awe-inducing and hilarious. Epic and ridiculous. Transcendent and absurd. Badass and jackass. I think prepping exists in a similar realm, in a comfortable dichotomy between practical and obsessive.

But why are so many of us fascinated by these tales of The End? Plenty has been written about the popularity of zombies and apocalyptic fiction, attributing their surge to well-founded, real-world fears of everything from financial insolvency, economic collapse, crop failures, famine, natural disasters, disease pandemics, chemical attacks, nuclear armageddon, terrorist attacks and perpetual warfare to slightly more kooky "threats" like electro-magnetic pulses, solar flares, a rise of the machines, gamma-rays, gray goo and nefarious government plots to make health insurance affordable or to confiscate everyone's guns.

Take your pick of which of these sounds plausible and you may have your reason to get busy on that bunker. I think it's pretty simple, really. We fear what we cannot control, and we do whatever we can to thwart those fears. I'm not saying that being a prepper or building a bunker is crazy. Maybe it's the smartest subculture around and everyone else is an idiot. Maybe we'll find out how right they really are. But maybe we won't. Everyone has these fears, but some of us simply choose to worry less about them than others or choose not to worry at all about the doom that is whatever you think it's going to be. Some see a coming zombie nightmare scenario that Max Brooks (son of Mel) called World War Z.

I think the fun of reading or watching survival stories is basically about putting ourselves in the shoes of the characters and asking ourselves "what would I do?" There's a base thrill in experiencing this stuff vicariously, but that's nothing new. When every day--almost every moment--proves to be a life or death situation, everything is elevated: the drama, the relationships, the stakes, our ability to overlook boring side-plots in between zombie battles; everything is on the line at every turn, and every decision is crucial. Placing characters into a scenario like this inevitably creates suspense, and it's often exhausting, except when it's not, like when characters argue about silly crap or make terrible choices that are painfully obvious to the reader or viewer.

So I watched Brad Pitt's "adaptation" of World War Z. It was decent, if you like zombie movies. I didn't think it was "garbage," as one friend claimed, but I agreed with another who said that it "wasn't the best zombie movie ever, but it was entertaining." I had read Brooks' excellent novel on which the film was very loosely based, and I knew going in that the film's approach would differ quite a bit from the book. I couldn't help thinking that WWZ would have been a perfect candidate for adaptation into an HBO mini-series like Band of Brothers or The Pacific. Both were amazing.

Since WWZ is set all over the world in a succession of well-developed vignettes focused on different characters, settings and situations, the high-budget, unrated mini-series format would have been a perfect choice, but instead, those in charge of the film focused on one character and crammed what they could into a single feature. As a result, there is little time for character or plot development between massive, CGI-fueled action set pieces, and the re-shot ending seems tacked on and inconclusive. The folks at Screen Junkies totally nailed this "honest trailer."

That said, in a post-9/11 Hollywood era glutted with airline disaster scenes, the movie featured the best one I have seen since the opener from The Dark Knight Rises. Well, the crash in Flight was pretty good too, but fast zombies ratchet up the terror quotient considerably in already-terrifying airline disaster scenes because let's face it: faster zombies are scarier zombies. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later proved this, and Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of The Dead re-confirmed it. Why fast zombies are still relatively rare in zombie fiction remains a mystery. Despite the less than five-star response, it appears Mr. Pitt is not through adapting Mr. Brooks' zombie omnibus. There is already talk of a trilogy, despite WWZ's modest box office haul, and officer Rick Grimes and company will return to the smaller screen soon, along with a Walking Dead spinoff show set in the same universe with different characters, so I guess the zombie craze still has legs. And teeth. Pack your bugout bag.