While other fans gathered at the Clearview Cinemas for a free preview of Pitt’s big-budget zombie movie – and while the actor waited to make a surprise appearance in front of the crowd -- I was in a van lost in Frank Sinatra’s hometown.
The crowd waited for the movie to begin, biding their time by taking pics at a “World War Z” photo-screen, maybe talking about the excitement of seeing the movie a month before its June 21 release; in the meantime, my fellow passengers and I started to turn on one another. As I imagined audience members tearing into their bag of Twizzlers, unable to delay the licorice satisfaction any longer, we contemplated getting out and walking after having passed the Malibu diner for the (approximately) 123rd time. Those lucky enough to score the limited tickets to the event probably cozied up in their movie theater seats; in the van, a Governor-esque villainess arose to berate the driver as a ridiculous idiot.
In short, as the audience prepared for a zombie apocalypse on screen, we in the van were actually living through our own little zombocalypse social experiment.
When I did arrive at the theater, after we abandoned the van en masse and walked the rest of the way, I only briefly took note of the energy level of a crowd about to get one of the first public glimpses at a highly anticipated summer flick.
That level went to 11 when, now with a complete house, Pitt walked out and gave out a few “WWZ” tees with the promise that everyone would receive one.
Brad Pitt speaks to audience at the Hoboken, NJ, fan screening of 'World War Z' Photo: Aaron Sagers
After thanking the crowd, Pitt – who stars in and produced the Paramount film – said he was told he had to do a screening in New York City for “media and some friends.”
“I said OK but we can’t do it without showing it to the people we made the film for,” Pitt went on. “We got to do a screening for the fans, so we decided there’s no better place to do that than Jersey.”
Obviously that kicked the cheering up another notch for the proud Garden Staters who, based on the applause when it appeared, must have felt a bizarre pride in seeing Newark in a state of disaster in the movie.
Although Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia get screentime, the film is a globetrotting horror adventure that spans continents. Adapted from Max Brooks’ 2006 book, an oral history set a decade after the zombie war, the film begins right away with a society that’s crumbling fast amidst growing swarms of undead. The story revolves around Gerry Lane (Pitt), a former U.N. researcher pulled back into the field as he travels the world searching for the source of the new plague.
And, according to Pitt, the result is a “monster film.”
“It’s epic, it’s scary as hell, and I guarantee you it’s the most intense thing you’re going to see all summer.”
As for whether that holds true, it's too soon to tell, but the audience definitely responded as if they agreed with the actor on some level. They jumped at the right moments when zombified faces leapt from the darkness, and the talkative teen seated behind me called it “sick” as the creatures entered the Holy Land. And when one of the characters met an untimely end after delivering his monologue, one of the movie’s few funny moments, it did elicit laughs.
But while there was solid applause for “World War Z,” the movie could never generate the same excitement as Pitt’s presence; the promise of those free tees did come close.
Still, having a legit A-lister in the room aside, the film appeared to win over the crowd. It's hard to see how this might translate to weekend box office take when the movie opens next month, but the fans went home with a celeb sighting, a free tee, and a mind full of zombie images.
And I went home, much more content, quiet and at peace post-“World War Z,” spinning a yarn about Brad Pitt waiting to kick off the zombie apocalypse until I arrived.