Cognizant zombie thoughts propel Warm Bodies to a groaning, unsteady life, internal monologues bemoaning inside R’s (Nicholas Holt) almost petrified head. He is one of the undead, scratching the airport floor with his dragging feet as he makes daily rounds, searching for food. Namely, people.
The world is on full apocalyptic alert, a strain of viral infection, rabid monkeys, or bad seafood injecting humanity with undead-ness. R either doesn’t know or remember the cataclysm which has afflicted Earth. Survivors, as they tend to do in these movies, band together in walled off camps seeking refuge, the young sent on missions for supplies into dilapidated cities.
R, being particularity swift in corpsehood, drops in on a group of potential victims. His otherwise obtuse bar friends suck out brain matter; R becomes infatuated a blonde-haired beauty, Julie (Teresa Palmer). This innocent quest for necessitated pharmaceuticals is about to blossom into unorthodox romance.
All relationships have secrets; R for instance ate Julie’s boyfriend. No one is perfect. Terrified and covered in something sticky, brown, and rotting to hide her living odor, Julie is led astray of the feeding frenzy where R takes to her “lively” qualities. It is here the story, based on Isaac Marion’s novel, can directional shift. Warm Bodies could plant itself on an abandoned runway as R tries to woo (see: mumble) Julie, or it could refreshingly turn itself upside down and reject its precedents.
It is, unfortunately, not the latter. Warm Bodies moves where its oppressive, obvious foreshadowing is leading, plopped onto a pathway so tired as to be passe. The inventiveness of the idea – and concepts which sprout – are crumbled when Warm Bodies passes on taking a curve in the Hollywood romantic structure. Part of that is the joke: Treat the situation with normalcy or indifference and absurdest elements are easier to digest. The issue is Warm Bodies is dying (no pun intended) to seek freedom, become humorously uncomfortable, and it is never allowed.
Warm Bodies is too self-aware to stop being wholly entertaining, merely disappointing. Exposition drops are smartly delivered via midnight zombie snacking sessions, and the absorbing absurdity of this Romeo & Juliet, fairy tale fantasy kooky enough to earn originality points. For its life-fulfilling, prophetic set-up, Warm Bodies appears to be targeting something unexpected. Instead, it limps into predictability with a smartly acute romantic comedy frame, while zapping the zombie genre with a refreshing shred of upended happiness. Conflicts, of which there are two, are flatly satisfied in a rushed closing chapter that renders threats of otherworldly danger positively quaint.
Marion’s novel (and this Johnathan Levine screenplay) is conceptually powerful, more than Twilight with zombies, but plays cautious as to not disrupt normalcy once past the rush of impulsiveness. R and Julie share a disruptive bond, although not one that roughs up narrative structure. Reluctance to break into spiraling comedy or romantic deviations put Warm Bodies at an (enjoyable) stand still.
Warm Bodies travels the visual spectrum. Opening on R in the devastated remains of an airport, color is removed, flesh tones appropriately dulled. As story marches in, cracks of saturation sprout to life. Digital color grading is central to the story as a whole, making the eventual blitz of warm primaries before the credits a jarringly gorgeous surprise.
Of concern is Summit’s encode, charting high on bitrate spot checks, while alarmingly disruptive in its handling of grain structure. Film stock appears noisy and unkempt, even visibly smearing during subtle motion. Instances of smoke or fog crumple the imagery. Inconsistency is the unfortunate take-away of the disc, which is otherwise capable of well defined frames.
In close, the disc will prop up fidelity, growing in intensity as the features moves on. Spotty application of computer generated environments and the ungainly “Bonies” stand out with the afforded resolution, a sign of this disc running at prime condition. There is a consistent sense of fine detail, even if application is spotty.
Black levels are unremarkable yet wholly serviceable, a tick away from perfection that draws them close enough to produce needed dimensionality. Contrast, like color, is in the grip of the story. Cloudy skies turn to sunny days as things grow, sparking brightness to life with the intended look. Warm Bodies is a pleaser, if not always premiere work.
Powered with DTS-HD 7.1, the audio mix never works overtime (the additional rears are largely forgotten), yet plants a sufficient sound stage into the speakers. Bullets rip through the stereos and swing into the surrounds to mirror shifting cameras. Chase scenes utilize creepy moans to pull in atmosphere.
Prominent is a selection of music, played with clarity and affection as R enjoys his tunes from the days of analog. Here, they’re treated with care, bright lyics and split instrumentation. LFE is also active, hitting lows as zombies pound on windows to great effect. Action is otherwise missing this crucial component, or it is so blasé as to be ignored.
Bolstered by bonus features, Summit’s disc introduces a slate of extras, although these should have been bundled into a multi-chapter documentary. Before reaching that level, director Johnathan Levine joins his two stars, Nicholas Holt & Teresa Palmer, in a commentary. Holt continues speaking (optionally) over nine deleted scenes elsewhere in the menus.
Boy Meets, er, Doesn’t Eat Girl kicks up featrettes, this nine minute piece detailing the idea’s origins as a short story, and success as a novel. A Little Less Dead focuses on casting, Extreme Zombie Makeover reels in make-up design, A Wreck in Progress details luck in securing locations, Bustin’ Caps nicely details action & weapons, and finally, Beware the Bonies exposes CG monsters.
Whimiscal Sweetie takes clips from Teresa Pamer’s video diary, while Rod Corddry dishes zombie acting tips in another blip feature. Summit tacks on a gag reel and a trailer before calling it quits.