Review: Mythbusters Zombie Episode

Review: Mythbusters Zombie Episode

What: Mythbusters Zombie Special (Air date October 17, 2013)

Where: Discovery Channel

Rating: 1 Zombie Head

Back in October Mythbusters jumped on the zombie bandwagon with an episode testing three zombie ‘myths.’ I was super pumped for this episode, but got busy and never watched it. It sat on my DVR for the next three and a half months until I finally watched it this week. It had so much promise. They were testing three different myths, and helping them out was none other than Merle himself, Michael Rooker. I was ready to geek out.

And then the show started.

I wanted to like this episode, I really did – but I just found so many flaws with it. Even with Michael Rooker. When he said “I hate zombies” after roundhouse kicking a cardboard zombie cut-out it was cool. When he said it a second and a third time it was like, ok, they clearly have nothing for him to do and he’s phoning it in. Weaksauce.

But the myth busting was the real disappointment. Here are the three segments:

Myth: The axe makes a better zombie killing weapon than the gun.

Where do I start with this one? First, everyone who has ever thought seriously about z-poc knows the axe has its place, but as a zombie killing weapon it leaves a lot to be desired. Unless you have a full beard and wear flannel year round, you’re probably not accustomed to swinging an axe and will tire quickly. More importantly, the axe tends to get lodged in whatever it comes in contact with, taking effort to withdraw from its target. If you’re having to fight to dislodge an axe from even every third zed you kill, the horde will descend on you. Finally, I don’t know where they even got this as a myth as I have never heard the contention the axe is an effective weapon in z-poc, let alone more effective than a gun. The katana (thanks to Max Brooks and Michonne) being better than a gun, yes, but never the axe.

Even more than that, it was the way they tested it that made me shake my head. They built a massive, comical, oversized foam axe head that had a blade that was seriously two feet long. It was like something that Bugs Bunny would hide behind his back, and you’d be like “no way Elmer Fudd can’t see that thing! It’s huge!” If it was a real axe it would have weighed 50 pounds. It was saturated with green paint so it would leave a mark on each zed when it made contact.

They set up a circle on a warehouse floor with tape and the rules of engagement were that the zeds would come from 360 degrees around the circle, and had to move slowly. Adam (the one with hair) could not kill a zed until it crossed into the circle. Because that’s what you would do in an outbreak is wait for them to surround you, right? Please.

Then, when the zeds came at him Adam ran around and tapped zeds on the head. Tapped, with no swing of the axe in between as would be required in real life. Think duck-duck-goose kind of tapping, as if lightly touching a zed on the noggin with a paint filled foam axe is going to take it out. Even with this ridiculous testing method, he still only got 13 zeds before the circle collapsed on him. They ran the ‘experiment’ twice and got much the same result.

Then they switched to testing the gun. Again, they made this huge production about the prep, showing the plastic shells they made for the zed extras to cover their faces with so Jamie (the bald one) could shoot zeds in the face with a paint gun without hurting them. So far so good.

They used the same rules of engagement. He could only shoot a zed once it crossed into his circle, which takes away one of the main advantages a gun has over a bladed weapon: range. They started the test and Jamie pulls out his single. Shot. Paintball. Gun. Single shot, as in shoot, pull the slide, shoot, pull the slide. He got 6 zeds before they brought him down. It was ridiculous! I don’t know of any real guns that shoot this slow. A revolver shoots faster than this thing. It was like shooting a pump action pellet gun. You what shoots faster than a single action paintball gun? A REGULAR PAINTBALL GUN, fer chrissakes. They re-ran the test with pump action paintball shotguns, which was a slightly better concept, but he still only got 6 before the horde descended.

Verdict: Myth confirmed! The axe is the better weapon for Zpoc. These guys are toast when the dead rise.

Myth: Even though they move slowly, the sheer number of zombies makes it impossible to outrun a horde.

Again, I’ve never heard this contention. In fact most people in the know would agree that you CAN outrun a horde. For a while. But eventually you have to rest, while zed just keeps coming. And you may outrun one horde only to run into another, perhaps larger horde. But that’s not how they ran the test.

The B team – Kari, Tory and Grant – set up a 100 yard long, 50 yard wide infested area and populated it with enough zeds to approximate the population density of New York City. They put junk cars, k-rails and other obstacles on the course. The zeds were not allowed to walk faster than two miles per hour.  Each runner would wear a belt with three little foam brains velcroed to it (kind of like the zombie runs to with flags). First up: Kari. She ran the course from end to end an had no problem avoiding zed. That would be great, except a real horde would not stop at the border marked by caution tape.

Next they increased the population density by shortening the course by 25 yards, approximating the density of Mumbai, India, and Tory had to run the course. Again, he made it without trouble – but had 25 fewer yards to cover, so it’s not exactly an apples-apples comparison.

Then they cut the course by 25 yards again to further increase the density. This time Grant was up, and he tripped on his own feet and was caught by the horde. This, they said, proved that only the densest population on earth would be enough to keep you from outrunning a horde. Never mind that if Kari or Tory had tripped in the other scenarios they would have been caught as well, and they didn’t run the test again to see if NOT tripping would increase the odds of success. I guess the new scientific method is ‘one and done.’

Next they used trickery on this densest population to see if that would work. Kari taped Tory to a wheel chair and pushed him at the horde. While the bulk of the zeds moved toward (and devoured) Tory, Kari slipped through. That didn’t prove anything to us that Shane and Otis hadn’t already demonstrated in Season 2 of The Walking Dead!

Next, Grant built a remote controlled robotic vehicle with a mannequin and speakers in it. While it rolled into the horde he was using a walkie talkie to broadcast through the speakers. The ploy worked, it drew zeds to it and he slipped through.

Lastly, Tory had a zed make over and tried walking through the crowd like one of them. It worked for a while, but one of them recognized him as human and they caught him. Again, TWD season 1 (Rick and Glenn) and season 3 (Michonne covered in walker blood and guts) have shown us that camouflage works to a point. Only Michonne’s pet walkers seem to be truly effective for more than a few minutes.

Verdict: Myth busted! You totally CAN outrun a horde of zombies. I don’t disagree with that completely: it’s just the next one, and the next one, and the next one that will be a problem. When you tire out, must eat, are wounded or find yourself in a dead end alleyway – good luck!

Myth: A horde of zombies can break through anything.

The premise here is that the combined force of a horde will apply enough pressure to break through any barrier. The crew built a door frame in the opening to an old barn, put up a rickety set of doors without any reinforcing materials, and had a horde bust through it with little effort.

For the horde they put a section of plastic culvert pipe around everyone’s torso so the people portraying the undead didn’t REALLY get crushed against the doors. Adam received a makeover to be part of the horde. The group was 50 strong and they put up an infographic with the amount of force it would generate, but I forget the math. It’s not really important to the outcome anyway.

For take two they installed better doors with better reinforcement. Adam the zombie called out (!) “We’re coming for you, old man!” It got funnier every time he did it. And he did it a lot. Please note the sarcasm. Michael Rooker might have said he really hates zombies again, but if he did I tuned it out. The horde hit the doors and with very little hesitation, blasted right through.

For take three, they reinforced the shit out of the doors. The horde pressed against them but the doors held. Adam called out “We’re coming for you, old man” for like the 10th time, and the horde pressed again. The doors held. They pressed again. Boards were cracking and starting to give, but the doors held. And that’s when they called it good.

Verdict: Myth busted! A zombie horde CANNOT break through everything they come up against.

Again, the big fault I find with this scheme is that a real zombie horde isn’t going to stop. I think, given the amount of damage they had done, that had the Mythbusters horde gone at the doors one more time they would have broken through, but Adam and Jamie just declared victory and that was that.

Whether it was cartoonish axe heads, crazy single shot paint guns, defined limits on zombie pursuit, or calling a halt to the number of times a horde tries to break through a set of doors, every segment in this show had serious flaws in its assumptions. In segment one, they didn’t use semi-automatic guns or a blade like the katana. In the end, this might be salvageable as an instructive example of what happens to people who aren’t prepared for z-poc.

Regarding the other segments, different writers of zombie fiction have different rules for how the undead behave, but there are some nearly universal behavioral patterns. They may run, they may shamble, they may walk like they’re drunk, but they never quit, ever. The premise was completely ignored in segments two and three, rendering their status as ‘busted’ myths spurious at best.

In the end, I applaud Mythbusters for making the effort. I think almost anything that keeps zombie culture in the mainstream consciousness is a good thing. But an A for effort ends in a D for execution. With their budget and access to experts in the industry, I expected a lot more.

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