Top 10 Films About Isolation

Most of us are currently huddled away in our homes doing our part to help fight the coronavirus by social distancing and isolating ourselves. Doing so has brought up the issues of isolation, which can be a challenge for some of us. Since we have time, check out these genre films which dealt with the main character being alone in their situation, whether it was due to the collapse of civilization or related to space travel. Taking a look will remind us that our situation is not as bad as the ones faced by the main characters in the films. Also note that although in these films, the solo character at some point interacted with other people for a significant portion of the film he or she was alone.

 

10. Passengers (2016):

A hibernating passenger (Chris Pratt) onboard a colony spaceship is awoken prematurely and finds himself all alone in the mammoth ship. Unable to reprogram his sleeping pod and fated to live out the rest of his days alone, he unethically awakens another passenger (Jennifer Lawrence) and the two start a romance. Meanwhile, the glitch that caused him to awaken points to major problems with the ship itself. Solid acting and special effects enhanced Passengers, which rightly looked at the ramifications of his actions.

9. The Omega Man (1971):

The second adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend took major liberties with the source material, but the isolation film is an enjoyable romp. After a war between Russia and China leads to  a virus that kills most of humanity except for army doctor Robert Neville (Charlton Heston). He spends his days roaming the empty streets of Los Angeles, warring with mutated albino humans and perfecting a cure. Chock of full corny ’70s dialogue and action, The Omega Man still stood out for its introspective scenes of Neville as he dealt with loneliness.

8. The Martian (2015):

A major duststorm on Mars forces an expedition to abandon the red planet. However, one astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), believed to be dead, was left stranded. Using his ingenuity and pluck, Watney uses all of his skills and science know-how to survive on Mars and eventually make contact with Earth. From there, it is a riveting race against time and dwindling resources for Watney to stay alive until a rescue mission can retrieve him in this thrilling isolation film.

7. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959):

Harry Belafonte (yes, that Harry Belafonte) portrays a mine inspector who survives World War III after being trapped in a mine. After escaping from the mine, he makes his way to New York City and discovers he is completely alone. Grappling with his predicament and loneliness, he eventually he encounters a woman (Inger Stevens) and the two start a friendship. Although she is interested in a romantic relationship with him, his inhibitions about their race keep him from accepting her. Complicating matters is that they find another survivor which leads to tensions between the three of them. While it is melodramatic and heavy handed, the film still has relevant messages about letting go of the past and is a fascinating look at survival and loneliness.

6. Silent Running (1972):

In the future, the remaining natural habitats are placed in greenhouse domes onboard spaceships near Saturn. Freeman Lowell I(Bruce Dern) is one of the botanists tending the biomes and rebels against orders to destroy the domes and return to Earth. After killing his crewmates, Lowell commandeers one of the ships and heads to deeper space; his only companions are a trio of non-speaking robots who help him tend the domes’ gardens. Silent Running obviously has a very strong environmental message yet it is very moving and also has an unflinching look at Lowell, who allowed his extreme protective views to push himself too far.

5. Love (2011):

In the near future, an astronaut (Gunner Wright) is sent to the abandoned International Space Station to restore it but becomes stranded there after a sudden war wipes out humanity on Earth. Now completely alone, the astronaut begins to lose his sanity and will to live until an event occurs that will lead to debates. Love stands out from many sci-fi films in its exploration of what it is to be human and connected to others through our emotions and memories. Also impressive is that the film while low budget was elevated by ingenious production design and direction. The final moments of Love in many ways rivals though-provoking finales such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris in that it brings up many questions about its conclusion.

4. I Am Legend (2007):

The third and most recent adaptation of Richard Matheson’s book stars Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville. After a viral cure for cancer mutates into a virus that kills most of humanity, Neville lives alone in New York City; his only companion being his pet dog Sam. In between roaming the iconic New York streets, finding a cure and hunkering down in his fortified apartment at night, Neville wars with savage mutated humans who are light sensitive. This version of I Am Legend has some exceptional production which present a disquieting look at an abandoned New York that is being reclaimed by nature. Will Smith turns in a riveting and sympathetic performance as the haunted Neville and carries the film. If possible watch the film with its alternate, more ambiguous ending, which is more faithful to Matheson’s story and elevates this film.

3. Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1965):

This futuristic retelling of Daniel Defoe’s classic yarn, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a true underrated gem. Astronaut Christopher Draper (Paul Mantee) crash lands on the red planet and struggles to survive. Air, water, food and shelter are his main objectives. Once he solves those issues, thanks to luck and strong survival skills, Draper endures being alone (except for his pet monkey, Mona) without any hope of getting home. However, incidents arise which sets Draper off on a grand adventure that makes the most of its budget and follows many aspects of the Defoe book. and makes it more than a survival film. Despite its low budget and B-movie trappings Robinson Crusoe on Mars is very imaginative and a cut above the cheesy sci-fi offerings from that time, although its scientific inaccuracies (breathable air on Mars!) should be forgiven.

2. The Quiet Earth (1985):

Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) is a scientist in New Zealand who finds himself alone on Earth after his energy experiment causes humanity to disappear. Similar to The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, Hobson struggles with loneliness and his sanity until meeting Joanne (Alison Routledge). From there, they start a romance which is hampered by the arrival of another man (Pete Smith). But before a love triangle takes up all the energy in the film, Hobson learns that the experiment may be causing further damage to reality and has to find a way to stop it and possibly reverse its effects. Evocative thanks to its exploration of isolation and what it is like to be the last person alive, The Quiet Earth is further enhanced with its deliberately ambiguous ending. Its final images are truly jaw dropping and provides much to ponder.

1. Gravity (2013):

Sandra Bullock gives a powerful performance as Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut forced to survive on her own after a disaster destroys her space shuttle and kills her astronaut companions. Without help and on her own, Stone has to rely on her own will to live and smarts as one calamity after another threaten her. Gravity is one of those non-stop thrill rides that perfectly showcase the horror of being in space and why it is so inhospitable. At the same time, the film is a tour de force for Bullock whose character is put through an emotional wringer as she uses all of her will to fight past her fears and traumatic past to fuel her drive to find safe passage back to Earth. Unlike other films on this list, Dr. Stone has to grapple with immediate life-or-death situations and doesn’t have the luxury of dealing with boredom or loneliness. As with the other films here, Gravity showcases the power of the human spirit to endure and thrive in any environment even if one is isolated.

 

Star Trek: Picard – A Season In Review

second picard poster

The first season of Star Trek: Picard has just concluded and it’s time to take a look at the season and the show itself. There will be many spoilers coming up, so if anyone has not seen the show streaming on CBS All Access or Amazon Prime then turn back. Otherwise, read on!

Star Trek: Picard naturally centers on the ongoing story of Admiral (retired) Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as he left behind a tranquil existence at his French vineyard for one more grand adventure/mission which will reshape the galaxy.

The show takes place in 2399, twenty years after the film, Star Trek: Nemesis, and the death of the android Starfleet officer Data (Brent Spiner). Jean-Luc Picard angrily resigned from Starfleet fourteen years earlier and tends to his vineyard along with his Romulan employees, Zhaban (Jamie McShane) and Laris (Orla Brady). Picard meets Soji Asha (Isa Briones), a young woman who turned out to be a synthetic person and Data’s daughter. She is killed by Romulan secret agents but Picard learned that Soji had a twin sister, Dahj, and sets out to rescue her before the Romulans get to her. It turns out that Dahj is working in a deactivated Borg cube operated by Romulans and ex-Borg drones.

During his sojourn to find Dahj and protect her from the Romulan agents, a team forms around Picard who come in and out of his story. They include Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), a cyberneticist; Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a former Borg last seen nearly twenty years ago in Star Trek: Voyager, and is now a space vigilante; Picard’s former crewmate Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) who has a bit of an addiction problem; Elnor (Evan Evagora), a noble Romulan warrior devoted to protecting Picard; and Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a former Starfleet commander who pilots his own private spaceship La Sirena and is a roguish space pirate in the Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds mode.

sirena and old romulan ship

The Romulans secret agents are after Dahj because they believe her to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy that spells doom for all organic life in the galaxy. They hope to learn from her the location of her homeworld in order to obliterate it and prevent the prophesy. Obviously it is up to the nonagenarian Picard to get back into the captain’s chair and save Dahj and the galaxy before time runs out.

Star Trek: PIcard is another welcome Star Trek spinoff that effortlessly picks up the story of Star Trek after the events in Star Trek: Nemesis and parts of the Star Trek reboot. Doing this gives weight and meaning to the Star Trek Prime universe by exploring the ramifications of the destruction of the Romulan homeworld shown in the Star Trek reboot and the subsequent refugee status of many Romulans though their overall status of their government was unclear.It also gives a well balanced exploration of the Romulans themselves; something most of the other shows and films failed to do. Not all of them are one-dimensional, sneering villains.

The show is undeniably a sincere tribute to fans of the Star Trek Prime universe and of course, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some may complain that it’s too much of a tribute with its numerous references, Easter eggs and cameo appearances, but they’re all just background layering for the uninitiated while rewarding for fans.

The show is clearly a Star Trek show, yet it isn’t. How can that be? Well, the show is not focused on current Starfleet personnel but on civilians and former officers. Freed from regulations and decorum the characters give us a feel for how life is like in the Federation and nearby regions for non-Starfleet people. The vaunted Federation is not as revered or as noble as presented in other Star Trek shows. In fact, there is an underlying notion that the Federation may be entering a period of decay; that it’s best times are past. Hence, one of the reasons why Picard walked away from Starfleet. Star Trek: Picard is edgier than the typical Star Trek show; there is a lot of cursing including F bombs. Most of the characters are deeply flawed including the humans, which goes vehemently against the idealistic and ultimately unrealistic Roddenberry future utopia where humanity is completely without fault. This will make some fans uncomfortable but it helps make the show more real and relatable to most viewers.

What we’re left with is a show that feels a bit like Firefly in that it stars roguish types who disdain authority. These are some truly interesting characters with their own complex back stories. Standouts include Rios and Raffie, who are both broken souls with troubled pasts and unwittingly gain redemption by joining Picard’s quest. It doesn’t hurt that both characters are well performed. Other characters like Elnor seek a just cause or for something to believe in. And holding the group dynamic is Picard himself, the moral glue that holds them together.

It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart puts in a bravura performance in the role that made him famous. As always, he eloquently portrays the bitter and defeated old man who finds a real reason to go out and make a difference in the galaxy. Stewart is so comfortable and elegant playing Jean-Luc Picard, it truly is a shame he has not done the role in so long. But at least he is back to usher in a new era of the Star Trek Prime universe.

Unlike most Star Trek shows, Star Trek: Picard follows a serialized format that is essentially a mystery. The payoff in the final episodes (“Et in Arcadia Ego, Parts I and II”) felt a bit predictable but it had its fist-pumping moments with cinema-quality effects and cinematography; one of those standouts was when Admiral William Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also turned up in the season’s best episode “Napenthe”) literally shows up with the cavalry. Still, the payoff wasn’t as invigorating or as intense as “Such Sweet Sorrow” the second season finale of Star Trek: Discovery. Coming way from the finale its realized that certain plot elements were unresolved, which was annoying. Mother bit of a copout was how the show resolved the personal journey of Jean-Luc Picard. Without giving anything away, it was an interesting twist but it robbed much of the emotional impact of the fate of the former Starfleet admiral. Let’s leave it at that.

picard takes charge

Star Trek: Picard is a welcome return to the classic heyday of the uplifting era of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its immediate spinoffs. In these times, the show provides a much-needed reminder of the wonderful potential of humankind and what we should aspire to.

José Soto

Contagion: A Harbinger For Our Time

 

Steven Soderbergh’s film Contagion has sadly become one of those quasi-science fiction films that became a reality. Of course, this relates to the coronavirus pandemic that has upended our global society.

The parallels between the film and what is going on right now are downright eerie and disturbing. However, there are distinct differences between Contagion and reality, especially later on in the film.

Infections

Contagion illustrated how the MEV-1 virus easily spread from China throughout the world as Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) on a business trip in Hong Kong became patient zero, interacted with many people and infected them. Steven Soderbergh inspired direction discreetly showed how easy it was for the virus to spread as many shots lingered on surfaces touched by infected victims, which were then touched by others.

One way the film differed from reality is how quickly victims exhibited symptoms and the mortality rate. People infected with the fictional virus displayed harsh symptoms apparently overnight, though most likely this can be attributed to film editing. The timeframe shown in the beginning of Contagion has Beth Emhoff already sick when she arrived in the U.S. Careful observations showed that she had been ill for a few days, but we’re shocked when she dies horribly mere minutes into the film. These quick time jumps were shown of how other characters became ill and died. With the coronavirus the incubation period ranges from days to weeks and explains why the disease is more insidious and deadlier than the MEV-1 because many people are already infected but won’t show symptoms for some time. Meanwhile, they’re unwittingly spreading the virus. On the other hand, the MEV-1 virus had a mortality rate of 25 to 30 percent, which was dramatically worse than COVID-19. Imagine how much worse things would be if COVID-19 had that kind of mortality rate.

Deployments

A similarity between Contagion and real life is with the deployment of military and medical services to combat the virus and maintain order. The film turned out to be accurate in its depiction for how the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mobilized to study and combat MEV-1. We are seeing this played out in real time as scientists and doctors race not only to find a vaccine but at least some kind of treatment. Unlike the film and fortunately for us, the intense medical efforts have opened up promising treatments and even vaccine tests. In Contagion, these breakthroughs did not happen until long months had passed. But before anyone reading this starts celebrating, bear in mind that trials and tests need to be completed and we are looking at a vaccine being ready anywhere from a year to eighteen months at the earliest. So for now prevention is the best defense; that includes being as clean as possible and social distancing (which was mentioned in Contagion as means of slowing the spread of the virus).

Even more distressful is the way Contagion portrays the chaos and breakdowns as the fictional MEV-1 virus ravages the world. Thankfully, we have not seen the mass riots, looting and lawlessness that take place later in the film. But we must heed these important warnings of what we face if the COVID-19 virus is not contained and continues spreading. Already healthcare systems are on the verge of collapse in a several places like Italy or are severely strained in many others.

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Tron: Uprising Presents A Bold Digital Realm

As most of us are staying home as a precaution to the coronavirus, one way to pass time is to binge-watch the myriad of TV shows and films available in our physical media collections or streaming services.

Anyone who has Disney+ will see that the streaming service has the animated series Tron: Uprising. This show aired on Disney XD shortly after Tron: Legacy as a holdover to an expected sequel. Sadly, the sequel to Tron: Legacy never happened and the animated series was cancelled. This was a shame because Tron: Uprising was a well-done show that expanded on the world building of the Tron universe.

Below is a quick review of the show that was done for a previous version of Starloggers back when the show debuted. Tron: Uprising may not be as attention grabbing as other shows nor as fondly remembered but it is certainly a notable sci-fi show, which should be on anyone’s queue list; besides there are other things to watch on Disney+ besides The Mandalorian!

Tron: Uprising, the Disney animated series, follows the adventures of a young program called Beck (Elijah Wood), who becomes a heroic rebel leader in a virtual realm that exists within computers. This reality is the Grid that was visited by humans in the films and the series focuses on the programs that exist as distinct entities within the Grid.

The series actually takes place between the two films and has many aspects and references to the films, which will delight fans, while adding nuances and layers to the unique digital world. The cityscapes are wonderfully detailed and build upon the architecture seen in the Tron films. The result is that the digital world seems more complete, more vibrant, and more alive. Kudos to Disney’s animation team for pulling off this feat.

Disney released a preview episode on iTunes, YouTube and on the Disney Channel that sets up the series and is a must viewing to understand what is going in with the regular series. In that preview called “Beck’s Beginning” viewers are introduced to Beck a young happy-go-lucky mechanic and disc player in the distant Grid city called Argon. He has a joyous existence with his friends until the forces of the tyrannical program called Clu arrive and occupy the city.

Clu, is a doppelganger program of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges in the films) that became corrupted, took over the Grid and betrayed the heroic program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, who reprises his role by providing the voice of Tron in this series).

After Clu’s forces, which are led by General Tesler (Lance Henriksen), kill or derez Beck’s friend, he decides to strike back against Clu’s reign. Tron by this time has become a cult hero who was supposedly killed by Clu. So Beck decides to assume Tron’s identity to inspire a revolution. Along the way he encounters enemies and allies including Tron himself, who passes on the mantle to young Beck.

Some of the graphics of Tron: Uprising are beautiful and faithfully represent the digital world of Tron but while the series is computer animated the series, on the whole, has a more traditional animated feel. It isn’t an obvious approach but it helps distinguish it from the films. But in trying to set itself apart from the films the series goes too far in terms of the characters’ anatomy that are grossly disproportional; characters are drawn with long, giraffe-like legs! It can be distracting but it doesn’t detract from the show. Many sequences are simply stunning to watch and capture the essence of Tron, especially the latter film Tron: Legacy. It’s an auspicious start for an animated series, one can only hope that future episodes maintain the quality seen in the first few episodes.

The digital world of Tron lives on with Tron: Uprising and it can be enjoyed by fans of those films, and even those who haven’t seen them.

Twilight Of DC Comics?

The latest rumors percolating around the internet is about DC Comics and how it will cease publication. The reason behind this is low sales and loss of confidence by DC Comics’ owners, AT&T. While the comic book company is challenged by declining sales, it is too early to start writing obituaries for the company.

It’s been reported that AT&T does not have any interest in comic book publications and considers DC Comics to be a financial drain to the point that they want to sell DC. More dire is that if the upcoming DC Comics 5G revamp does not succeed then DC will fold. That is ludicrous and an exaggeration. First of all, even though DC comic book sales are down, the characters are still popular. Just look at the amount of money made in merchandising and from other media. Namely, TV shows, films and video games. The video game Batman: Arkham Knight and Batman: Arkham are some of the most revered video games ever released.

Sure, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is struggling right now, but the cinematic universe is rife with potential. Want proof? Look at the positive reaction generated by the clip introducing the new Batman in next year’s The Batman. It is too easy to pile on the DCEU because Shazam! underperformed last year and Birds of Prey was a box office failure. Too many are comparing the DCEU to the MCU, which is unfair since the MCU was a properly planned cinematic universe that is reaping the rewards now. But keep in mind, the MCU may not be the top dog going forward and this could coincide with the DCEU taking over as the top cinematic universe. Just greenlight a Man of Steel sequel and all should be fine. 😀

Then there is the high anticipation for new DC TV shows like Stargirl and Green Lantern. Also, many current TV shows are getting lots of attention like the ones streaming on the DC Universe app (Harley Quinn, Doom Patrol and Titans) or on The CW–the recent crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths earned tons of positive publicity as several versions of live-action DC superheroes made appearances and teamed up.

Getting back to the comics, the low sales DC is grappling with is shared with all the other comic book companies. There are many reasons for declining sales such as rising costs, other competing media, and so on. What can be done to deal with the sales? That is the million-dollar question and it is clear the current comic book model and distribution no longer works. A solution as innovative as direct sales was back in the late 70s is needed to allow the medium to survive. Whether this means going completely digital, lowering prices, or changing the print format (going directly to graphic novels or trade paperbacks) remains to be seen.

Of course, AT&T could license off their comic books and have another company create their comics. But that could lead to headaches down the road. What if a new character is introduced in the hypothetical licensed comic, does that character belong to DC? The best example is Marvel back in the 90s. The company canceled several comics and hired Rob Liefeld and other Image creators to relaunch core titles like Captain America into their own reboots. At the same time, Marvel sold the film and TV rights to film companies to raise cash and climb out of bankruptcy. The result was that the Liefeld books were poorly received and eventually killed, while to this date, Marvel is struggling with trying to regain the rights to all their characters. Hence the mess over Spider-Man’s film and TV rights, ditto for the Hulk. DC Comics is in a state of flux right now. This was evident with the recent dismissal of DC co-publisher Dan DiDio; and how 5G will fare is unknown. The comic books as we know will most likely change, but its too fluid to guess how, so we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, if any of you don’t want to see a twilight of DC comics then remember to keep buying them.