Soylent Green In 2022!

We’ve all seen the memes when 2022 began a few short months ago. The posters and images of the famous sci-fi film from 1973, Soylent Green, which made sure we were aware that the film took place in 2022 and we were now in that year. So, we were supposed to conclude we would become food source for the starving masses. Well, to be short, that has not happened.

The film’s prediction about humanity becoming food is wildly off the mark, but there are many worthwhile messages in the film, and the book it’s based on, Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, that are very relevant today.

The most important and obvious one has to do with environmentalism and how we are failing as shephards of our planet. In Soylent Green, overpopulation has choked most of the world’s resources and the film’s location of an overcrowded New York City was a disturbing example. The city’s population was 40 million and society was crumbling as it struggled to feed humanity. Basic necessities that we take for granted like running water and fresh food were reserved for the mega rich. Actually, small and simple images of the film’s main character, Detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston), coming upon fresh beef, vegetables, air conditioning and even a bar of soap were the most disturbing as he celebrated his newfound treasures.

Another barely mentioned situation in the film that catches anyone’s ear today was that global warming had taken hold and was wrecking our world. Thorn and the other characters were sweltering in the constant heat. A couple of times, characters mentioned that it was not cold in New York anymore and that the oceans, the final food source for starving billions, were dying. Hence, the need to turn from plankton as a food source to humanity.

The film is disturbing in that many images feel so real and remind us of our social strife. From the unfed masses crying out for justice and basic needs to failing infrastructure to gigantic corporations choking our society with their monopolistic holds on us.

Thankfully, while our current environmental situation is dire with unpredictable weather, we have not reached the apocalyptic situation of Soylent Green. But as many scientists and activists are warning, time is short for us to prevent some of the situations in that film from becoming reality.

So, yes it’s 2022 and the memes are fun and the film is an excellent cautionary tale about how things could turn out for us. But our situation is a lot better than shown in Soylent Green. Let’s keep it that way.

Looking Back At Silent Running

Fifty years ago this month, Silent Running was released in theaters. Right away, the sci-fi eco-drama stood out back in the 1970s thanks to its innovative special effects, set design and the ecologically driven storyline that struck chords with environmentalists everywhere.

Silent Running takes entirely onboard a spaceship near Saturn called the Valley Forge that serves as an environmental ark for the last remaining Earth ecosystems encased in giant geodesic domes that act as greenhouses.

Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is a botanist and one of the four crewmen who care for the ecosystems, along with a trio of robotic drones called Huey, Louie and Dewey. The crew receives orders to destroy the domes and return to Earth, but Freeman is mortified by the orders even though the others are eager to go back home. During the operations of jettisioning and blowing up the domes, Freeman mutinies, kills his crewmates and hijacks the Valley Forge. With one dome remaining on the ship, Freeman heads out to deep space to continue caring for the last ecosystem with help from the drones. During his voyage, Freeman has to deal with loneliness, guilt and the logistics of caring for the fragile plants and small animals in the dome.

Elevated by Bruce Dern’s passionate and sensitive performance, and superior special effects, Silent Running is a contemplative and quietly emotional film. Despite its short run time and the over-the-top environmental message, the film is quite effective and leaves you thinking about it long after it is over. The late special effects guru Douglas Trumbull made his directorial debut with this film, though the only other film he directed was Brainstorm, which is a shame as he showed a lot of promise as a director. The effects truly stood out from practical effects, such as the drones which were performed by bilateral amputees, to excellent and intricate model work. The footage of the Valley Forge would pop up in other films and TV shows such as the orginal Battlestar Galactica.

Kudos has to go to Bruce Dern who largely spends the film by himself. He was able to project a kinship with the drones who despite not able to speak demonstrated emotions like bravery and loyalty. Of course, he is guilty of murdering his colleagues and his environmental rantings come off as too extreme, yet his passion for the last remaining plant and wildlife is sincere and relatable.

One nagging fault about the film has to do with unanswered questions about the domes and the film’s simplistic script. What exactly happened to the Earth and why was the Valley Forge crew told to destroy the domes and return home? What we know about the importance of plants in our complex enviroment with creating oxygen and food would mean that these domes would not be casually discarded. Did the environmental situation improve on Earth to make the domes unneccesary? In one exchange between Freeman Lowell and his crewmates, it is pointed out that humanity can now duplicate the benefits of plants. Does this mean air and food can now be easily created without vegetation? Based on the level of technology shown in the film, this does not seem likely. Even if this was true, why discard such precious resources so casually? It’s hard to imagine that all of humanity except for Freeman would be fine with this. If a remake is ever made for this film, these issues can be addressed or its premise should be updated given what we now understand about ecosystems.

There is also an unavoidable fault with Freeman’s thinking that honestly makes him out to be a complete fool. At some point, the plants are withering and the botanist spends significant time trying to figure out why, while the cause and solution are quite obvious.

Still, in spite of these lapses in logic, Silent Running truly was one of the best sci-fi films released in the 1970s and should be seen at least once by sci-fi fans. The film is a true gem with resonating message and images. The best example is Silent Running’s very last scene, which is very emotional and serves as a fitting allegory for our own fragile and special planet in the vast cosmos.

Godzilla Vs. Kong Is The Epic Clash We’ve Been Waiting For!

Ever since Godzilla and King Kong have made their way into recent films with modern fx technology we’ve been wating for the inevitable clash between these two legendary titans. Fans had their dreams answered with the new take of Godzilla vs. Kong, and boy does this film deliver!

First of all, let’s be clear. Godzilla vs. Kong is not Citizen Kane or even Blade Runner. It does not feature any deep, meaningful storylines or characters, it just gives viewers a classic slugfest between the two iconic film legends. What characters there are only exist to provide brief explanations, theories and to move the plot along. It is clear that Legendary Entertainment has figured out that from Godzilla, its first entry in their Monsterverse cinematic universe, that audiences have little patience for human drama in these films and only show up to see detailed and powerful battles between giant monsters as they destroy their landscapes. The fourth Monsterverse film wisely, depending on your point of view, puts aside human drama and intricate plots and just sprinkle these elements to service the film and give the giant monster legends a reason to fight.

The film begins with Godzilla unexpectedly showing up off the coast of Florida and decimating the location of Apex Cybernetics. While the world believes the mighty Alpha Titan has gone rogue, there is more to his attack. At the same time, the other Alpha Titan, Kong is introduced as being held inside a massive dome on Skull Island that recreates his primordial kingdom. Apparently at some point before this film, he was captured and placed there to protect him from Godzilla, who would otherwise seek out Kong and battle him since he is a competing Alpha Titan. But Kong wants out of his gilded cage and is somehow able to communicate with Jia (Kaylee Hottle) the young, deaf daughter of Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), one of the many scientists studying the giant gorilla. Ilene meets another scientist, Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard), who wants to use Kong to lead his team into the Earth’s core. Lind believes in the Hollow Earth theory, which he thinks is the home of the gigantic titans and the source of a new kind of energy.

At the same time, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown reprising her role from Godzilla: King of the Monsters), her nerdy friend Josh Valentine (Julien Dennison), and Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), a conspiracy podcaster find out that Apex is also interested in exploring the inner Earth and obtaining the energy source. How does this relate to Godzilla and King Kong and other kaijus that pop up? Watch the movie to find out.

Actually, the threadbare plot is nonsense and is not fully explained, but who cares? It’s just a means to get the two giant kaijus to duke it out. Director Adam Wingard delivers the goods when it comes to epic clashes. Godzilla vs. Kong lovingly revels in beautifully choreographed shots of massive battles between the titans and other creatures. Modern cities are just a playground for these giants to stomp around in and destroy during their battles as humans can only do their best to get out of the way.

Keep in mind, that despite the film’s thin plot and underdeveloped characters, the actors give it their all and keep things moving at a fast pace to the point that we don’t mind the human interludes in between monster scenes since every human interaction directly deals with either Kong or Godzilla. This actually helps inect some personality into the monsters, especially Kong. In reality, this is more of a Kong film with Godzilla as a feature character who pops up to challenge the giant ape throughout the film. The result is that Kong has more character than expected and is placed in unique situations that is outside of what is often given to the screen legend. Not only does this reveal that Kong is far more intelligent than we thought, but he’s humanized to the point that even if you are on Team Godzilla you can’t help but root for him during critical moments in the explosive battles. Honestly, it was hard to pick a side, Team Kong or Team Godzilla, as we have reasons to root for both monsters who get their standout moments and demonstrate why they are the kings of their domains.

Needless to say the film’s stunning visuals alone are worth taking a chance to see in theaters. Of course, only go to a theater if you are fully vaccinated since you can’t tell beforehand if you’ll be stuck in the theater with selfish maskholes! Otherwise, be sure to stream this in the best home theater environment possible because Godzilla vs. Kong is a pure delight for kaiju and action fans.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of Monsterverse films and is, at the moment, the final film in the Monsterverse. Hopefully, being that the film has captured the imagination of so many and is being well received despite its faults, maybe we can revisit the Monsterverse since there is more to explore, especially with King Kong.

José Soto

Of Love And Monsters

Love and Monsters was released last month through video on demand and had a limited theatrical release. Like practically every film since this spring, it too could not get a widespread theatrical release because of the coronavirus. It’s a shame since this extraordinary film deserves much more attention, though positive word of mouth might elevate it to cult status sometime down the road.

love and monsters dog

In a nutshell, Love and Monsters stars Dylan O’Brien as Joel Dawson, an insecure twentysomething doing his best to survive during a giant monster apocalypse, all in the name of love.

As told in the film’s opening segments, years ago, a giant asteroid threatening Earth was destroyed with missiles, but the fallout mutated Earth’s cold-blooded creatures into gigantic monstrosities that essentially destroyed civilization. Now what is left of humanity ekes out meager existences in underground shelters and bunkers, and do their best to avoid the bloodthirsty critters that have claimed the surface world.

Joel pines for his lost love, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), who was forced to separate from him years ago. Recently, he tracked her down at a colony over 80 miles away from his own and he decides to risk it all to reunite with her. The only problem is that Joel lacks basic survival skills and somehow has to find a way to make it through the deadly surface landscape without being eaten.

Along his voyage, he comes across a handful of memorable characters. These include a loveable dog called Boy, which quickly bonds with Joel, a broken robot Mav1s (Melanie Zanetti), and a scruffy but friendly survivor Clyde (Michael Rooker) and his spunky companion, a young girl named Minnow (Arianna Greenblatt). They help Joel out and teach him how to survive in the rugged landscape by using his wits and valuable survival skills.

Naturally, Joel and Boy face many dangers, some of which are genuinely creepy and tense, but he discovers his own potential as he grows during his journey. Sure, it seems implausible that Joel could have survived for years in the giant monster apocalypse without having basic survival skills, but his emotional journey was quite satisfying to watch.

Love and Monsters is such a pleasant surprise. It is not a dire, dark film, but it is still boasts its fair share of thrills. By the way, the creature designs are very imaginative and unique. The best way to describe the many monsters Joel and the others encounter is to think of those creepy pit creatures from Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong.

Yes, thanks to its lighter tone, Love and Monsters can be compared to Zombieland, though it is not as funny. Still, it does have a lot of heart, has charming characters and it is easy to tell everyone involved from the actors to the production crew to the writers (Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson) and director (Michael Matthews) gave it their all. The result is a satisfying giant monster film with a ton of heart.

In fact, the film strikes and inspirational tone with its message that although a situation may be dire, it is possible to overcome it and thrive. In some strange way, Love and Monster is somewhat relevant to our current situation by demonstrating the pluck nature of humanity will overcome obstacles, which in the film’s case are giant monsters.

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.

Continue reading