Streaming Wars & The Decline Of Cinemas

As we all know the current COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted our society in so many ways. In this case, with our entertainment viewing options. Given the infectious nature of the coronavirus most movie theaters have shut down in response for the safety of the audience and their employees. Most films scheduled to be released this year either had limited releases (like Tenet) or were re-scheduled for next year and beyond (such as The Eternals) or wound up available for viewing in the safety of our homes (namely Mulan) through streaming services or video on demand (VOD).

One ray of hope is that a few vaccines will be available starting in a few weeks, which should hopefully end the pandemic in 2021 and we can resume our formerly normal lives. Or will it, at least when it comes to cinemas?

The movie theater industry has always been insecure over its propects of survival whenever a new type of medium came into being. Back in the 1950s, film studios were convinced films were doomed because of the mass introduction of television. Later the same fears arose with the rise of home video and cable networks and streaming services. Then the industry had to compete with other forms of entertainment like video games. Yet, throughout all of the competition, cinemas survived. But now many fear it appears as if they will finally close because of the pandemic.

Of course, the pandemic will not last forever, but it exposed the drawbacks of the movie-going experience which is more socially based than most of us realized. Also, film studios have found ready audiences with home media which has grown with the rise of the streaming apps like Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max.

The studios have realized what was important to their bottom line was not necessarily new content but a vast library that will keep streaming subscribers. It may not make sense but it is true. Look at Disney+, they have existed for just over a year and the only premium original content they debuted was The Mandalorian. Yet, the service has over 73 million subscribers who enjoy their library of Star Wars films and specials, Pixar films, Disney classics and Marvel-related films and TV shows. Technically the service does not have to introduce new content to keep their subscribers although this concept may be tested if Disney+ fails to deliver on its many promised premium Star Wars and Marvel shows.

Meanwhile, Netfilx has an exhaustive library of content but much of it is licensed and the service is losing many of them. This is why Netflix has cranked out so many original films and TV shows like Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy and at one time Marvel-based shows like Daredevil and Luke Cage.

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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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2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Two

We’re in the middle of the cold and flu season but the next big pandemic is just around the corner. In fact, many doctors and scientists say we’re overdue for one.

Doomsday Scenario No. 11: The Killers Within

The idea of a pandemic is terrifying and in recent years we’ve dodged the bullet with the onset of AIDS, Ebola, SARS and recently with the H1N1 virus. The last really major pandemic that humanity faced was the Spanish Flu that occurred during World War I in 1918 and killed roughly 50 to 100 million people worldwide. The disease was so widespread and lethal to soldiers that many feel that the disease helped end the war. It is still considered to be the worst modern pandemic to strike humanity. The other horrible pandemic that threatened humanity further back in history was the Black Plague that wiped out a third of Europe’s population in the middle ages. But history is littered with waves of pandemics from assorted diseases like smallpox, typhus and many flu variants. Due to medical advances, we as a whole have been lulled into complacency until very recently. But recent events show that we are still vulnerable. Many fear that soon our antibiotics and other medicines will fail and we’ll be vulnerable to mass death just as our ancestors were.

Add to this fear is the specter of biological terrorism. This threat is all too real as seen with the anthrax terror attacks in 2001. It’s very feasible that some nut can obtain a rare flu strain or a manufactured disease and find a way to spread it to the populace.

Quarantines and Breakdowns

It’s all too easy for our society to fall apart in the wake of a deadly pandemic if a cure or treatment isn’t quickly found. With modern transportation, diseases can spread rapidly and before the medical community is fully mobilized, the contagion could have manifested everywhere.

Social norms will be frayed as the disease spreads. People will demand quarantines and closed borders but that won’t do anything to stop the disease. Nevertheless, fear and distrust will worsen with the new migrations of those wanting to avoid contracting the disease. Unfortunately, many of these refugees will be carriers themselves. Additionally governments will try to futilely treat victims and provide adequate health services. It’s easy to imagine hospitals and care centers guarded by mobilized soldiers, who would also enforce curfews and quarantines. But eventually public services will shut down as the death toll climbs. With fewer and fewer guards, cops and soldiers to enforce the law, anarchy follows and thugs will gain control. Once the disease has run its course, there won’t be much of anything left. Humanity will be forced to rebuild.

Fictional Examples Of The Aftermaths

Such fears have been the basis of many science fiction films, books and shows that postulate on the impact of a true pandemic today and the aftermath. The basic storyline usually goes like this: a disease wipes out 99% of the human (and sometimes animal) population. A handful of survivors then struggle to rebuild civilization. Other times, the story is about the valiant efforts to contain an exotic disease before it spreads.

Some popular books that deal with this include Stephen King’s epic The Stand,  Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Max Brooks’ World War Z , George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, and most recently with Clemens P. Suter’s Two Journeys.

There are many films that deal with this subject. For example there are three adaptations of I Am Legend (the first being The Last Man On Earth and most recently the 2007 Will Smith version), which is about a plague that turns most of humanity into vampire-like creatures. In 28 Days Later (and its sequel) a man-made virus is accidently released that turns its victims in the U.K. into savage, zombie-like killers. Then there is George Romero’s film The Crazies about a bio-weapon that induces homicidal madness. The Andromeda Strain, about a scientific team trying to eradicate a supposedly extra-terrestrial disease, was made into a film released in 1971 and a recent mini-series. A similar approach was utilized with the 1995 film Outbreak but the disease was less exotic in origin but just as deadly. The Stand was made into a well-received mini-series in 1994 and there are efforts to have a remake done. Twelve Monkeys shows us a future where a disease has decimated the world and the protagonist time travels back to modern times to discover how the disease started. The most recent film about pandemics was Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which covers in dismaying detail how our society unravels with the onset of a killer virus.

With television there are few examples of a modern pandemic wiping out humanity. Two that come to mind are Jeremiah, which is based on a Belgian comic book, and starred Luke Perry as the title character. In Jeremiah, a plague has killed off most adults in the world and it picks up a generation later when the surviving children have now reached adulthood. The other one is BBC’s Survivors, a remake of a series produced in the 1970s, and the premise was about the usual plague survivors finding a way to work together and rebuild society. UPN’s The Burning Zone wasn’t about a post-apocalyptic world but rather about a team of bio-agents who dealt with deadly, unusual diseases including some engineered by a mysterious group who considered humanity to be vermin that needed to be eradicated by diseases.

Like many doomsday scenarios there isn’t any way to anticipate the onset of the catastrophe.  A pandemic could arrive tomorrow or in a few years, but it will happen. So it pays to be alert and safe though and to wash your hands often.