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Pandemic Movie Mashup

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Reel Heroes & Villains
Greg Smith & Scott T. Allison
Reel Heroes Volume 1

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Movie Greg Scott
THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
WORLD WAR Z
OUTBREAK
CONTAGION
Awards Greg Scott
Best Pandemic Disease Andromeda Strain World War Z
Best Pandemic Hero Andromeda Strain Team Gerry Lane (WWZ)
Best Pandemic Villain Alan Krumwiede (Contagion) Gen. McClintock (Outbreak)

Hey Scott, we recently reviewed a handful of movies surrounding pandemics. Whatya say we review our reviews?

scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Let me review this idea, Greg. I’m a big fan of meta-reviewing a meta-review.

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN

All kidding aside, last month we reviewed The Andromeda Strain, Outbreak, and Contagion. And, back in 2013 we reviewed World War Z – all movies about a spreading pandemic. Since we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s take a look at how accurate those films were.

There are some common patterns. In some ways all four movies got things right about how a true-to-life pandemic might play out. And there were things that they probably got wrong.

One thing that stood out to me was the way the pandemics in all these films came from a central location. Contagion was the most prophetic in my mind. There (and in WWZ) the virus started in a wet market in China and was brought to the United States by one woman. In both Outbreak and The Andromeda Strain, however, the virus was part of a government biowarfare program.

Greg, I first watched these four pandemic movies in a detached way, as they appeared before the current COVID19 outbreak. Rewatching them was fascinating in light of what we’ve been going through since March 2020. You’re right that these movies get some things right about pandemics and our all-too-human reactions to them.

First, let me just say that the effects of these diseases really varies from movie to movie. Who knew that the zombie virus could have such fitness benefits? These zombies are Olympic track stars, nimble and strong, no doubt frequenting the best zombie gyms available. They almost make me look forward to zombification, as I’ll finally get myself into shape. With their superb speed and physical prowess, these zombies are far more entertaining to watch than the slow, out-of-shape zombies on The Walking Dead.

WORLD WAR Z

WORLD WAR Z

That’s true, Scott – there were no fat zombies. One thing that also was common was how fast the viruses spread. All four movies had the virus spread so quickly as to be out of control. COVID-19, while still deadly and fast-spreading, has not had the impact we saw in Contagion for example. In that case the virus spread across the planet in a matter of days to weeks.

Another thing that seemed missing from these films was the human responses. In these films there were mass riots, pandemonium, and panic. COVID-19 has had its controversies and shortages of stock (remember toilet paper outages?). But by and far the spread has taken months, the death tolls are low (compared to the movies), and most of the rioting in the real world has been over social issues, not the pandemic.

The other difference is the way COVID-19 has been held in check by both public and governmental reaction. For the most part, the world has “sheltered in place” and this has had a dramatic slowing on the virus’s spread.

To a certain extent, this discrepancy is understandable. Movies depend on fast action and a crisis to keep the plot moving forward. It’s hard to create a sense of urgency in two hours if the movie’s virus takes six months to spread.

OUTBREAK

OUTBREAK

We also have to remember that these are all Hollywood renditions of what a pandemic would be like in the imaginations of screenwriters who weren’t around for the previous 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. And so these writers take liberties with the truth and create scenarios that are far from realistic. For example, the Hollywood viruses are far deadlier than real-life pandemics, and tend to be transmitted more quickly.


Also, in these Hollywood versions, the “cure” for the viruses is miraculously developed at a far quicker pace than is possible in real life. The film versions also seem to feature an immune person who holds the secret to unlocking the cure. So overall, we can say that the Hollywood pandemics are scarier and deadlier but resolve themselves faster.

CONTAGION

CONTAGION

I”m glad you mentioned the cures. In all these movies there is considerable tension between the political goals to maintain peace and control, and the scientific realities of fighting the virus. The politicians often wanted to keep the scary facts to themselves, fearing riots. While the scientists were saddled with giving recommendations that were at odds with political ambitions.

We see this in the COVID-19 pandemic as well. The President of the United States often had a difference of opinion with his scientific staff. The push to reopen businesses and schools are vital to the economic stability of the country. Yet, the prevailing wisdom among scientists is more lockdown. These two policies are at odds in the real world and were exposed to varying degrees in all four films.

In Contagion there is also a government official who warns his wife to “get out of Dodge” because the pandemic is spreading to her city. We are now seeing senators come under scrutiny both for warning friends and family in advance of the public, and buying and selling stock using their inside knowledge.

AWARDS

Okay, Greg, it’s time to hand out our Pandemic Film Awards (PFAs). Here are my award winners:

BEST PANDEMIC DISEASE:  The winner, to me, is the zombie virus in World War Z. Paradoxically, this illness both ravages the body and improves muscle tone. Runner up is the virus in Contagion, given its eerie similarity to COVID19.

BEST PANDEMIC HERO:  For me, the winner here is Brad Pitt’s character, because he is, after all, Brad Freaking Pitt. For his overly dramatic outbursts that are sometimes unintentionally funny, Dustin Hoffman’s character in Outbreak is a close second.

BEST PANDEMIC VILLAIN: Donald Sutherland’s twisted, evil character in Outbreak was by far the character we most loved to hate. Runner up is Morgan Freeman’s character in the same movie.

In a lot of ways, I think Contagion did the best portrayal of what COVID-19 is doing today. If you watch the events in that film, it’s almost a play-by-play depiction of what we’re living through now – but in the movie it is running at 10x speed.

BEST PANDEMIC DISEASE: I’d say I’m still fond of the virus in The Andromeda Strain. In many ways, Andromeda was the star of the show as our heroes had to unravel its secrets to save the day. And I agree with your assessment of the Contagion virus – it is remarkable how close that film came to the COVID-19 emergency.

BEST PANDEMIC HERO: Again, I’ll go back to The Andromeda Strain. I’m a sucker for team problem solving. In all the other films we see individuals struggling to save the day. The fact is that in an emergency like COVID-19, it’s going to be a collaboration of the best minds to lead the public to salvation.

BEST PANDEMIC VILLAIN: I’m going to go with Jude Law’s conspiracy theorist. He went to any lengths to prove himself right – including faking having the virus and taking the “antidote” on YouTube to prove its efficacy. In a strange twist of reality emulating fiction, the clamor to prove Hydrochloriquin mirrors Law’s desperation.

Movie Greg Scott
THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
WORLD WAR Z
OUTBREAK
CONTAGION
Awards Greg Scott
Best Pandemic Disease Andromeda Strain World War Z
Best Pandemic Hero Andromeda Strain Team Gerry Lane (WWZ)
Best Pandemic Villain Alan Krumwiede (Contagion) Gen. McClintock (Outbreak)

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