The Walking Dead (AMC) vs. Falling Skies (TNT)

March 7, 2012 Bryce Zabel

There’s just something about ragtag teams of extended families trying to get by after an apocalypse. It feels like a particularly American fantasy — that when the chips are down, we’ll all put aside our petty differences, realize what’s truly important and come together to kick some ass, whether it be Nazi or Commie or even alien or zombie. The point is that our melting pot really doesn’t get cooking until the heat is applied and the burner’s on high.

These two series are flagship action pieces for their respective networks — The Walking Dead came first on AMC, followed within a year by Falling Skies on TNT. The former has its second season finale this Sunday and the latter comes back this summer for its sophomore year. Both are in their prime when it comes to the life of any TV series — enough of a run to fix some early mistakes but not so much as to render the week-to-week predictable. […]

Hey, MTV: Stop Using Our Trademarked Name! Movie Smackdown®

December 30, 2011 Movie Smackdown

UPDATE – JANUARY 3, 2012

MTV has backed off its use of “Movie Smackdown” after we made it clear that it was our trademarked name through this post and by official means. They have changed the name of their tournament competition to “Movie Brawl.” Still not sure how they could have let this happen, but at least they’ve done the right thing when their mistake was pointed out to them. […]

The Ides of March (2011) -vs- Primary Colors (1998)

October 11, 2011 Bryce Zabel

The list of more-than-decent films about political campaigns is a short one. Nobody will ever forget Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson in The Best Man or even The Candidate with the Kennedy-esque Robert Redford. During the Years of Lewinsky, Primary Colors took us into the thinly-disguised 1992 Clinton campaign. Now we have The Ides of March, proudly wearing its cynicism on its sleeve at a time when Obama gets pilloried for being practical. In the most recent films, the candidates have that certain problem we mentioned earlier. (Redford is famously remembered in The Candidate as muttering, after winning, “What do we do now?”, but there’s also a quick moment of a campaign worker leaving his room in the morning earlier in the film.)
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THE THING: Back Again After Being Back Again the First Time

October 9, 2011 Movie Smackdown

Despite the fact that people from around the world go to Antarctica in the spirit of friendship and scientific cooperation (more or less), in the movies it is usually a setting for Something Bad That Is About to Happen.

The Thing has been made before. In the first go-round, it was The Thing from Another World in 1951. Three decades later, 1982, it was just The Thing and in the hands of John Carpenter. Now, another three decades later, 2011, it’s still The Thing, only constructed now to serve as a prelude and not a remake of Carpenter’s classic version. […]

Contagion (2011) -vs- Outbreak (1995)

September 8, 2011 Bryce Zabel

Remember all the panic and fear about the possibility of a bird flu pandemic a few years ago? Now take that fear and double it, triple it — no, that’s not enough — increase it by a power of ten. Now, maybe, just maybe, you can start to appreciate what might happen if the real thing hits and the worst case isn’t just a scenario.

Or, if that’s too disturbing, you could just go see Contagion or watch Outbreak.

In the mid-’90s, Outbreak was the movie that won a rush-to-film game of chicken after the publication of the book The Hot Zone that had everybody freaking out about how the microbes could inherit the Earth by taking down humankind. It took the sheer paranoia of that scare and tried to amp it up with personal story lines, evil government conspiracies and chases. This year Contagion takes another path, turning its actors into cameo appearances in what looks like a documentary as much as anything. […]

First Person: Going Viral Before Contagion

August 25, 2011 Bryce Zabel

While virtually everyone in the Internet world wants to go viral, back in the real world not everyone is so big on the concept. And for good reason.

Remember how lousy you felt the last time you had the flu? Now imagine that instead of getting better, well, that was it. The End.

The medical experts at the Centers for Disease Control think about such things all the time and, for over a year back in 2005-2006, we also obsessed about how a flu epidemic would change the world.

We came to the conclusion that it would be a pretty rough ride. Rather than expressing our opinions through a strongly worded letter-to-the-editor, though, we got to have our say in a multi-million dollar four-hour television miniseries.

Now, from what we can see of the new feature film Contagion, we feel like we were ahead of our time.

Although the final produced version of our project — Hallmark’s Pandemic — can’t compared to the brilliant production elements (fueled by studio cash and budget) that Steven Soderbergh brings to his version (written by Scott Z. Burns), our take Pandemic (written by Bryce Zabel & Jackie Zabel) won the Writers Guild of America award for “Outstanding Longform Original” in 2008. This means that multiple writers read our script that year and decided that, in our category, ours was the best of the bunch. We were pretty jazzed, we can’t lie about that one. […]

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) -vs- I, Robot (2004)

August 5, 2011 Bryce Zabel

Maybe humanity won’t be #1 on Earth forever…

We’ve been used to being at the top of the heap pretty much since we picked up some stones and started making tools. But what’s going to happen if another species — real (like apes) or artificial (like robots) — gets the same idea? Fortunately, we have a couple of cautionary tales to consider that should give us pause before we get too cavalier.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the prequel to the re-boot of the ’60s-’70s franchise that started it all and sets out to answer the question that has always undermined the franchise: how would apes really pull this switcheroo with humankind off? With genomes being mapped and wonder drugs being tested at record speed these days, this is a film that was just begging to be made.

Back in the mid ’00s, however, I, Robot asked a different kind of question. Sparked by the breathtaking increase in computing power keeping pace with Moore’s Law or even Ray Kurzweil’s invocation of The Singularity, that question was: how much longer before these machines we built can think faster than us and what if they become conscious? […]

SmackSneak: Damn Dirty Humans

July 26, 2011 Bryce Zabel

Maybe humanity won’t be #1 on Earth forever…

We’ve been used to being at the top of the heap pretty much since we picked up some stones and started making tools. But what’s going to happen if another species — real (like apes) or artificial (like robots) gets the same idea? Fortunately, we have a couple of cautionary tales to consider that should give us pause before we get too cavalier.

Our Smackdown Challenger Rise of the Planet of the Apes promises to be a straight-ahead origin story that fully sets out how the apes supplant humanity in the future. Set in present day San Francisco, the film blends science fiction with science fact, giving us James Franco in the lead as a genius whose experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. Sounds and looks awesome. For anyone who has seen the CG image of the ape in those posters, it does a truly amazing job of suggesting a very creepy beginning of intelligence.

Then in the ’00s there was iRobot, our Defending Champion in this Smackdown. Semi-based on Isaac Asimov’s short-story collection of the same name, it starred Will Smith in a story that takes place in the year 2035 in Chicago where robots are ubiquitous, used primarily as servants and in public service capacities. They’re supposed to be safe, being designed in accordance with the Three Laws of Robotics but, of course, they get other ideas. It made $347 million worldwide, so you could say it was popular. […]

Alien Contact @ Movie Smackdown

May 29, 2011 Movie Smackdown

In the billions of stars, solar systems, and galaxies out there, our little planet is but a single speck of dust in the whirlwind of the universe. Probably, we are all starting to realize, we are not alone.

Hollywood got there earlier than the rest of us, and the film industry has told us stories of alien contact — what might happen if intelligent beings out there were to make contact with our suposedly primitive culture here on Earth — since the 1950s.

This week, Movie Smackdown! examines how alien contact is portrayed in cinema. Each day, we’ll pick another Smackdown from our Classix vault. From the brutal attack force of Independence Day to the benevolent space brothers of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, let your imagination soar as the extraterrestrial life of a crowded Hollywood universe comes calling here on Earth. […]

Independence Day (1996) -vs- The War Of The Worlds (1953)

March 28, 2010 Rodney Twelftree

Last year here at Movie Smackdown we got the idea to see what readers thought was the Best Alien Invasion Film of All Time. We thought that the genre really broke down into two sections — “Classic” and “Modern.” And so we did what we always do in these cases, we put it to our readers and let them weigh in.

We have two winners now, and we’re about to put them to the test against each other. For our purposes, we defined “Classic” as all the films that existed in the early 1950-1970 period (although all our candidates came from the 1950s), and “Modern” as everything that followed. Interestingly, fully half of our “modern” films were re-makes from the “classic” era. The “Classic” race was a close as hell, the “Modern” race yielded a clear winner. Here are our results: […]

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