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. […]

Extraordinary Measures (2010) -vs- Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)

January 21, 2010 Bryce Zabel

Both movies are all about overcoming the odds and a parent’s love that allows them to suffer anything to help their children. In “Extraordinary Measures,” this involves the Internet but “Lorenzo’s Oil” takes place in the world before all the answers were at your fingertips and, initially, it seems like a tougher problem. God knows it’s hard for an average guy to find venture capital and start a company but it’s not quite the level of problem as actually becoming a scientist and curing a disease. So, in set-up, “Lorenzo’s Oil” has more obstacles but it’s also way more daring with the characters. Although there are characters in “Extraordinary Measures” who aren’t saints (notably, the prickly scientist played by Ford), the parents sure are. “Lorenzo’s Oil,” in contrast, is daring enough to suggest that in this war to save a child that both parents become sort of, well, unlikeable because the stakes are too high to care about being nice. It’s a bold choice. Both films try to strike a balance in not stereotyping the medical establishment as unfeeling money-grubbers and to see them as scientists who are trying to solve a problem by being unbiased in their approach, something that a desperate parents can never really be.
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Contact (1997) -vs- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977 | 1980 | 1998)

June 20, 2009 Bryce Zabel

If you’re old enough to remember the marketing campaign for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” then you’ll remember the goosebumps you got when you heard the phrase, We are not alone. What was great about that simple sentence was that it promised a movie about aliens that was about wonder and mystery and wasn’t about the same old Hollywood treatment of life in the universe, namely that if it bothered to interact with humans it was for a nefarious reason, like “Independence Day” and “War of the Worlds.” Twenty years after “CE3” came another film that promised to make first contact a matter of humanity’s growth out of the cradle and not some intergalactic cage match. Both “CE3” and “Contact” were aliens for smart people brought to you first by the immense talent of Steven Spielberg and later by the immense intellect of Carl Sagan. In my Hollywood career, I’ve had the good fortune to discuss UFOs and extraterrestrial life with both of these men and found them to have some very different visions of the subject. They each have used film to express their views about life as it might exist “out there.” The question is, which version comes closest to what might be the truth about first contact, and which one is the better film?
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