Although not as well-known and epic as the likes of “Contagion” and “Outbreak,” “Carriers” (2009) is a nice little horror-suspenser that explores a pandemic on an intimate scale after it has wiped out most of the world’s population. Remarkably, this small film stars Chris Pine after he had already become an A-lister with “Star Trek” earlier that year. In fact, the film, shot in 2006, was released because of his new stardom. Pine plays one of four survivors driving through New Mexico on their way to the Texas Gulf Coast with the vague idea of settling down there.
Vulcan’s Hammer” (written in 1953, published in 1960) is Philip K. Dick’s first foray into novel-length science fiction (although not his first published), and it’s a difficult book to judge. Its warning about a government handing power to a supercomputer is today an SF staple, with the entire “Terminator” franchise built around it. But at the time of its writing, it was more eye-opening. And obviously the theme of rational but cruel artificial intelligence was fascinating to Dick, who went on to rework and remold this concept many times.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski goes deep into the 2029 battle and deep into the idea of the singularity in “Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle” Volume Two (July-December 2014, Dark Horse). It’s an outstanding conclusion of the “Salvation” saga, which got cut down to only one film but enjoyed a robust run of novels and comics. Along with the movie and “The Final Battle” Volume One, Volume Two (which includes Issues 7-12) is part of what I consider the core “Salvation” trilogy.
Whereas “Outbreak” (1995) gets comparatively cartoonish as it wrings drama from a viral pandemic, “Contagion” (2011) – its main competition for “most famous outbreak movie” – is more level-headed and sober. But Steven Soderbergh is so confident at the tiller of this worldwide procedural that the tension is enhanced, not lessened, as he adheres to the realistic scenarios in Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay.
Even fairly serious “Terminator” fans might not know about this oddity: There was a prequel movie to “Salvation” – sort of. “Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series” (2009) is a six-episode web series with video-game animation that functions as a 75-minute movie. Thankfully, it’s not like watching someone play a video game. It’s driven by Resistance pilot Blair Williams (voiced by Moon Bloodgood) and hacker Laz Howard, a.k.a. Ghost (voiced by Cam Clarke), who can disrupt communications signals with a secret code.
With an unusually long gap between new Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, I decided to finally check out “Marvel’s Runaways” Season 1 (2017-18, Hulu). Now through three seasons, it’s part of the young-adult wing of the MCU, and I appreciate that it’s more colorful, sunnier (it’s set in Los Angeles, the opposite side of the continent from most MCU goings-on) and more fathomable than the other YA series, Freeform’s recently canceled “Cloak & Dagger.” It also has an amazing cast, but Season 1 has one big problem at its core.
The idea of zombie fiction featuring great character development and performances was old hat by the time of “Train to Busan” (2016); the Tens were dominated by TV’s “The Walking Dead,” after all. But while the Korean film from writer Park Joo-suk and director Yeon Sang-ho doesn’t break new ground, it covers every inch of the old ground expertly, giving us an elite piece of zombie fiction that steadily plows forward and never runs off the track.
The coronavirus of 2020 is pretty scary, but it’s nothing compared to what theaters scared up in 1995. In addition to “Outbreak,” that year gave us “12 Monkeys,” wherein a virus in 1997 kills off 5 billion people, leading to a post-apocalyptic world where humans live underground in miserable fashion. The film has the grimy production design, stark camera angles and general quirkiness you’d expect from director Terry Gilliam (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Brazil”), along with a screenplay by David Webb Peoples (“Blade Runner”) and Janet Peoples that’s more confusing than it needs to be.
Roswell, New Mexico” (Mondays, CW) returns with an excellent Season 2 premiere that smoothly reminds us of the threads from the long-ago Season 1 while also moving things forward. “Stay (I Missed You)” is written by showrunner Carina Adly MacKenzie, who continues to tap into the spirit of the original “Roswell” – the small-town haunts, the star-crossed romances, the alien mysteries, the ’90s tunes — while making a show that is often slicker and even better than its forbearer. Even though I love the original series more, I admire the way “RNM” is walking that fine line.
Ilove the fact that there are still some weekly shows on TV (as opposed to all-in-one seasonal drops), but “Westworld” (Sundays, HBO) is not the ideal show for this format. Then again, even when binged, it’s hard to keep all the characters and their goals straight. Still, after a Season 2 that I found tough to get through, I decided to give Season 3 a chance. And the season premiere, “Parce Domine,” is one of the best episodes of the series to date.