A handful of older films, games, and TV shows that I enjoyed in 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

At this time of year, practically every outlet – from dying newspapers to new social media channels – churns out list upon list of the best entertainment products of the year. The top threes, top fives, top tens and more of 2021 abound! I have something similar in the pipeline, but today I wanted to take a look back at a handful of films, games, and TV shows from previous years that I found myself enjoying in 2021.

I have long and seemingly ever-growing lists of films, games, and TV shows that I keep meaning to get around to! I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad, for example, nor played The Witcher 3, despite the critical and commercial acclaim they’ve enjoyed! I also have a huge number of entertainment properties that I keep meaning to re-visit, some of which I haven’t seen since we wrote years beginning with “1.” In 2021 I got around to checking out a few titles from both of these categories, and since there are some that I haven’t discussed I thought the festive season would be a great opportunity for a bit of positivity and to share some of my personal favourite entertainment experiences of 2021… even though they weren’t brand-new!

Film #1:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)

We’ve recently marked the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnum opus. The passage of time has done nothing to detract from these amazing films, and this year a 4K Blu-Ray release has them looking better than ever before.

The early 2000s had some serious pitfalls for film and television. CGI was becoming more mainstream and many filmmakers sought to take advantage of it, but just look to the Star Wars prequels and how outdated the CGI in those titles is; it hasn’t held up well at all. The majority of the special effects in The Lord of the Rings were practical, and combined with clever cinematography even incredibly dense and complex battle sequences still look fantastic two decades on.

Though I don’t re-watch The Lord of the Rings every single year without fail, I’m happy to return to the trilogy time and again – and I almost certainly will be for the rest of my days! The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Middle-earth was one of the first fantasy worlds I encountered as a young child; I can vaguely remember the book being read to me when I was very small. The conventional wisdom for years was that The Lord of the Rings was unfilmable – but Peter Jackson proved that wrong in some style!

Film #2:
Despicable Me (2010)

I spotted this while browsing Netflix one evening, and despite having seen at least one film with the Minions, I hadn’t actually seen the title that started it all. I have to confess that I didn’t have particularly high expectations, thinking I was in for a bog-standard animated comedy. But Despicable Me has heart, and there were some genuinely emotional moments hidden inside.

The Minions got most of the attention in the aftermath of Despicable Me, and can now be found on everything from memes to greetings cards! The critters are cute, but they’re also somewhat limited – and I think it’s for that reason that I didn’t really expect too much from Despicable Me except for maybe a few laughs and a way to kill an empty evening. I was pleasantly surprised to find a much more substantial film than I’d been expecting.

There were still plenty of laughs and a ton of cartoon silliness to enjoy and to keep the tone light-hearted. But there was a surprisingly emotional story between the villainous Gru and the three children he adopts – especially Margo, the eldest. I can finally understand why the film has spawned four sequels, fifteen shorts, and a whole range of merchandise!

Film #3:
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The Final Frontier has a number of issues that I’m sure most of you will be aware of. It arguably suffered from a little too much involvement from William Shatner, who sought to put Captain Kirk at the centre of the story at the expense of others. But The Final Frontier has some truly great character moments, including one of the final times that Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy would be together before The Undiscovered Country brought an end to Star Trek’s original era.

The film has some truly funny moments, too: the scene where Uhura catches Chekov and Sulu pretending to be caught in a storm being one, and Scotty’s moment of slapstick being another that never fails to win a chuckle. The Undiscovered Country was a great send-off for Star Trek’s original crew, but it was quite a heavy film with a lot of tense moments and high-octane action. The Final Frontier brings more light-hearted moments to the table, and that’s something I can appreciate when I’m in the right mood.

There are some exciting sequences too, though. The shuttle crash is a very tense and dramatic moment, and the final confrontation with the entity at the centre of the galaxy, while silly in some respects, does succeed at hitting at least some of those same dramatic highs. Though I wouldn’t suggest that The Final Frontier is anywhere near the best that Star Trek has to offer, it’s well worth a watch from time to time.

Game #1:
Control (2019)

Though hardly an “old” game, I missed Control when it was released in 2019. It had been on my list for a couple of years, and I was pleased to finally get around to playing it this year. The game had a far creepier atmosphere than I’d been expecting, with protagonist Jesse having to battle an unseen enemy called the Hiss.

One thing I really admire about Control is the way it made incredibly creative use of some fairly plain environments. The entire game takes place in what’s essentially a glorified office building, and rows of cubicles or the janitor’s workspace could, in other games, come across as feeling bland and uninspired. But Control leans into this, using the environments as a strength, juxtaposing them with incredibly weird goings-on at the Bureau of Control.

I also liked that, for the first time in years, we got full-motion video sequences in a game! FMV was a fad in gaming in the early/mid-1990s I guess, primarily on PC, and titles like Command and Conquer and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy made use of it. It had been years since I played a game with FMV elements, and it worked exceptionally well in Control – as well as being a completely unexpected blast of nostalgia!

Game #2:
Super Mario 64 (1996)

Despite the serious limitations of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch, which I picked up last year, I can’t deny that it’s been fun to return to Super Mario 64. One of the first fully 3D games I ever played, Super Mario 64 felt like the future in the late ’90s, and even some titles released this year, such as Kena: Bridge of Spirits, owe parts of their 3D platforming to the pioneering work that Nintendo did with this game.

Super Mario 64 is and always has been good, solid fun. There doesn’t need to be an in-depth, complex story driving Mario forward to collect stars, because the game’s levels and bosses are all so incredibly cleverly-designed. Jumping in and out of different painting worlds is relatively quick and feels great, and the sheer diversity of environments is still noteworthy in 2021. Mario goes on a journey that takes him through snowy mountains, a sunken shipwreck, sunlit plains, cities, clouds, and more.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The way these games have been adapted for Nintendo Switch isn’t worth the asking price. But even so, going back to Super Mario 64 has been one of my favourite parts of 2021, a chance to reconnect with a game I played and loved on the Nintendo 64. If you’ve never played it, track down a copy and give it a go. You won’t regret it.

Game #3:
Red Dead Redemption II (2018)

I’d been meaning to get around to Red Dead Redemption II for three years – but I’d always found a reason not to pick it up (usually it was too expensive!) It took forever to download on my painfully slow internet connection, but it was well worth the wait. I’ve had a fascination with America in the 19th Century for as long as I can remember – I guess partly inspired by playground games of “the wild west” that were fairly common when I was young. I even had a cowboy hat, toy gun, and “Davy Crockett” hat when I was a kid!

Red Dead Redemption II transported me to that world in a way that I genuinely did not think was possible. Films and TV shows can do a great job at pulling you in and getting you lost in a fictional world, but the interactive element of video games can add to that immersion – something that was absolutely the case with Red Dead Redemption II. The amount of detail in the game’s characters and open-world environments is staggering, and having finally experienced it for myself I can absolutely understand why people hail this game as a “masterpiece.”

I wasn’t prepared for the many emotional gut-punches that Red Dead Redemption II had in store. In many ways the game tells a bleak and even depressing story, one with betrayal, death, and many examples of the absolute worst of humanity. But every once in a while there are some incredibly beautiful moments too, where characters sit together, sing, play, and revel in their bonds of friendship. Red Dead Redemption II gave me the wild west outlaw fantasy that my younger self could have only dreamed of!

TV series #1:
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69)

I’ve re-watched quite a lot of The Original Series this year, probably more episodes than I’d seen in the past few years. Because of its episodic nature, it’s easy to dip in and out of The Original Series, firing up an episode or two to spend an hour with Captain Kirk and the crew without feeling the need to commit to an entire season of television.

The Original Series started it all for Trekkies, and I’m always so pleased to see that modern Star Trek hasn’t lost sight of that. In this year’s episodes of Lower Decks and Discovery we’ve gotten many references and callbacks to Star Trek’s first series, keeping the show alive and relevant as we celebrated its fifty-fifth anniversary – and the centenary of its creator, Gene Roddenberry.

Though dated in some ways, many of the themes and metaphors present in The Original Series are still relevant today. Society has changed since the 1960s, but in some areas we’re still fighting the same or similar fights for acceptance, for equality, and so on. The Star Trek franchise has always had a lot to say about that, being in some ways a mirror of society and in others depicting a vision of a more enlightened, optimistic future.

TV series #2:
Fortitude (2015-18)

I went back to re-watch Fortitude this year, for the first time since its original run. The series starts very slowly, seeming at first to be little more than a murder-mystery in a different setting. But it builds up over the course of its first season into something truly unexpected, crossing over into moments of political thriller, action, and even horror.

There are some truly shocking and gruesome moments in Fortitude, and it can be a harrowing watch in places. But it’s riveting at the same time, and I managed to get hooked all over again by the complex characters, the mysteries and conspiracies, and the bleak but beautiful arctic environment.

Fortitude featured some star names among its cast, including Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, and Dennis Quaid – the second-most-famous Dennis to be featured on this website! Although it was fun to watch it weekly during its original run, Fortitude is definitely a show that can be enjoyed on a binge!

TV series #3:
Family Guy (1999-Present)

Family Guy’s sense of humour sometimes runs aground for me, dragging out jokes too long or failing to pay off neat setups with decent punchlines. But with the full series (up to midway through Season 20 at time of writing) available on Disney+, I’ve found myself putting it on in the background a lot this year. The short runtime of episodes, the lightheartedness, and the way many of the jokes are often disconnected from whatever nonsense plot the episodes have going on all come together to make it something I can dip in and out of while doing other things.

There are some insensitive jokes, and some entire storylines in earlier episodes have aged rather poorly. But Family Guy seldom strikes me as a show punching down; it satirises and pokes fun at many different groups. In that sense it’s kind of halfway between The Simpsons and South Park; the former being more sanitised and family-friendly, the latter being edgier and meaner.

I rarely sit down and think “gosh, I must watch the latest Family Guy episode.” But if I’m in need of background noise or something to fill up twenty minutes, I find I’ll happily log into Disney+ and put on an episode or two.

So that’s it.

There have been some great films, games, and television shows that were released in 2021. But there were also plenty of entertainment experiences from years past that, in different ways, brightened my year. As we gear up for New Year and for everyone’s end-of-year top-ten lists, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, or just a relaxing day yesterday! I did consider writing something to mark the day, but I found that I had remarkably little to say that was different from the piece I wrote last year. 2021 has been “2020 II” in so many respects, unfortunately. However, unlike last Christmas I will be able to visit with some family members – I’ll be seeing my sister and brother-in-law later this week, which will be a nice treat! So here’s to 2021’s entertainment experiences – and as we enter the new year, it’s worth keeping in mind that we don’t only have to watch and play the latest and newest ones!

All titles on the list above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, distributor, developer, network, publisher, studio, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Have we seen an unstoppable shift away from the cinema?

One of the consequences of the pandemic has been the long-term closure of many cinemas (movie theaters for my American readers). Aside from a short respite last July and August, most cinemas here in the UK have been shut since March 2020 – for well over a year now. Some, like a local independent cinema near me, have had no choice but to close permanently, even with the end of lockdown seemingly in sight. Even when cinemas are able to reopen, limits on capacity due to social distancing, the general unease among many people about sitting in a room with dozens of strangers with the pandemic still ongoing, and most significantly, the lack of major film releases in the near term will – in my opinion, at least – most likely mean it will be a long time before things are able to get back to normal.

But will things ever get back to normal? That’s the question I want to ask today.

Will empty cinemas be full again one day?

In the early days of the pandemic, most films scheduled for release in spring or summer 2020 were simply postponed; their release dates pushed back by a few months so that they could be released to full crowds when lockdowns were lifted in their key markets. But as the pandemic has dragged on and on, film studios have begun to switch the way they release many big titles – opting to send them to streaming platforms rather than wait.

Without Remorse was originally supposed to get a theatrical release, but premiered on Amazon Prime Video instead. Raya and the Last Dragon went directly to Disney+. Then there are titles like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Mulan, The Little Things, Godzilla vs. Kong, Bill & Ted Face The Music, News of the World, and Tom & Jerry. Upcoming titles such as Jungle Cruise, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Black Widow, Malignant, and A Quiet Place II are all going to either be released directly on streaming or with a limited theatrical run at the same time as going straight to streaming.

Animated film Raya and the Last Dragon went straight to Disney+ earlier in the year.

Is this a one-time thing, purely caused by the pandemic? And if it is, will audiences be happy to return to cinemas once the pandemic has cleared and they can fully reopen? If you’d asked me in March or April last year, I’d have said yes to both questions without hesitation. But now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of advantages to streaming compared to going to the cinema, and as more and more people come to see those advantages, the cinema becomes a less-attractive option in contrast. This trend is not new – cinema attendance has declined a lot from where it was a few decades ago, and with the rise of high-quality television series which can rival and even surpass films in many cases, this is a reckoning that cinemas have had coming for a while. The pandemic has accelerated that to light-speed, but the trend has been going in this direction for a while.

Paramount+ is one of many competing streaming platforms that have arguably benefited from the forced closure of cinemas during the pandemic.

So what are the supposed advantages of at-home streaming? The first has to be convenience. Viewers can watch what they want on their own schedule, with the ability to pause a film to take a phone call or go to the bathroom, watching before or after work, or even late at night. It’s possible to watch with subtitles, audio description, director commentaries, and even watch in other languages. Most folks are more comfortable in their own homes than they are in a cinema chair – even the nicest cinema seats aren’t as pleasant as a comfy armchair or couch. There are no distractions from (other people’s) noisy kids, people munching popcorn, or idiots on their phones. You don’t have to sit through half an hour of adverts and trailers to get to the film. If you’re using a phone or tablet it’s possible to watch on the go, or literally anywhere. And some of the things we might’ve considered to be disadvantages a few years ago – such as screen size, resolution, and audio quality – are all easily surmountable even for folks on a limited budget.

Obviously not all of these points apply in every single case, but as a general rule, as screens get bigger and better, the need to watch something in the cinema is dropping. The old adage that a particular film was “better in the cinema” or “made for cinemas” no longer applies in many cases.

Amazon Prime Video have snapped up a number of films that couldn’t get a theatrical release this year – including Without Remorse.

I have a relatively inexpensive 4K television that doesn’t have OLED or HDR or any of those higher-end features, just a bog-standard LED set. But this model, even when I was buying it a few years ago, only started at a 40-inch screen size, with sizes going all the way up to 60″ or 65″. Nowadays, 85″ and 90″ sets are on the market and within reach of many consumers. Sound bars and speakers that put out fantastic quality audio are equally affordable, with prices dropping massively from where they had been when 4K and large screens were new. Even on my cheap and cheerful set, films look great. And if you sit reasonably close, it really does feel akin to being in the cinema – in the comfort of my own home.

It’s difficult, in my opinion, for cinemas to compete on price or quality. Even the more expensive streaming platforms, like Netflix, cost around £10-12 per month. It’s been a while since I was able to go to the cinema – health issues prevent me from doing so – but the last time I was able to go, £10 wouldn’t even stretch to two tickets. For that money you get one month’s worth of access to a massive library of titles – including many brand-new ones and Netflix originals made specially for the platform.

Large, good-quality television screens are increasingly affordable and offer a cinema-like experience at home.

In the late ’40s and ’50s, when my parents were young, going to the cinema was a frequent outing. You’d see an A- and B-movie, as well as perhaps a newsreel or something else, and it would feel like good value. Since the early 20th Century, going to the cinema on at least a weekly basis was a big part of many peoples’ lives – but things have been changing, slowly, for quite a while.

For at least the last couple of decades, going to the cinema is something most folks have viewed as an occasional treat rather than a regular outing. The price and value of a cinema ticket – and the additional extras like drinks and snacks – have shot up in relation to earnings, while at the same time the number of advertisements and trailers have also increased. Though the cinema still has a place in many folks’ lives, that place had been slipping long before the pandemic arrived. In the ’90s and 2000s, the blame for that lay with cable and satellite television channels, including many dedicated film channels. Nowadays, the blame has shifted to streaming.

Netflix has picked up a lot of subscribers in the past year.

Many film studios are keen to play their part in this trend, too. Sharing a big chunk of their profits with cinema chains and operators was never something they were wild about, which is why we’re seeing more and more studios and production companies either partnering with big streaming platforms or else trying to launch their own. Paramount+ exists for this reason, as do Disney+, HBO Max, and many others. These companies don’t care in the slightest about the fate of cinemas – except insofar as they can use them to turn a profit. When the pandemic meant that wasn’t possible, many companies happily jumped ship and released their films digitally instead.

Though I know a lot of people who have told me they’re keen to get back to the cinema as soon as possible, when I probed most of them further and asked how often they would go to the cinema pre-pandemic, or what films they were most excited to see at the cinema next, all of the answers I got back up everything I’ve been saying. Most folks go to the cinema infrequently at best, and while they’ve missed some of the social aspects of the “cinema experience,” they certainly haven’t missed the adverts, loud seat neighbours, and hassle. Streaming, while not as glamorous or exciting in some ways, is a more enjoyable experience in others.

Some people have missed every aspect of being at the cinema… but many haven’t!

I know I have to acknowledge my own bias here. As someone whose disability prevents them going to the cinema, I’d be quite happy if every film I want to watch from now on comes directly to streaming! On a purely selfish level, that’s something I’m fine with. And while I stand by the fact that the trend away from the cinema in a general sense is real and demonstrable, the pandemic probably hasn’t killed the entire concept of the cinema stone-dead. Nor would that be a good thing. Many cinemas offer more than just the latest blockbusters, with classic films, recorded theatre plays and ballet performances, and other such events. In the rural area where I live, the idea of being able to see something like the Royal Ballet is beyond a lot of people due to the distances involved. But local cinemas occasionally show things like ballets, operas, and Shakespeare plays, bringing a different kind of culture and entertainment to the region. Cinemas are also big local employers, and it’s nothing to celebrate when a local business is forced to close.

So most cinemas will eventually re-open. But the question I asked is still pertinent, because I don’t know whether they’ll see pre-pandemic numbers of visitors for a very long time – if at all. The pandemic has forced the hand of film studios and distributors, and the result has been an uptick in the number of subscribers to streaming platforms. Many folks have tried streaming for the first time, and while there will always be holdouts, people who proclaim that it really is “better in the cinema,” I think a lot of people have been surprised at how enjoyable streaming a film at home can be, and how favourably it can compare to the cinema experience.

Many people haven’t missed the “cinema experience” as much as they expected.

A big home theatre setup is no longer necessary. With a relatively inexpensive – but still large – television set and maybe a sound bar or pair of satellite speakers, many people can have a truly cinema-like experience in their own living rooms. And a lot of people who’ve tried it for the first time, prompted by lockdown, may have no plans to return to the cinema any time soon – or if they do, they’ll be making fewer trips.

In my opinion, this is something that has the potential to continue to build over time. As screens continue to improve, and as more people eschew the cinema in favour of staying in, more films will go direct to streaming because companies will see more success and more money in it. Fewer films will end up in cinemas exclusively, so fewer people will go. And the cycle will continue!

Even if I’m wrong on that final point, I do believe that we’ve already seen a slow move away from cinemas in the pre-pandemic years. The pandemic came along and blew the lid off that, and while there will be a return once things settle down, at-home streaming is here to stay. It benefits viewers and companies – the only folks who are going to lose out are the cinema chains themselves. I’m not saying it’s a positive thing necessarily, although it does stand to benefit me in some respects, nor am I advocating for it. But when I look at the way things have been going over the past few years, and add the pandemic’s disruption into the mix, I really do feel that we’re seeing a big move away from the cinema in favour of at-home streaming.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, production company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

King of Kings (1961) – an Easter film with a Star Trek connection

I’m not a religious person, and thus Easter has never been an especially important time of year for me. As a kid, Easter meant two weeks off school and chocolate eggs. And as an adult, Easter means a long weekend… and chocolate eggs. That’s about all. But as someone who grew up in England and was frog-marched into church with other schoolkids – back in the days when every school was bound to the local church – I gained a passing familiarity with the holiday. Because I don’t enjoy hot weather, late spring and summer are my least-favourite times of year! Easter, as the event which signals the beginning of that time of year, has always felt at least a little unwelcome as a result, even if the abundance of chocolate serves as a suitable bribe.

But enough about my weather preferences! It’s Easter, and aside from chocolate, Easter means one thing: Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, of this even non-Christians widely agree. Sometime between AD 30 and AD 40, Jesus was executed by Roman authorities in the province of Judea, and his resurrection three days later is what Christians celebrate at Easter. Jesus’ life and death have been depicted countless times in art and entertainment, and this time I thought it could be interesting to briefly look at a mid-century example: the 1961 film King of Kings.

The film’s opening title.

The title of this article promised you a Star Trek connection – since the Star Trek franchise is one of my biggest fandoms and a subject I write about often here on the website! The lead role in King of Kings is, naturally, the character of Jesus. In this case, Jesus is played by Jeffrey Hunter – better-known to Trekkies as Captain Christopher Pike, the original captain of the USS Enterprise.

Hunter’s life was tragically cut short, and he died aged only 42 following a fall that may have been caused by a stroke. Though he’s well-remembered today for his single Star Trek appearance – even more so since footage of him was incorporated into Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery – he was a prolific actor in the 1950s and ’60s, appearing in films like Fourteen Hours alongside Grace Kelly, and The Searchers with John Wayne. He also appeared in a number of television roles, including in big ’60s shows like The FBI and Daniel Boone.

Jeffrey Hunter (1926-1969)
Photo Credit: jeffreyhunter.net

If you’re familiar with Star Trek’s early production history, you’ll recall that Hunter declined to reprise his role as Pike for the show’s second pilot, opting to focus on cinema instead. By the time The Menagerie was made – the two-part episode which reused most of the footage from the show’s first pilot – Hunter was unavailable, leading to the character of Pike being recast and creating the iconic disfigured, wheelchair-bound look.

But all of that is incidental! King of Kings was released in 1961, four years before Hunter would meet Gene Roddenberry and agree to work on Star Trek. The film received mediocre reviews, but was considered a box office success for film studio MGM. And having seen it for myself a few years ago, it was certainly an interesting experience!

Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus in King of Kings.

This was my first time seeing Jeffrey Hunter outside of The Cage – at least, that I’m aware of. Though he’s slightly younger and sports both Jesus’ typical long hair and beard he is recognisable in the role, and that was certainly something neat to see.

The film itself is typical mid-century fare. As I think I’ve explained on more than one occasion, the early 1960s is about as far back as I’m willing to go for most films and television shows, simply because the quality of practically every aspect of production declines more and more the further back in time a film or series was made. Early cinema holds an interest from an academic point of view – the way techniques were developed, how different genres came into being, how technologies were first pioneered, and so on – but I find that actual entertainment value, and my ability to get lost in a production really cannot survive the wooden sets – and wooden acting – of early cinema!

A Roman scene in King of Kings.

King of Kings falls into this trap at points, with some sets and backdrops being pretty obviously fake, and the general acting style being in line with other projects of its era. But it’s perfectly watchable despite those shortcomings.

The film aimed to be an “epic,” recreating the magic of earlier Biblical epic films like 1956’s The Ten Commandments, and of course Ben-Hur, which was released in 1959. Even the film’s poster imitates Ben-Hur’s visual style. I don’t know if I’m the right person to compare these films for you; all are roughly equal in terms of being watchable for me, with similar drawbacks that I find with films from this time period. What we can say, though, is that King of Kings is probably less well-remembered than the other two, with Ben-Hur in particular being widely considered a classic.

Hunter as Jesus of Nazareth at the film’s climax.

The story of Jesus’ life and death has been recreated in cinema on a number of occasions. The 1912 film From the Manger to the Cross is the earliest one I could find, and in the century since there have been countless others. One of the best-known in recent years is Mel Gibson’s epic The Passion of the Christ, which is a pretty gory and harrowing watch in parts – deliberately so. And who could forget Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a parody of the Bible story?

King of Kings fits somewhere in the middle, the kind of film I’d never choose to watch but for the combination of its Star Trek connection and the holiday we’re celebrating today. It’s a curiosity rather than something I could recommend for pure enjoyment, but if you’ve seen other, better-known depictions of the life and times of Jesus, King of Kings might’ve slipped under the radar. It’s worth a look if that’s the case!

Even for non-Christians, the basic message Jesus of Nazareth preached is worth listening to. Being kind and treating others with respect is something we can all aspire to, especially in today’s politically divided, pandemic-riddled world. King of Kings, like many Bible films, hammers that message home in what is, at times, a ham-fisted way. But the message itself is still worth paying attention to, and for one day a year, we can take a moment to appreciate that.

King of Kings is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, and may also be available to stream depending on location. King of Kings was directed by Nicholas Ray and may be the copyright of Metro-Goldwin-Mayer and/or MGM Holdings. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Inappropriate things to watch while self-isolating

Depending on where you are in the world, you may have been suggested, requested, or outright forced into self-isolation as a result of coronavirus. I’m one of the people you’re keeping safe by self-isolating – I have a fairly complicated set of health issues, several of which tick the boxes for putting me at greater risk from the illness. So thank you for helping to keep me safe, I appreciate it!

But being stuck at home is awful if you aren’t used to it, so as a way of saying thanks for staying indoors and limiting the spread of this disease, here are a few television series and films that would make for highly inappropriate quarantine viewing.

Spoiler Warning: There may be spoilers ahead for the titles on this list. If you haven’t seen one and want to be certain of avoiding spoilers, skip ahead to the next entry just to be safe.

Film #1: Contagion (2011)

Bodies being buried in mass graves in Contagion.

Contagion takes a realistic approach to a global pandemic, focusing on the doctors and scientists leading the response and trying to find a cure. It demonstrates how a pandemic can easily get out of control, and how those tasked with leading the response can be just as in the dark as everyone else in the early stages of an outbreak. There’s a great performance from Lawrence Fishburne in particular.

Film #2: I Am Legend (2007)

Will Smith in I Am Legend.

A scientist attempting to find a cure for cancer accidentally releases a pathogen which kills more than 90% of the world’s population and turns almost all of the rest into zombie-like creatures. Dedicated to his research, he stays in an eerily abandoned New York City trying to reverse the effects. I Am Legend is, in parts, a very emotional film, and its ending, while deliberately ambiguous, seems to suggest that the zombies were a lot more “human” than they were given credit for.

Film #3: 28 Days Later (2002)

London is deserted in 28 Days Later.

A man wakes up from a coma in a hospital to find it deserted and the world outside ravaged by zombies. No, this isn’t television’s The Walking Dead, but it’s 28 Days Later, a film directed by Danny Boyle. Set in the UK in the aftermath of a virus called “rage” that turns people into living zombies, a small group of survivors look to escape London and find safety.

Film #4: World War Z (2013)

Brad Pitt in World War Z.

This Brad Pitt-led film gets somewhat of a bad rap, perhaps because it was so different from its source material. As a zombie infection begins to spread, a scientist must travel across the world in search of a cure. Things get progressively worse as society collapses around him.

Film #5: The Road (2009)

Father and son share a drink in The Road.

Not specifically about a virus – though that could perhaps be the cause of The Road’s unspecified disaster – this film focuses on a father and son as they try to survive in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. A strongly character-driven story looking at a dark, gritty post-apocalyptic environment where people will do anything to survive, it’s a fascinating, if depressing, film.

Film #6: The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson in one of cinema’s most iconic scenes.

What better to watch when stuck in place with no one to talk to than a film about a man being driven insane by being stuck in place with no one to talk to? This adaptation of the Steven King novel is a classic, and one of Jack Nicholson’s most legendary performances. It recently spawned a sequel – Doctor Sleep – but that film didn’t seem to have recaptured the magic.

Film #7: The Purge (2013)

Masked attackers terrorise a family in The Purge.

If you want to torture yourself with fears about being burgled and having your home broken into in these days of a supposedly limited police response to what they deem “less-important” crimes, why not check out 2013’s The Purge? In an America which has solved crime by legalising crimes for one night of the year, the film sees a family hunker down in their home as criminals try to break in. Can they survive the night?

Film #8: The Hole (2001)

Teenagers trapped underground in The Hole.

A group of teenagers end up locked in an underground bunker after a party goes wrong. They begin to run out of food and medicine while trapped, unable to leave the “hole” – they should’ve stockpiled toilet paper and pasta. A deeply claustrophobic film, The Hole is perfect quarantine viewing!

Television series #1: Survivors (2008)

Abby wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world in Survivors.

A small group of people must survive in a post-apocalyptic UK, after a disease has ravaged the world and killed the vast majority of the population. The disparate group must pull together to overcome obstacles in the world the virus has left behind, and contend with people who become incredibly selfish in the face of survival. As a show that examines the duality of human nature in the face of disaster, Survivors is a fascinating look at the post-apocalypse.

Television series #2: The Andromeda Strain (2008)

A dead body in The Andromeda Strain.

A loose adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel, The Andromeda Strain is a miniseries which looks at a disease that comes from space – an extraterrestrial microbe. Naturally humanity has no immunity or resistance to the infection, as it comes from space, and it quickly spreads through an American town. Primarily focused on the government response, the miniseries looks at how a situation can spiral out of control.

Television series #3: The Last Ship (2014)

The USS Nathan James in The Last Ship.

This show made my list of the top ten shows of the 2010s a few months ago, and for good reason. It’s a fascinating look at survival and rebuilding in a global pandemic. The action is focused on the crew of the USS Nathan James, a US Navy ship which is tasked with researching and curing a disease called the “red flu”. During Season 1, it becomes clear to the crew that the virus is far worse than they imagined and that society is on the precipice of collapse. Along with lone virologist Dr Rachel Scott, Capt. Chandler and his crew race to find a cure before it’s too late for humanity’s remaining survivors, but they must contend with a Russian ship which is also researching the disease. Later seasons introduce other antagonists, like the crew of a rogue submarine and pirates in East Asia, and look at how American society is slowly being rebuilt.

Television series #4: Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak (2019)

Title card for Pandemic.

I actually have a review for this series already posted on the blog – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. A documentary looking at various aspects of pandemic prevention, including attempts to synthesise a general cure for all kinds of flu, Pandemic is an interesting look at its subject matter – if somewhat politically slanted and limited by its focus on specific individuals. It attempts to be a broad overview of the subject matter, and although an incomplete picture, it is genuinely interesting.

Television series #5: The Stand (1994)

Gary Sinise in The Stand.

Based on a Steven King novel, this miniseries looks at the accidental release of a biological weapon based on influenza, which is rapidly spread across the United States. The disease has a massive death toll, leaving only a few survivors worldwide. The miniseries featured some great performances from actors who either were big stars already or who would go on to find further fame later on, like Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, and Molly Ringwald.

Television series #6: Helix (2015)

Promotional image for Helix.

Helix is one of those shows that starts off great but gets progressively worse as its story progresses. At a remote research station in the Arctic, a disease has infected a number of scientists and workers. A team from the CDC is dispatched to bring the infection under control, and the plot then spirals into a zombie story, a family drama, and a global conspiracy of silver-eyed immortals. Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager) guest stars, and the cast is led by Star Trek: The Next Generation guest star William O. Campbell.

Television series #7: The Strain (2014)

One of The Strain’s vampires.

The way this vampire story unfolds – particularly in its first few episodes – focuses very much on how the infection spreads from one “master” vampire to everyone else. Focusing on a CDC doctor in New York City, this show has a great cast – including David Bradley, whose performance is outstanding – and is a fun bit of fantasy-horror in a modern setting.

Television series #8: Twelve Monkeys (2015)

Title card for Twelve Monkeys.

Based on a film from the 1990s, Twelve Monkeys is a time-travel series that starts off with a fascinating premise: a man must travel to the present day from a future where a deliberately-released disease has killed off most of humanity. Over the course of the first season, the time-traveller unites with a doctor from our time to track down the source of the virus. Later seasons go off the rails and stop looking at the disease, focusing on a conspiracy to destroy time itself(?) at which point I stopped watching. But the first season in particular is outstanding and thoroughly worth a watch.

Video game #1: The Last Of Us (2013)

Promotional image for The Last Of Us.

Another one of my top tens of the 2010s, this time in the video games category, The Last Of Us is essentially a road trip that sees a man escort a young girl across America, twenty years after a fungus-based disease brought down society. In a few secure locations, some semblance of the American government still exists, but for the most part it’s everyone for themselves out in the wilderness. There are some beautiful locations for players to explore – even though the game was released on last generation’s PlayStation 3. And not to spoil anything, but the final act of the game is incredibly emotional and a great example of a videogame telling a story that would be just as at home on the big or small screen.

Video game #2: Plague Inc. (2012)

Promotional screenshot for Plague Inc.

Now available for PC, this game started on smartphones just at the right time, when phones were taking off and becoming a legitimate gaming platform. Rather than taking on the role of humans facing a disease, Plague Inc. sees players take on the role of the disease itself. There are various types from viruses to bacteria to fungal spores, and diseases must be upgraded in order to achieve the goal of wiping out humanity. Striking the right balance between being sufficiently contagious, able to remain undetected, severe enough to cause mass deaths, and able to adapt to and outsmart human researchers is no easy challenge – so be prepared for a lot of defeats before you’re finally able to get your version of coronavirus to kill everyone.

Star Trek has looked at diseases, quarantines, and issues surrounding isolation at many points in its history, so as an addendum to the main list, here are a few episodes from various iterations of the Star Trek franchise which would also make for inappropriate self-isolation viewing!

Star Trek episode #1: The Conscience of the King (The Original Series, 1966)

Kirk must solve the riddle of this man’s identity.

Years before he assumed command of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk was resident on a colony which ran out of food. In an attempt to save lives, the colony’s governor condemned half of the population to death so that the remaining food could be rationed among the other half – those he deemed worthy of survival. When a man beams aboard the Enterprise who may be the tyrannical governor, Kirk must put the pieces together.

Star Trek episode #2: The Deadly Years (The Original Series, 1967)

A terrified Chekov in The Deadly Years.

Several senior Enterprise crew members are afflicted with a disease which causes rapid ageing. Dr McCoy and his medical staff must try to find a cure – before it’s too late! Not even Spock is immune, and it seems as though the ship and its entire crew are in danger.

Star Trek episode #3: Starship Mine (The Next Generation, 1993)

Picard talks to the mercenaries in Starship Mine.

Trapped alone aboard a deserted Enterprise-D, Picard must contend with intruders set on stealing a byproduct of the ship’s warp drive. Without any of his friends or crew to help, Picard must outsmart the mercenaries using only what he can find on the deserted ship. Starship Mine is actually one of my favourite episodes of The Next Generation.

Star Trek episode #4: Genesis (The Next Generation, 1994)

Barclay attempts to diagnose himself, kicking off the events of Genesis.

An attempt to cure a case of the flu goes horribly wrong, resulting in the “de-evolution” of the Enterprise-D’s crew into various inhuman monsters. Picard and the immune Data must synthesise an antidote before it’s too late!

Star Trek episode #5: Armageddon Game (Deep Space Nine, 1994)

Chief O’Brien is in a bad way in Armageddon Game.

Infected with a biological weapon, O’Brien is dying and trapped in hostile territory with Dr Bashir. This episode would mark a major milestone in the friendship of these two characters, whose relationship would be a significant factor in later seasons of Deep Space Nine.

Star Trek episode #6: The Quickening (Deep Space Nine, 1996)

Dax and Bashir work on a cure.

The Dominion used a biological weapon (the titular “quickening”) to punish a wayward planet. Dr Bashir attempts to find a cure for the disease, which can cause rapid death, in an episode which was an interesting look at how doctors cope with an “unwinnable” situation.

Star Trek episode #7: Phage (Voyager, 1995)

Tom Paris and The Doctor work to help Neelix in Phage.

Voyager encounters the Vidiians, a species suffering from a centuries-long plague which causes their bodies to rot. They survive by becoming pirates, capturing others and stealing body parts to replace their own disease-ravaged ones. The Phage would crop up several times in Voyager, and despite the best efforts of the crew they never managed to find a cure.

Star Trek episode #8: Year of Hell, Parts 1 & 2 (Voyager, 1997)

The USS Voyager suffers extensive damage in the two-part episode Year of Hell.

A time-travel story in which the Voyager crew see their ship constantly attacked and running out of energy and resources. Crew members die and become maimed, the ship falls apart and whole sections become uninhabitable, and resources dwindle to the point where Capt. Janeway gives the order to abandon ship.

Star Trek episode #9: A Night in Sickbay (Enterprise, 2002)

Porthos in A Night In Sickbay.

Capt. Archer’s beloved pet dog becomes ill with an alien virus, and he spends a tense night in sickbay with Dr Phlox as they wait to see whether Porthos will pull through. A Night in Sickbay is a surprisingly emotional episode that any pet owner can relate to.

Star Trek episode #10: Observer Effect (Enterprise, 2005)

Sato and Tucker suffering from the effects of a virus.

Sato and Tucker are infected with a silicon-based virus in this Enterprise episode, while the crew are being observed by a noncorporeal race who want to see if they can figure out a cure in time. Observer Effect served as a semi-prequel to The Original Series episode Errand of Mercy, featuring the same alien race.

So that’s it. I hope we can all stay safe and well during these strange times, and if you are told to stay at home please follow the instructions of the authorities in your local area. I know it can be frustrating and that “cabin fever” is a real sensation, but if we all comply we’ll all come out the other side and life can get back to normal.

Staying at home isn’t just for your own selfish benefit – it helps people like me, who have health issues and would be more likely to suffer complications from coronavirus. It also helps doctors, hospitals, and healthcare providers to not become overwhelmed with tens of thousands of cases all at once. I’ve seen lots of people, including in some major national newspapers, arguing that because coronavirus is “not that bad” that everyone should just carry on as normal. And while we should all certainly be avoiding panic-buying, things cannot carry on as normal, at least not in the short-term. By staying in, avoiding as much contact with people as possible, and maintaining a high level of hygiene, we can slow the spread of the disease which will relieve the pressure on hospitals and allow more time for the development of a vaccine. Staying at home isn’t actually all that difficult, especially with YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, digital videogame platforms, hundreds of television channels, and the entire internet providing us with so much to do.

If none of the shows, films, or episodes I’ve semi-jokingly listed seem like something you’re interested in, then stay tuned because I’ll be bringing you more lists and reviews of things to watch while you’re stuck indoors. Once again, I urge all of my readers to follow local advice and requirements, and do what you’re told to avoid making things worse and inadvertently spreading this nasty disease to others.

Stay safe everyone!

All episodes, games, television series, and films listed above are the copyright of their respective studios, publishers, distributors, producers, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.