The build up to the Greatest Show on Earth is always fraught with problems. Games organisers never stick to the original budget and there are always last minute construction problems and political wranglings over things like Olympic legacy. In a few weeks the eyes of the world will be turned on Brazil as Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympic Games. Staging the Games was always going to be a struggle with inflation and unemployment on the rise, a contracting economy, a currency that has lost half its value against the dollar and a stock market down by over 20%. Add in the Petrobas scandal and the impeachment of President Dilma Rouseff and you’ve got yourself a heady cocktail.
Typically though problems like these can be overcome. For two weeks the noise abates and everybody shuts up and gets on with the business of falling in love with sport. Whether that happens this time will remain to be seen because into the usual problems of late running construction work and economic uncertainty there is now a new threat which seems determined to overshadow the Games. The Zika virus. Athletes all over the world are either pulling out, seeking medical advice or freezing their sperm before getting on a plane. Whatever happens this summer I guarantee you one thing. Someone will make a film about the Zika virus. The film world adores a good outbreak and films about disease, plagues and viruses have dominated the box office for decades. Here, in no particular order of importance, are some of the best. You may notice a monkey theme running through some of these.
- 28 Days Later – A decade before organising the opening ceremony for the London Olympics Danny Boyle directed 28 Days Later (2002), a stunning horror film written by Alex Garland. When animals rights protesters storm a laboratory and release several caged chimps one of the creatures attacks them and infects everyone with a deadly virus. 28 days later a courier wakes up from a coma and discovers the virus has spread all over the world. The film is a sort of zombie, post-apocalypse horror story and it is genuinely frightening. It spawned a sequel and breathed new life into the zombie genre.
- Outbreak – Two years before he made Air Force One, Wolfgang Peterson tried his hand at the virus-thought-extinct-only-to-reappear-when-infected-monkey-escapes genre. Starring Dustin Hoffmann, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman and a great cameo by Kevin Spacey Outbreak (1995) follows the tried and tested formula to the letter.
- Contagion – Stephen Soderburgh’s 2011 film ignores the rule book completely. Firstly there are no primates which makes a refreshing change. The film follows a large ensemble cast across multiple plot lines and several time jumps until, right at the end of the film the source of the virus which kills close to 30 million people worldwide is revealed to the audience. As medical thrillers go Contagion is riveting stuff.
- The Masque of the Red Death – Fresh from The Fall of the House of Usher the great exponent of the creature-feature, Roger Corman continued his series of films adapting the works of Edgar Allan Poe. This 1964 film starring Vincent Price and Jane Asher tells the story of a deadly plague, the red death, which infects a medieval Italian village. It has tarot cards, masked balls, dwarves, devil worship and debauchery in large quantities. Corman enjoyed himself so much he remade the film in 1989.
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Rupert Wyatt’s excellent 2011 reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise puts us squarely back in primate territory. Wyatt blended the traditional formula of an infected monkey with the original Planet of the Apes concept and produced a film that has so far grossed close to $500 million worldwide.
- 12 Monkeys – Terry Gilliam’s disturbing 1995 film combines a deadly virus, dream sequences and time travel and stars Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis. When James Cole (Willis) is sent back to the past to try and find a cure for a deadly virus he ends up pitting his wits against his own childhood and the Army of Twelve Monkeys (who sadly are humans not primates). Pitt was up for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a mental patient. Sadly for him his performance was up against Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects. The film has been adapted for television and is currently on its second series on the Syfy channel.
There are many other examples I could have picked. Too many in fact although perhaps an honourable mention should go to the Resident Evil franchise which spans both the gaming and film industries in equal measure. It is clear that the big screen loves this genre and is happy to throw big names and big money at it in order to take advantage. No doubt we will see a film about the Zika virus before long. An athletes village cut off from the rest of society whilst a deadly plague does the rounds, forcing mutant zombie athletes to fight each other to the death.
Good luck with the urine samples there.