‘Contagion’ and ‘Andromeda’ and ‘Outbreak’

         
 

09 September 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Contagion is the latest virus thriller where the world is at risk. It is not the first movie with this plot, but I think it is the best of them. It doesn’t waste time investing in the back stories of its ensemble cast. It nimbly glides back and forth between stories. Director Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven”) trusts that we can fill in the gaps of the inner drives and personalities of his characters just by seeing how they react to their surrounding situation.

“The Andromeda Strain” (1971, pic above), based on a Michael Crichton novel, is likely the first virus thriller of the modern movie era. In an early riveting sequence, the scientists land in a perished ghost town with two remaining survivors – an old man and a baby. Both need quarantine because they still might be carrying the virus. Most of the movie though is chit-chatty and full of minor details, and takes too long to get going. The pacing is sluggish until its race against the clock finale, but I hoped for a story that menaced mankind at large, not a sub-region of small population. There is talk of an outbreak spread, but most of the story is decidedly self-contained inside a medical facility. The best I can say is that for every 20 minutes of screen time it charges up some good suspense that lasts for a couple of minutes.

The next two decades saw some variations on this story but emphasized aliens as parasites, such as “Shivers” (1975), “Alien” (1979), “The Thing” (1982) and “They Live” (1988). The 1985 title “Warning Sign” is strictly a bloodstream-invading virus, but I can attest that these titles are mostly very good movies.

But it was in 1995 when Hollywood went big budget on a veritable virus killer, a widespread panic movie with an uncontainable epidemic disease – the infection enters peoples’ bloodstream and quickly puts them into cardiac arrest. That movie was “Outbreak” (pic above) with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland and despite the pedigree it belongs near the bottom worst of this genre. It starts well, but when it gets into a laughably unconvincing helicopter chase where Army General Sutherland has ordered termination of the doctor team because he doesn’t believe in their findings, the damn movie destroys itself. The script also wants us to believe that the thousands of manufactured antidotes can be produced in a jiffy.

Similar plots, slightly varied on the theme, have included the hysterically bloody “Cabin Fever” (2002), abominable misfire “Dreamcatcher” (2003), the disgusting but entertaining spine-tingling “Slither” (2006), the small budget jolter “Quarantine” (2009), the unimpressively plot-light “Carriers” (2009), not to mention the sensational double-bill zombie infection movies like “28 Days Later” (2002) and its sequel “28 Weeks Later” (2007).

“Contagion” doesn’t have left and right thrills, but it is urgently gripping in how it is grounded in plausible reality. I admire its location-hopping with scenes illustrating Hong Kong, to America, to Switzerland, to Dubai, to Japan, to in its final revelation, Brazil. Especially in how smooth it crosscuts between storylines. In addition, Soderbergh doesn’t just capture the rise of the death toll, he captures the crumbling of civilized society. I think the best of the parasite movies are “Alien” and “The Thing.” But I do think “Contagion” is the best of the epidemic disease movies.

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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