Studio:Warner Home Video Year: 2011 Cast: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elliott Gould, Jennifer Ehle, Larry Clarke, Sanaa Lathan, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Bryan Cranston, Brian J. O'Donnell, Sanjay Gupta Director: Steven Soderbergh Release Date: January 03, 2012 Rating: PG-13 for disturbing content and some language Run Time: 01h:46m:19s Genre(s): thriller
"Someone doesn't have to weaponize the bird flu.The birds are doing that." - Cheever (Laurence Fishburne)
Steven Soderbergh makes a different kind of a global viral pandemic film, one that focuses more on fear and research rather than gore and goo. A large, talented ensemble cast and the downward spiral of humanity makes this one a bleak, uneasy and scary thriller.
Movie Grade: B
DVD Grade: B
We've all heard the horror stories about how the world is just one infected-person-on-an-airplane away from having a deadly pandemic sweep the globe, making the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 look like a head cold. In Steven Soderbergh's Contagion that is the frightening premise, with the rapid spread of a highly contagious and deadly new virus leaving sudden death, rampant fear and a frightened populace in its wake, while the military and international researchers attempt to find a vaccine before it is too late. Contagion ricochets around quickly and intelligently, introducing Soderbergh's sprawling cast of characters with little disregard for those not paying close attention to the action. There's a real sense of urgency in the way Soderbergh and editor Steven Mirrione have cut this film, and subsequently the narrative barrels forward with little downtime or meandering.
The fictional MEV-1 virus presented here is a doozy, and as Soderbergh shows us how it is spread so effortlessly it becomes apparent that if this were real we would all be screwed, no matter how good your own personal hygiene is. The virus is fast and lethal, so as poor Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle (in probably the film's best performance) lead the charge to locate a cure, Marion Cotillard (she of those enormously lovely eyeballs) heads to the source of the outbreak while the military front led by Bryan Cranston has to institute crowd control as a wild-eyed conspiracy blogger played by Jude Law becomes both a prophet and pariah. Unfortunately that doesn't leave much for Matt Damon to do as a grieving widow and supportive father to his teenaged daughter, and his character seems to only exist as the tether that the audience is intended to connect with. Some of the storylines eventually dovetail, and as Contagion moves rather breathlessly to its final puzzle piece reveal Soderbergh puts the wraps on a thriller that seems far too real.
There have been plenty of virus movies before Contagion and many of them seem to consider scenes of phlegmy vomit a requisite moneyshot element to help sell the "hey that's gross" moment. Soderbergh downplays that deadly end result, and aside from a wee bit of frothy residue there isn't much in the way of graphic viral expectorating. Instead this is something of a "smart" thriller, centering more on the individuals tasked with controlling and resolving the issue rather than expendable victim after expendable victim and their gooey discharge. There are lab montages, people studying computer screens and an underlying realization that containment is akin to imprisonment. Even without the gooey phlegm we've been conditioned to expect from these type of movies Contagion is tense, depressing and downright frightening.
If there was ever a film to make you want to never leave the house without a biohazard suit and a keg of Purel, this would be the one. And if you want to enhance the scary in your own home - no matter how groovy your A/V setup - might I recommend watching Contagion with someone who has a cold, as I did. With my wife coughing and sneezing occasionally during it really added a horrifying three-dimensional aspect to the whole experience.
The 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer from Warner Brothers is slathered in purposely desaturated colors - giving the entire film a clinically chilly texture - broken up periodically by dramatically vivid scenes that contain the most vibrant batch of colors in Contagion, though they're relegated to things like biohazard suits or a casino flashback. The rest of the time it's icy, but the transfer itself holds no evidence of artifacting or EE, with a picture quality that carries deep blacks, well-rendered textures and crisply detailed edges. Very nice.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix isn't a big sonic showcase, but it delivers exceptionally clean dialogue amidst a fairly subdued surround cues. Calling this modest would be a real disservice, because the audio presentation is extremely subtle on purpose, and as intensity in certain sequences ramp up so does the expansion of the soundstage. By comparison the score of longtime Soderbergh composer Cliff Martinez (BThe Limey, Traffic, Solaris) is the proverbial jewel in the lotus here; it's a stark, techno composition used to great effect by the DTS-HD mix during such signature bits as a research montage.
This two-disc set sports a slipcover, with artwork that matches the inner case. The AVC-encoded BD houses the film, as well as a smattering of brief 1080p supplements, some of which manage to be pretty darn creepy. In The Reality of Contagion (11m:00s) we're shown how a new virus - much like the one in the film - can spread and how it would be combated. Scary stuff, and certainly much more of a genuine concern than most of us would like to think, I imagine. The other two pieces run around five minutes each, consist of The Contagion Detectives - chronicling the experts who helped during the film's production - and How a Virus Changes the World, which gives a quick journey on just what it's like to be a nasty virus.
The second houses a DVD version of Contagion, minus the extras. Also included is an insert with instructions on how to access the Ultraviolet Digital Copy, as well.