4th March 2012
What happens when you drive a bulldozer into virgin forest, disturb a bat eating a banana that flies off towards a pig farm, drops the banana which then gets eaten by a pig, the same pig gets slaughtered and sold to a chief in a restaurant who then fails to wash his hands after handling the carcass to meet an enthusiastic customer? I'll tell you. You get a new deadly flu virus which is more than happy to take a trip on an airliner and spread itself around its occupants.
What starts off as a simple handshake in a business meeting is the trigger for a worldwide pandemic which threatens to kill millions - a feat not managed since the Spanish 'flu devastated a war weary world in 1918 by killing 50 million people. But man has developed new weapons against its oldest foe – antibiotics and anti-viral drugs – and it's going to take a massive effort to defeat this new, and rapidly mutating, virus.
When one such business person, Beth Emhoff, returns to Minneapolis from a business trip in Hong Kong, what she thought was jet lag takes a virulent turn. Two days later, she's dead in the ER and the doctors tell her shocked and grieving husband Mitch they have no idea why. Soon, others around the world start to exhibit the same mysterious symptoms: hacking coughs and fever, followed by seizure, brain haemorrhage... and ultimately, death. The numbers quickly multiply as the contagion sweeps across all borders, fuelled by the countless, and simple, human interactions that make up the course of an average day.
As the death toll escalates, and the WHO struggling to find a cure, people from all parts of the economy - from law enforcement to the humble shelf stacker in the local supermarket - continue to drop like flies. It's not long before society starts to breakdown as people struggle to protect themselves and their loved ones by whatever means they can. However, one activist blogger is claiming the public isn't getting the truth about what's really going on. With the authorities already struggling to deal with one epidemic, the blogger manages to make matters worse by setting off an epidemic of paranoia and fear as infectious as the virus itself.
As to be expected for a recent release onto Blu-Ray the 1080p high definition transfer is immaculate, with no signs of artifacting or any picture imperfections. The transfer offers some superb textures, a high level of detail and, along with some bold and natural colours – especially in the colour rich location of Hong Kong – there's some impressively solid black levels on offer too as the film jumps from one infected location to another around the world. Mind you, I'd expect nothing else from the technology and the age of the print.
Without the need for explosions or endless streams of bullets, Contagion can spend all of its time concentrating on the drama and involving the viewer in the ever expanding tension. Given this, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack takes the opportunity to explore every channel available with even the often underutilised LFE channel getting a look in too. Given that the film is primarily dialogue based, the dialogue is crisp and clear in the front channels whilst the musical score and dramatic atmospheric effects do their very best to ratchet up the drama. All in all, it's a cracking soundtrack which serves its purpose extremely well.
It's almost as if the production crew were struck down by a mysterious illness as, for such a recent and star packed film, the extras are a bit of a disappointment with not even an Audio Commentary to help complement matters (surely one of the stars could have spared some time to provide something). So we have to put up with what little is on offer. At least the menu system is decently animated and scored.
The eleven minute The Reality of Contagion featurette looks at what to expect if such an outbreak did occur. It includes the logistics of trying to immunise entire cities - or even countries along with establishing new policies to cater for the inevitable times of mass panic and fuel and food shortages. Watching this you realise just how realistic the film tries to be - making it all the scarier. Next up is the rather short, and disappointing, The Contagion Detectives. Running at a mere five minutes, the cast talk about their time with scientists and medical detectives and how they helped them prepare for their roles. Finally, the more jovial (if you can have such a thing here!) two minute Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World animated featurette explains how a pandemic is spread and what each of us can do to help prevent it. Needless to say, it could prove to be vital information come the next 'flu season...
With Blu-Ray releases now tending to offer Triple Play packing – with a Blu-Ray disc, DVD and Digital Copy, at a few pounds more than the standard DVD, the Blu-Ray offering becomes a bit of a bargain and hard to ignore on the shelf. What's more, the title also offers a feature called Ultraviolet. This is a new system digital rights authentication and licensing system that allows consumers to stream and download purchased content to multiple platforms and devices. I've not tried this, but needless to say, it's yet another corner covered by the release which bumps up its value to the consumer even more.
With a cast of major stars you're almost catapulted back in time to those star drenched disaster films of old. With the likes of the Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno not afraid to kill off an A-lister at a drop of a hat, it's not long before Contagion shuffles a few of theirs back to the Winnebago for champagne and canopies. And, unlike your average Hollywood disaster film, we're not being threatened by an asteroid, alien invasion or super volcano, but something far smaller and deadlier. What's more, it's not all fantasy and it's a terrifying possibility which could one day unleash itself on an overpopulated planet. I'm loving this film already!
The subject matter covered by the film is perfect for a modern take on a worrying theme. Mind you, as is the case for all things Hollywood, we have the typical happy outcome and the complete and utter neglect of the disaster's aftermath. Just as long as Uncle Sam can eat apple pie and rest easy in his bed then Hollywood is happy that their target audience – that rather attention lacking American public who don't like to pay for a film which they can't cheer and "whoop" at – will be happy too.
Overall, I do like Contagion, but it is definitely spoilt by Hollywood's incessant desire to keep a happy ending in a virtually impossible scenario. Also, given the subject matter and the drama it creates, the pace of the film suddenly changes for the worse when someone in the production team suddenly realises that they've got a cat to feed and a home to go to. This results in a breakneck pace and the world being saved once more. It's a bit of a disappointing conclusion and it does take some of the shine off the film. Still, even with the poor set of extras, it can't remove all of the sanitised handwash and Contagion is still cracking and worthy viewing - but just remember to wash your hands before and after watching.
- The Reality of Contagion
- The Contagion Detectives
- Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World