My son and I are both sick right now and it’s probably just a really bad cold, but as I watched the movie while coughing and sneezing, I realized that this probably isn’t the best time for me to watch a movie called Contagion. I’m not usually a hypochondriac, but I’m open to suggestion when I’m already sick. To make matters worse, I just returned from Disneyland which has got to be the world’s biggest petri dish of potential viruses carried from visitors from every point on the globe. I survived long enough to watch this effort from Steven Soderbergh that includes a superstar cast including Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gweneth Paltrow, and Marion Cotillard. With all of these stars, you know some of them aren’t going to survive the contagion which always adds a new level of drama and interest from me.
Steven Soderbergh directs an excellent ensemble cast in Contagion. Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns home from a trip to Hong Kong feeling ill. Her son Clark is showing symptoms of what appears to be a cold, and he is picked up from school by his step father Mitch (Matt Damon). Soon after, Beth has a seizure and is rushed to the hospital, and her son also gets sick while in the care of the babysitter before Mitch returns home. Mitch is immediately placed into isolation, but he does not develop the mystery disease. Others all over the world are not so lucky. The outbreak is spreading and Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) from the CDC sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) into the field to investigate and contain the sickness.
Blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) is all over the story from the beginning, even when no one believes that there is a story. He watches his readers grow as panic sets in and he claims to have found a cure for an illness it’s later determined he never had. Posters with his picture around the city have both the title prophet and profit. He definitely thinks he is a prophet but feels there is no harm in a little financial gain at the same time. When a vaccine is finally created, Krumwiede threatens to tell people not to take it and his actions during the course of the outbreak land him in federal custody. Dr. Lenora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) is an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization, who travels to Hong Kong to determine the identity of patient zero and how the outbreak spread.
In my opinion the most interesting parts of Contagion are the scary details about how often a person touches their face. Kate Winslet explains virus transmissions and it’s amazing we’re not all sick all the time. There was obviously a great deal of research done for this film, with great technical advisers and attention to detail. As seen in the special features, the actors learned how to work in labs, wear their equipment properly, and asked a lot of questions. Contagion feels very authentic. It makes you wonder how people who work in the field of disease control and containment ever sleep at night.
The film was well written and brought up very real issues like the difficulty in getting coordinated information from 50 different state agencies. Someone with Dr. Cheever’s job, trying to release useful information but control panic, has got to be a very difficult task. That amount of detail while informative, also works against the film since it slows it down. The beginning of the film starts off with a much quicker pace than the remainder of the film. Up until the first death, it seemed like it might be an action packed kind of film. After that, there is still a lot going on, but the film slows down and you feel every minute of the 106 minute run time.
Contagion is presented on Blu-ray in 1080p high definition, 16×9 1.85:1 ratio. I was admittedly distracted by Jude Law’s teeth and couldn’t figure out if they always look like that or if he had a big fake front tooth for this movie. Colors were mostly drab by design but on the few occasions color appeared, it looked vibrant. Flesh tones were not only accurate but there were varying levels of icky looking pasty sick tones. I really believed the sick people were sick and they didn’t all look the same.
Contagion is a dialogue driven drama and the clear and intelligible dialogue is what is most important to this reviewer and this mix does that well. Contagion is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that doesn’t have a lot of chances to shine, but is more than adequate for this type of film. The dialogue is clear and Cliff Martinez’s score is balanced well with the rest of the mix.
The special features that are here are well done and worth watching, but I am very surprised there aren’t more of them. I expected a lengthy and detailed featurette, as well as deleted scenes. With all the effort they clearly put into the details of the movie, I’m surprised they don’t want to talk about them more in the features. Maybe they spent on their money on the cast salaries!
- The Reality of Contagion (11:29) – A featurette with interviews with cast, crew, and subject matters experts discussing the likelihood that events depicted in the movie will take place, and what really happens when it does.
- The Contagion Detectives (4:57) – The professionals in the field prepare the film’s stars for their roles.
- Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World (2:01) - A brief and informative look at how a virus becomes a pandemic and what simple things people can do to stay healthy.
- BD Live
Contagion is a good film, but I thought it was going to be a great film. Hypochondriacs beware, it will probably give you enough detail to make you seal your doors with plastic and contemplate living inside a plastic bubble. Everyone else with certainly be reminded that the random people and surfaces you come in contact with are potential disease carriers and you might wash your hands a little more. I think the Blu-ray should have come with a little container of hand sanitizer! I was very disappointed in the lack of special features. I expected to spend days watching the cast prepare themselves, and learn the correct medical terminology needed for their roles. The only explanation I could come up with was that Steven Soderbergh spent the entire filmmaking budget on the stars salaries because the cast list is quite impressive. With the exception of an autopsy (not actually that gross as autopsy’s go) the money wasn’t spent on special effects – it’s not a horror type sick people movie, which most people will consider a plus.
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