Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Video review: "Contagion"
"Contagion" is a well-made science fiction thriller that engages the intellect better than must such films generally do, but sometimes fails to grab our hearts along with our brains.
Director Steven Soderbergh assembles a huge cast of stars -- including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Elliott Gould -- and sets them to encounter an outbreak of a deadly virus called MEV-1. The human population starts dropping like flies, and it's up to a loose consortium of scientists and government officials to race for a cure before mankind finds itself exterminated.
Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns cleverly doesn't go for the usual end-of-the-world tropes, in which the disaster is seen through the eyes of a small band of survivors. Instead, he offers a newsier docu-drama feel in which humanity's soaring grace and grimy faults are left to play out with logic and sobering authenticity.
People grow selfish and petty, and governments begin the task of coldly calculating which lives are worth saving and which are not. But amid the panic is self-sacrifice and generosity.
Even though it's better at making us think than letting audiences feel the characters' plight, "Contagion" remains an ambitious, worthy portrait of fear and hope.
Extra features are fair at best. The DVD edition comes with only a single featurette, "Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World."
Upgrade to the Blu-ray/DVD combo, and you add two more featurettes: "False Comfort Zone: The Reality of Contagion" and "The Contagion Detectives."
Obviously, that's not a lot of infectious enthusiasm on the part of the filmmakers to provide extra goodies for those who pass up the Redbox kiosk to plunk down money to add "Contagion" to their permanent video library.
Movie: 3 stars out of four
Extras: 2 stars