Expectations are a powerful thing, like if Steven Soderbergh took the helm a killer virus movie. That should be, in most respects, the most stylish and gripping killer virus movie ever, right? Except it’s not.
Contagion does a lot right, from a slow, brooding sense of fear that turns the power of touch into a deadly event and personal tragedy into a rush for a cure. There’s character here, with a score that blends into something unique and jarring.
Where Contagion goes though is right down the pipe, with the series of highs and lows, societal breakdowns, and political squabbles that lead to almost nothing. Maybe it’s a tease, Jude Law playing a freelancer-turned-blogger who exposes a supposed government conspiracy only to potentially incite greater violence amongst his Internet followers. The idea is sound, the execution is stern, while the narrative point sort of collapses behind the weight of the overarching need for a fix.
Spoilers be damned, but a cure is found. It’s expected to be, because a mainstream Hollywood affair where the world’s populace dwindles to zero from a real world event doesn’t make sense financially. It’s a risk like that would push Contagion over, and in the scheme of sub-genre flicks, make it memorable. As it stands, it’s classy territory with a cast of Oscar winners following a series of expository science dumps.
There’s a need for these movies, if only for the masses to see how stupid they can be amidst chaos. Who knows? Maybe Contagion will convince people not to act like total morons should an outbreak occur. Of course, it also makes them feels safe, so who knows if it’s doing any good.
Kudos to Contagion though to take this above exploitation at least, again with a sound cast and named director. Anyone who suffered through what felt like an infinite string of Bird Flu related TV clunkers during that outbreak will appreciate a return to heartily-budgeted form. Despite the thrashing here, Contagion is a capable thriller, nowhere near as ludicrous as say an Outbreak, yet not as taut as an Andromeda Strain. Or maybe it’s just not much of a Soderbergh movie. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
Captured digitally via the Red One MX, Contagion has a glossy, slightly soft, and heavily manipulated look. Soderbergh drowns the film in gaudy yellow and green hues, the occasional spot of blue a refreshing change of pace even if it’s equally merciless. Flesh tones don the colors around them, sickly which in some cases here is entirely appropriate. Other times it just feels like it’s desperate for a look. In a lot of ways, it’s not that far off from The Informant! in regards to ragged looking intentional saturation.
The intermediate phase doesn’t kill the black levels, and the source maintains a firm hold on dimensionality. Images are consistently depth-filled while the contrast will work its way from a non-existent force to a heavy, blown out one-two punch. What it’s doing is raising some of the stakes and adding harshness to those scenes that need narrative pull.
There is a propensity for noise here, darker areas of the screen littered with artifacts ranging from heavy to barely noticeable. Warner’s AVC encode is generally clean save for a few moments of visible banding. Bitrates here are not hearty, although it’s a tenuous connection to the problems at best.
Given the soft, even marginalized appearance, high-fidelity detail can take a vacation, the glossy, almost glistening appearance not all that conducive to facial definition. There are a number of tight, resolved close-ups -even the first one of the movie- where the source material’s capabilities shine. Exteriors are crisp enough to impress; they usually are with the Red. Consistency is just not the strong suit here, intention is. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
There’s a surprising soundfield that springs to action from the opening frames, the airport interior one of the more aggressive you’ll hear in capturing chatter from waiting passengers. It almost feels exaggerated to a point, or simply a means of insinuating the significant populace present and ready for infection.
Hospitals, stadiums full of the sick, and panicked streets all come into the mix with some unexpectedly wide imaging, the surrounds and stereos working in tandem. Flashbacks to a casino are much like the airport, and a checkpoint at the state lines has panning helicopters overhead.
Dialogue balances with the low-pushing score, the latter always downplayed for a morbid effect. With the movie aiming for a layer of realism and a push towards centering the audience within the narrative, the sound mixing completes the effect. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Maybe Warner will get around to re-releasing this one in a special edition should some type of outbreak happen, because as it stands, there’s not much here. The Reality of Contagion details the real world possibilities in relation to the events of the movie, with Contagion Detectives following it up with a focus on the scientists and their risks. How a Virus Changes the World is a non-nonchalant, chipper animation on how viruses work, spread, and affect humankind.
Total it up and there’s a starving 17-minutes of content, unless you include BD-Live… but no one really does, do they? [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]