Posted October 24, 2011 by Marcia Degia - Publisher in Features

Infectious Cinema

By Greg Evans. Steven Soderbergh’s latest movie, Contagion, is out now in cinemas with an all star cast including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard,

By Greg Evans

Steven Soderbergh’s latest movie, Contagion, is out now in cinemas with an all star cast including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence
Fishburne, Jude Law, Kate Winslet
and Marion
to name but a few. After a
rather early, muted promotional programme for the movie, things have picked up
pace for what looks like an intriguing story: a deadly outbreak causes social
panic and global pandemic. An unknown virus is attributed to the cause, and
international scientists must combat it before the complete collapse of
humanity. So far, it looks set to be a success, with a succession of good
reviews already under its belt belt. Soderbergh may be attempting his own
version, but the contagious-disease genre has been grappled many times before.
Below we look at how other directors have handled the genre.

Blaxploitation B-Movie route: The Omega Man

Released in 1971, The Omega Man, directed by
Boris Sagal, could be credited as one of the first Virus movies. Charlton
returned to the sci-fi genre, after
successful performances in the first two Planet of the Apes movies,
to tackle the menacing remains of New York’s former residents. A biological war
between China and Russia results in a near apocalypse. The survivors, however,
have become infected with a zombie like plague. Only Heston’s character,
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville, remains immune to the virus, thanks to an
experimental vaccine.

The Omega Man works on
many levels, mainly because it never takes itself too seriously. At its heart
it’s a B-Movie, but it has more recently been hailed as a Blaxploitation movie.
It never divulges too much into the scientific elements of the story but
instead chooses to go down the action/romance route, which works perfectly.
However, the 2007 remake I Am Legend,
starring Will Smith, was lacking in humour, irony and decent CGI.

Awakening to deserted cityscapes: 28 Days Later

28 Days Later,
which is often misjudged as a zombie film,
is Danny Boyle’s 2002 horror flick and his first attempt at the
genre. Britain succumbs to a virus that unleashes rage in whoever it infects.
Where it differs to a zombie film is that the virus does not have to kill its
victim to influence them. The virus is simply airborne and can be passed
through fluids, as Brendan Gleeson finds
out when a drip of blood lands right in his eye.

The opening
scenes in which a lone Cillian Murphy wakes
from a coma to find an empty London is fantastically constructed and puts the
audience right in the thick of mystery and hysteria. 28 Days Later is a film of
two half’s. In the first half Boyle plays the straight horror card, with added
touches of sympathy and intrigue. Unfortunately, the second half falls over
into political raving as we are introduced to Christopher Eccleston’s
ultra right wing army squadron, owing much
to the likes of George A. Romero’s The Crazies. 28 Days Later
continues to be an influential piece of British horror; if you don’t
believe us, just look at the first episode of the ever-popular The Walking Dead.

Dustin Hoffman and a rogue missing monkey: Outbreak

It’s impossible to write an article about virus films without
considering Outbreak.
When Dustin Hoffman holds up
a picture and asks ‘Have you seen this monkey?’, you know you’re in for a
thrill ride. Originating from Africa, a deadly flu like virus is spread from
the very same monkey Hoffman was asking us about. After it is mistakenly
captured and brought to the United States, the virus goes haywire and starts
infecting the population of a small town. With an all star cast including Morgan
Freeman, Rene Russo
and Donald
, Outbreak is more
of an action/thriller than its horror predecessors. Once again relying on
panic, Outbreak is perfectly enjoyable,
if slightly contrived and dated.

How to get it oh so wrong: The Happening

M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008
feature, The Happening,
is perhaps the director’s dullest and most all round panned film.
Set in New York City, an inexplicable natural disaster causes people to commit
suicide. The film follows a young couple played by Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, who frantically try and escape the escalating
horror. And that’s about it. Universally derived by critics and audiences, The
Happening may have been one of the first nails in the coffin for Shyamalan. Its
conclusion is quite frankly laughable.

So with these films in mind, will Contagion reach the dizzie
heights of success that 28 Days Later or Outbreak reached or will it nose dive
like Shyamalan’s The Happening? Read our Cinema Editor David Watson’s review and see what he things.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia has worked in the media industry for more than 10 years. She was previously Acting Managing Editor of Homes and Gardens magazine, Publishing Editor at Macmillan Publishers and Editor of Pride Magazine. Marcia, who has a Masters degree in Screenwriting, has also been involved in many broadcast projects. Among other things, she was the devisor of the documentary series Secret Suburbia for Living TV.