An internet search I did a few days back using the term ‘Hollywood virus movies’ brought up a list of no less than 91 films. Dating back to 1957’s THE SEVENTH SEAL (directed by Ingmar Bergman), the index included such notable titles as THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971), I AM LEGEND (2007), RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) and the entire RESIDENT EVIL (2000 – 2017) series comprising six live action and four animated releases.
A catalog as voluminous and spread out (pardon the expression) as that amounts to nothing less than a whole film sub-genre. It tells me the ready-made drama inherent in plague outbreak / plague containment / search for a vaccine scenarios is a formula long attractive to movie audiences; audiences up for experiencing safe, vicarious thrills from the comfort of a cuptray-equipped leather lounge chair. Living through the real thing, as we can all currently attest, is quite another thing altogether.
This post, maybe SWS‘s best chance ever of finally going viral, will spotlight two ‘deadly pathogen’ movies from that long list – 1995’s OUTBREAK and 2011’s CONTAGION.
OUTBREAK (1995) was based on the 1994 non-fiction book THE HOT ZONE about the Ebola virus. Produced on a budget of $50 million, the film made $190 million at the box office and featured an ensemble all-star cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Director Wolfgang Petersen’s (THE NEVER ENDING STORY – AIR FORCE ONE – THE PERFECT STORM) thriller follows the ‘career’ of a microscopic bug – the film’s super-villain if you will – that kills humans within 24 hours of exposure by liquefying the internal organs.
OUTBREAK opens 28 years ago, in Africa, as American doctors descend on a small village that has been wiped out by a deadly new plague. They promise relief but send instead a single airplane that incinerates the village with a firebomb. The implication is that the microbe is too deadly to deal with any other way.
However, nearly three decades later, fresh hosts for the deadly super-bug are found when Betsy, a white-headed Capuchin monkey infected with the virus, is smuggled from Africa into the United States. The scene included below, featuring first-rate monkey acting, shows an attempt to kill the primate after it has been confirmed as a carrier.
OUTBREAK received solid, bordering on mixed reviews at the time of it’s original release. In a case of real life mirroring (pre-digital) reel life, the African nation of Zaire was in the grip of an actual Ebola outbreak when the film debuted in theatres.
Among the movie’s more famous scenes is the ‘airborne droplets’ sequence set in a cinema. Cheesy acting it may be but surely this is just the kind of entertainment needed right now to keep our minds off the current issue worrying us all…
CONTAGION (2011) cost $60 million to make and earned back $137 million at the box office. As part of script development for the film, writer Scott Burns consulted with American epidemiologist Larry Brilliant (name not made up!) – renown for his work in eradicating smallpox – to help develop an accurate perception of a pandemic event.
CONTAGION featured an all-star ensemble cast of actors including Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and one of my favourite actors from the 1970’s, Elliot Gould.
The plot concerns the spread of a virus that makes it’s way into the human population when a bulldozer knocks down a banana tree in a rainforest in China, disturbing some bats. One bat finds shelter in a pig farm and drops a piece of banana, which is eaten by a pig. The pig is slaughtered and prepared by a chef in a Macau casino, who shakes hands with Gwyneth Paltrow‘s character, transmitting the virus to her.
The film was well received by parts of the scientific community who lauded the movie for its accuracy. Interestingly, Jude Law’s character is a popular blogger with conspiracy theories about the government’s ties with drug companies. OUTBREAK (1995) similarly featured glimpses of a deep conspiracy, theirs involving a sinister army general played by Donald Sutherland and the army’s reluctance to widely distribute a vaccine.
Unsurprisingly, it comes as no surprise (you like that?) someone has made a video comparing director Steven Sodenbergh’s movie to our current agent of chaos COVID-19 …
Our present – what used to go by the name of comfort zones – may indeed be flooded with pepper spray and bad ju ju, but if it’s brightsiding you crave then you’ve come to the right place.
The current death toll from CORONAVIRUS has now surpassed 100 000 people but a little under 700 years ago a pandemic – known by various names including Bubonic Plague and Black Death and spread by fleas carried by rodents – resulted in an estimated 200 MILLION deaths across Europe and the Middle East.
Feeling comparatively a teensy better now? No? Then howz about trying something new… like… oh, I don’t know… maybe a new word for instance? I picked this one up just the other day and took an immediate shine to it. ‘Zoonotic’ isn’t the strangest word that’s rolled off anyone’s tongue but any batch of joined letters with a ‘z’ sound comes with a built-in weirdness quotient so let’s accept that. This word’s a classic case in point.
The term zoonotic is used to refer to diseases and viruses able to be transmitted between animals and people. The source of COVID 19 is thought to have originated from one of the usual animal suspects, bats, but been transferred to the human population via an intermediary animal such as a snake, turtle or pangolin.
The smart money for a chief go-between faciltator is apparently currently on turtles – referred to as “virus reservoirs” capable of carrying dozens of diseases simultaneously – since these were more commonly traded in the live animal market in Wuhan, China where the virus has been pinpointed as originating.
Did someone say infographic?
Check this out – the animal origins of major viruses dating back the last 50 or so years –
And now I’m done beating up on the animals who’ve been beating up on us, to the question – “What’s been my experience like of this whole bucknutty, cocoa-bananas self isolation saga?”
I’ll respond using just two words; two words that happen to be the title of a well-known deadly virus film series –
Ps. You really do owe yourself at least one virus-flavoured bonus read, agreed? Try THIS ONE. It’s funny.
Pss. Why settle for just one bonus when you can have two? Take a leaf out of William Shakespeare’s book and find out how he coped with lockdown during the Bubonic plague HERE.
Pssss. Naming your new-born baby after a virus? Who’d do that? Only THESE PEOPLE!