Virus Death Match – Outbreak vs. Contagion
by Hans A. Carpenter
Well folks, our new movie supply is still pretty dry thanks to the virus shutting everything down. So, in that spirit, I figured I’d take a look back at a movie I’ve reviewed in the column before and one I haven’t. In the spirit of 2020, let’s take a look back at Contagion and Outbreak.
Outbreak, directed by Wolfgang Peterson and starring Dustin Hoffman, follows a military virologist as he attempted to stop a weaponized virus from wreaking havoc, all the while having to deal with a cartoonishly evil general played by Donald Sutherland.
Outbreak was released in 1995, and it is just dripping in 90’s. The viral thriller is enough! The added layer of military ethics is nice, but by the final act it’s so blown out of proportion the movie just gets silly. We have Dustin Hoffman stalking helicopters with Cuba Gooding Jr. and lot of unnecessary action shoehorned into places where it isn’t needed because this is 90’s cinema.
What happens if a CDC pamphlet came to life? Contagion showed us in 2011. Contagion is an ensemble directed by Stephen Soderbergh that stars half of Hollywood including Matt Damon and Lawrence Fishburne.
Instead of one central character, we follow the bereaved husband of patient zero, CDC leadership, field teams, virologists, and international WHO workers. We see society erupt into riots, social media spread mass misinformation, unscrupulous individuals profit, scientists race for a vaccine that’s months away and try to mass produce it, and the political and societal battles that come about as sports arenas are turned into field hospitals.
All I can say is the premise is a little silly. A novel virus that originated in China spreading rapidly and tearing apart the fabric of society for the better part of a year? That’s just unrealistic silliness.
Contagion may well be eerily realistic in its portrayal of what a pandemic looks like. We’re just all lucky that the virus in that movie has a much higher death rate than ours. Still, it hits close to home.