February 25, 2024

Revisiting CONTAGION In 4K (And Hindsight)

2011 / 106 min
Review by Mr. Bonnie😻

If life does indeed imitate art, at least we aren’t yet talking about Deep Impact.

I must have seen Contagion a half-dozen times, but it was only while doing this review that I noticed this cryptic message during the end credits: “It’s not IF, but WHEN,” along with a web link that apparently offered more info. That link doesn’t work anymore, but considering all that’s transpired since 2011, maybe it should.

Oh, Contagion…how prophetic you turned out to be.

Now that we’ve actually lived it, watching the film today is an interesting experience. It’s clear that screenwriter Scott Z. Burns didn’t cook this story from scratch. For a movie once simply intended as cautionary entertainment, its jargon, scientific accuracy and narrative eventually played itself out in the real world, albeit with less apocalyptic implications (being a disaster film at heart, Contagion naturally presents a worse-case scenario). This movie was serving-up terms like ‘novel’ and ‘social distancing’ before most of us even knew what they were.

Unlike The Andromeda Strain’s sci-fi trappings and Dustin Hoffman’s action heroics in Outbreak, what makes Contagion especially unnerving (now historically relevant) is its grounding in reality. With no main protagonist (like most of Steven Soderbergh’s best work), it chronicles the rapid spread of a lethal virus – labeled MEV-1 - from the perspectives of specialists, doctors from the CDC, victims and everyday folks subjected to quarantine. We see the breakdown of services we usually take for granted, mass graves, false information spread by conspiracy theorists and the overall fragility of our society.

When you show up late on Coupon Day.

But despite the terrifying scenario, ruthless proliferation of the virus and staggering body count,
Contagion is ultimately an optimistic film. The authorities know what they’re doing, methodically attacking the pandemic with all the resources at their disposal without dealing with petty politics (too bad that didn’t happen in real life). And the one character who does exacerbate the problem, touting conspiracy theories and fake cures, ultimately faces consequences for his recklessness. That never really happened in real life, either.

While some of the dimmer bulbs and COVID deniers of the world will still view it as science-fiction, Contagion remains one of the greatest  - and scariest - disaster movies ever made. Due to the large ensemble cast, it’s a little light on character dynamics, but the pace, plausibility and urgent tone keep it compelling (punctuated by Cliff Martinez’ propulsive score). 

For its 4K UHD release, Contagion gets an excellent video upgrade, which nicely preserves Soderbergh’s intentionally muted color palette. The audio is identical to the Blu-ray, which is fine for such a dialogue-heavy movie. It still sounds good, especially during the outdoor and crowd sequences. Unfortunately, no new bonus features are included. Considering how prophetic the film turned out to be, one would think a retrospective “I told you so” documentary would be amusing.


FEATURETTES - The Reality of Contagion; The Contagion Detectives; Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World. Like the film, watching these in insight puts a different perspective on them.


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