Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, 2011)

What's it about? A 'What if...?' disaster movie in which a viral pandemic outbreak starts laying waste to the human population. An all-star cast (including Lawrence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard) play ordinary people, scientists and government officials frantically trying to survive and/or come up with a cure for the disease, whilst an internet blogger (Jude Law) stirs up trouble with his conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus.

Is it any good? Solid enough fare, efficiently put together. The first half is best as we see the virus start to spread amongst an unsuspecting population, with lingering camera shots building a sense of fidgety paranoia as the unseen enemy lurks upon tabletops, railings and doorknobs. Meanwhile, there are some suitably tense early scenes as scientists start to track the problem with some of those cool maps showing the projected plague spread, whilst government officials try to keep things under wraps to avoid mass hysteria. Another interesting angle thrown in by the allegations of Jude Law's character about the relationships between drug companies and the government during such a crisis. Apparently this character was a late addition to the script and it's a pity that his views are undermined by the end and are not better integrated to the story as it wastes the chance to really skewer some of the machinations of the pharmaceutical industry. Similarly, the various personal stories of different characters all fizzle out in the second half of the film, none of them proving to be particularly involving. As a result, the real disappointment is that instead of the all-too-plausible scenario sending you away petrified of touching anything or of ever getting another cold, you'll probably leave half-heartedly determined to wash your hands a bit more often and avoid pigs and bats. And Gwyneth Paltrow.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the film is that the science presented, whilst simplified, is quite accurate. Rigorous background research by Soderbergh and his colleagues, carried out at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and with various experts (including Ian Lipkin who designed the fictional virus), has been communicated with impressive clarity, without dumbing down too much. For other opinions on the film, a vaccine inventor states his view here, whilst Time magazine explains why the reality of such a scenario is really quite scary. Of course, there's nothing to worry about as long as you follow the CDC's advice for surviving a zombie apocalypse. That's actually a real link, by the way.

Anything else I should know? Want to see something cool? Well, a bit disgusting, but still cool? Check out this advertisement for the movie in a shop window in Canada.

What does the Fonz think? It's worth catching (see what I did there?), but wait until it's on DVD.

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