Virus (1999)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland
Extras: Production notes, Trailer

The flood of special effects movies is almost unstoppable since "Jurassic Park" opened the floodgates in 1993 with its advancements in computer generated imagery. Today literally every film we see on the silver screen is either dramatically enhanced with the help of digital imaging technologies, or consists in its entirety of computer generated images. It makes it all the more interesting when then from this pool of uniformity a creature film rises that does not attempt to create the largest and most fierce living and breathing digital beast imaginable. A movie that takes a step back from all the technology orgies and decides to use traditional robotics to bring the creatures of the film to live. In the case of "Virus" this is the only suitable approach, I would think, as bio-mechanic robots are the center of this science fiction chiller.

During a fierce hurricane a small tugboat loses its valuable cargo and on the verge of killing themselves over the loss, the crew suddenly comes across a large Russian research ship that is drifting seemingly abandoned in the calm eye of the storm. They enter the vessel and still no signs of life are visible anywhere on the vessel. The crew of the tugboat and its captain (Donald Sutherland) intend to claim the ship for salvage, selling it off for profit. Navigator Kit Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis) is not so convinced that the ship has been entirely abandoned however and a search mission though the entire ship starts.

Without a clue of what happened to the crew or what caused the massive destruction to the ship, they climb deeper into the bowels of the vessel and manage to power up the damaged engines to generate much needed electricity. By powering up the ship’s computers however, they also power something unwanted, something they don’t know about.
An alien life form has taken over the ship and killed the Russian crew. Supplied with an intelligence unmatched by man, it creates bio-mechanical monsters that have only one purpose – to conquer the Earth and to exterminate the virus called humans.

Boasting an excellent cast, "Virus" promises to be a notch above the rest of the crowd of recent releases. While it turns out to be an entertaining popcorn movie, characterizations and character development is still not exactly the film’s strength. Donald Sutherland is cold, calculating and great as expected and Jamie Lee Curtis is back in a serious action role. There is one scene in the film that is directly lifted from "Halloween" and brings back fond memories or her horror heydays. Nonetheless the film’s rather weak and predictable story line clearly wastes high caliber actors like Sutherland or Curtis.

One of the biggest challenges to bring this film to life was the extensive use of robotic creatures. While at first all of the incarnations we see seem to be replications of the spiders from Michael Crichton’s 1982 action thriller "Runaway", the creatures eventually get bigger and nastier. As they do so they also get increasingly more bio-mechanical and an added amount of gore and human parts takes in the screen. The effects are well done and have the rugged charm of live-action effects rather than the ultra-smooth post-produced image manipulations we have gotten so used to.

Universal Home Video is once again giving us an example of how good DVD can look when it is done right. Without a doubt the film’s only recent production and the high quality of today’s film stocks allow for much better film prints than only a few years ago. Strangely, the entire film has an overly dark look to it. Almost the entire film is shot in murky environments, hiding much of the image in impenetrable darkness. Still, the accuracy and level of detail visible in the transfer presented on this disc is simply stunning despite those challenging conditions. Universal presents "Virus" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer that is vivid in colors and stark in contrast. Without notable oversaturation, the image reproduces the nuances of the dimly lit scenes and murky interior shots perfectly without any signs of grain or artifacting. The black level is near perfect and the highlights are well balanced, creating a generally pleasing picture throughout, and colors are faithfully reproduced in all environments. The compression has been done extremely well without any noise of <$pixelation,pixelation>, despite the movie’s demanding image material.

Modern action films make aggressive use of surround sound capabilities and "Virus" is no exception here. It makes very good use of the split surrounds, creating a very wide soundstage that truly emerges the listeners into it. Presented in a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix on this disc, the soundtrack also has a strong bass extension, giving your subwoofer quite something to do. The film almost has a tendency to over-emphasize certain sounds for effect’s purposes, and the result is an impressive sound mix that is larger than life. Complemented by a score by Joel McNeely, the film has a sonic supplement that adds substantially to the film’s visceral and emotional impact, although the score sometimes tends to give away hints of things to come.

"Virus" is certainly not the best creature film out there, but I personally liked it better than Buena Vista’s "Deep Rising". One of the reasons is certainly that "Virus" is taking itself quite seriously and although not completely logical at times, the script is a tad more coherent and cohesive. Character motivations are somewhat more comprehensible and believable, creating a film that is science fiction-esque, yet credible enough to be accepted. Still, many of the film’s plot elements are a bit far fetched for the action’s sake, leaving all plausibility behind.
If you can deal with that and if you are looking for an action packed popcorn roller coaster ride for sheer entertainment value, "Virus" is a good recipe. For fans of the genre, "Virus" is a good choice and with Universal’s splendid presentation, the film is a lot of fun to watch, so give it a look if it’s down your alley.