Catch Steven Soderbergh’s CONTAGION

A pandemic thriller that remains as potent and chilling as ever

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Contagion soared up the viewing charts for online streamers. A film that surely didn’t provide escapism, but perhaps tapped into the idea that misery loves company. It was also a testament to the intense glimpse director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Magic Mike) offered into seeing an unfolding pandemic, both in terms of the science and administrative efforts, and public fallout. Now, a few years after interest the film was renewed, WB sees fit to release a new 4K edition showcasing a transfer and restoration overseen by Soderbergh himself.

This medical thriller opens with a woman returning home after a business trip overseas. A cough she developed during transit develops into a fever. Soon after reaching home, she is wracked by seizures and despite reaching hospital, is soon pronounced dead. Around the globe, other people begin to fall to the same symptoms. A virus has emerged that combines a high level of infectivity with a high mortality rate. The virus spreads, cases mount, and death tolls rise. In response, agents of the Center for Disease control CDC, and World Health Organization (WHO) work to not only understand the virus, but to find a way to mount a defense against it. As this unfolds, supply chains and infrastructure collapses, quarantines and martial law roll out, and panic consumes the populace. Something fueled by political and profiteering groups and individuals who seek to exploit the tragedy and chaos for their own interests.

It sounds bleak, and oh so familiar. Rooted in reality, driven by numbers and human fear. This isn’t some sensationalist endeavor like Outbreak or 28 Days Later, it’s a chilling outline of a very real scenario should the worst thing happen at the worst time. From that first victim, we follow her husband and daughter, and others caught up in the wake of viral spread and societal collapse. Charts, conference calls, statistics, and transit routes, wrap around the human element. Numbers flash onto the screen showing populations of cities, teeing up a sense of foreboding. Viral dissemination is a numbers game, one fueled by connectivity, and the film nails that aspect. A documentarian feel is punctuated by shots lingering on people grasping a doorknob, scratching their face, or shaking hands. An obsessive and steady drip of visuals that mirror a counter, as people fall to infection. The direction is precise and propulsive, aided by a pulsating electronic score from Cliff Martinez.

The film is embedded in the process of science, the methodology, in cold stark numbers. Soderbergh, along with writing partner Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Informant!) have a firm grasp on the subject and remain true to the idea that the real and natural horrors that exist around us, contain enough drama to propel the story. Running throughout is an investigative angle, as various entities and individuals seek the source of the outbreak, and possibly a host that can carry the virus without succumbing to it’s effects, in short, immunity, or at least tolerance. Other elements seek to calm the populace and deal with the corruptive influences of a blogger hawking his snake oil, ‘Forsythia’, a herbal ‘remedy’. The human component is embellished with an utterly stacked cast, including Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, and Sanaa Lathan. In many ways, it all feels like a throwback to the all-star disaster movies of the 60s and 70s. ALl massive talents, each encapsulating a part of the human ecosystem struck by this pandemic, and injecting the fear, panic, or professionalism needed.

What propels the film is this viral agent, named MEV-1. A fiction for the film, but one riffing off the Nipah virus, an infectious agent first isolated in 1999, and while infection typically runs it’s course in 2 weeks, the symptoms are pretty similar. Rooted in scientific knowledge, the film goes further in its response to the outbreak. Through the process it admirably showcases the persistence and at times heroism of science and scientists, something sorely needed in our society today. Fake news and outright lies to poorly paint scientific figures, and deny data driven approaches in favor of more politically motivated goals, is a regressive and destructive stance. While COVID-19 was a tragedy, it’s unlikely to be the last pandemic, and it might not even be the worst one we suffer in our lifetimes. So while Contagion is a piece of entertainment, that nugget of authenticity which make so intense, also underscores the importance of not only science, but of science communication. To push-back against mistruths, and serve societal good.

The Package

This 4K restoration of Contagion was sourced from an original camera negative (not shot on film so this statement is interesting) and overseen by Steven Soderbergh himself. The presentation is outstanding. Strong color reproduction with a natural palette, aside from those sepia of blue tints that are preserved in this restoration. Detail, even in darker scenes, is a standout. From start to finish, it’s a very fluid, sharp, and dynamic transfer. The release includes a digital version of the film, and a selection of legacy extras:

  • The Reality of Contagion – Featurette: The only featurette of any length, and still only just over 10 minutes. It’s a rather stark look at pandemics our limited capabilities to deal with them
  • The Contagion Detectives – Featurette: A 5 minute featurette that showcases the range of professional expertise that went into advising the cast and crew
  • Contagion – How a Virus Changes the World –Featurette: A short, and tonally weird, look at how a virus fares in our world today

The Bottom Line

Contagion is a pulsating, pandemic-driven thriller that hits hard with it’s precision and pace. Elements stemming from Soderbergh’s assured direction. A chilling vision of a pandemic, but also notable championing of science, and the method that drives it. WB’s new 4K-UHD is a visual treat, and the perfect way to revisit this propulsive effort.

Contagion is available on 4K-UHD now

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