Saturday, August 22, 2015

Outbreak (1995)

I'm not sure if they still do this but back when I was growing up in the mid to late 90's, NBC would often show a movie on Sunday nights, be it popular theatrical flicks like Jurassic Park and Twister (which they played the crap out of) to their own mini-series like Asteroid and The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer, spreading the latter over both Sunday and Monday nights. I saw a lot of interesting movies for the first time there, many of which had something of an impact on me (Asteroid made me terrified of the idea of the Earth getting completely wiped by such an event and the Unsolved Mysteries special The Sleep Walking Murder freaked me out because the guy who did the killing looked a lot like my brother-in-law to me) and this film was no exception. I didn't see it from the beginning like a lot of those movies, coming in on it while my Mom was watching it one night, and I can't remember if I saw the ending or not, but I saw enough for the effect to be palpable, to say the least. As a kid, I was always terrified of the prospect of being sick. I was something of a hypochondriac and tried to avoid germs as much as I could, particularly if I thought I would get sick in a way that would make me throw up constantly, as I had experienced many times when I was very and still vividly remember. Needless to say, this movie absolutely terrified me, even though I didn't see some of the worst stuff on that first viewing. The image of that screen of the United States being completely blanketed by the virus as a dramatization of USAMRIID's projection of how quickly it will spread and Kevin Spacey's character of Casey falling down and convulsing crazily as the virus hits him really got to me. Although I understand that this was just a movie and wasn't real, even at that age (I'm sure that I was around ten to twelve at that time) I knew enough from my science classes at school as well as from other stuff I'd seen on TV that this wasn't a far-fetched scenario at all and it stayed with me for years. It wasn't until I was in middle school that I saw the movie again, this time uncut on CineMax or some other such channel, as well as in its entirety, and this viewing, in addition to others over the next couple of years on channels like TNT, made me really appreciate and thoroughly enjoy it. It wasn't too long after one of those viewings on cable that I came across the DVD at Wal-Mart one time and picked it up for real cheap, which I'm glad I did because it's become a movie that I've watched many times over the years (I still have that same DVD). In case I haven't made it clear, this is a movie that I enjoy very much and would say is one of my favorites of the 1990's and of many of the actors involved. I'm actually surprised that it's become one of those movies that it's hip to hate, especially since the release of Contagion (which I've never seen). Maybe it's not that scientifically accurate, especially nowadays, I don't know, but if you want a well-acted, well-told, suspenseful medical thriller, you can't do much better than this in my opinion.

In 1967, soldiers caught up in a violent conflict in the Motaba River Valley in Zaire fall prey to an undiscovered, lethal virus that kills within two or three days. Two U.S. army officers are dispatched to the camp where the infected soldiers are being kept and, upon seeing the effects of the disease, promise the head doctor an immediate air-drop of supplies needed to care for them. However, the camp is instead wiped out with a bomb, erasing all traces of it and the virus, but not before a blood sample from one of the infected soldiers is taken back to the United States. Decades later in 1995, USAMRIID doctor Col. Sam Daniels and his team is dispatched to Zaire to investigate an outbreak in a village there. The team is horrified by what they find, as well as the local doctor's description of how lethal the virus is, with its mortality rate being 100%. Upon gathering samples and data and returning to the U.S., Daniels and his team run tests on the virus and see firsthand how deadly it is when it infects and kills healthy kidney cells within just five hours after first being introduced. Despite Daniels' warning that the virus, named "Motaba" after the valley where it was discovered, may make its way to the U.S., his superior, Brigadier General William Ford, refuses to put out an alert, seeing that it's unlikely to reappear. Later Ford, who, along with his friend, Maj. General Donald McClintock, were the two men behind the destruction of the African camp back in 1967, goes behind Daniels' back and takes some of his samples, using them to discover that it's the same virus that emerged decades before. McClintock tells Ford to get Daniels off the case before he discovers the cover-up but little do they know that the Motaba virus has already arrived in the U.S. A small monkey that acts a host for it is caught and transported to San Jose, California, where employee Jimbo Scott takes her in an attempt to sell her on the black market. He brings her to a pet shop in the small town of Cedar Creek, where the monkey scratches and infects the owner, starting a chain of events that leads to the virus blanketing the entire town. Soon, the military quarantines the town and instigates martial law, with doctors, including Daniels, who travels there despite Ford's orders not to, desperately trying to find a cure before the now airborne virus gets out and infects the entire country, and perhaps even the world. However, little do they know that McClintock, determined to once again cover up the virus' history with the U.S. military, plans to blow up the town the same way he did the African village decades before.

Even though he's directed a lot of well-known and popular movies, this is the only film by Wolfgang Petersen that I've seen at this point, although I certainly know of his other flicks (save for his early German films in the 1970's, that is). The Neverending Story has never been a movie I've had any interest in seeing simply because big fantasy movies like that aren't my cup of tea and neither is his follow-up movie, Enemy Mine. I am interested in seeing In the Line of Fire because of how much I like Clint Eastwood and the same certainly goes for Air Force One, which I'm really ashamed I've never seen because it sounds like a really good movie. The Perfect Storm is a prime example of a movie that was very popular and got a lot of hype when it was first released but is now more or less forgotten and, as such, is another movie that I don't have much interest in seeing, and the same goes for Troy, which I tend to get mixed up with the Oliver Stone movie Alexander, which came out the same year. I would also be interested in seeing Poseidon and comparing how well it stacks up with the original Poseidon Adventure from the 70's, although I'd have to actually see that original first. It's sad that I can't comment on any of his other movies but I can say that he does have quite a range and seems to be able to move between varying types of genres, from action movies and thrillers to war movies and even science fiction and fantasy flicks. Although, it now seems like the box-office failure of Poseidon has grinded his career to a halt since he hasn't directed or even produced anything since then. Hopefully he'll get another movie made at some point because he's talented enough to deserve more chances.

Outbreak has to have one of the most amazing casts that's ever been assembled in a long time, bar none. This movie is packed with a number of talented, big-name stars as well as great character actors that all play their parts perfectly and because I first saw the movie when I was very young, it served as my introduction to a lot of actors whom I've come to really like, one of them being Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman has had a long and great career, has played a lot of interesting and memorable characters (I also really enjoy his role as Carl Bernstein in All the President's Men), but I think his role here of Col. Sam Daniels could be my favorite. He's just a joy to watch in this flick and is someone you root for all the way through. He's intense, extremely focused on his job, possibly to the point where you could call him overbearing and a bit on the obsessive-compulsive side, which could possibly be why his marriage didn't work out, but he's also as dedicated as someone can be to what they're doing and absolutely will not stop until he finds a way to wipe out the Motaba virus. He'll even go as far as to violate direct orders from his superiors to stay out of the affair, knowing that CDC's team working on the case needs all the help they can get, and he's also not shy about confronting them with how they're often not doing their job as best as they could. Daniels has a lot of great lines in the movie and one of my favorites is when he tells General Ford that they need to isolate all of the citizens of Cedar Creek in their houses in order to really contain the virus and Ford says that they're doing that, he screams, "No, we're not doing it because I just drove through a hundred people! And if one of them has got it, then ten of them got it, and if one of them gets out, then we're in deep, fucking shit! And we're already in deep, fucking shit! And if you're gonna arrest me, arrest me now." That's another thing: Daniels knows that they're no doubt out to arrest him since he's not supposed to be in Cedar Creek but when he discovers that the Motaba virus has gone airborne, he marches right into the command center and tells Ford that the situation is now worse than it was before. He's even more angered when he and the rest of his team learn that the military, Ford included, knew about Motaba all along and had an antidote for it that they didn't use at first in order to protect the perfect biological weapon and confronts Ford about it. When Ford tells him that, "We've done all we can as doctors. We have to go on... as soldiers," Daniels instantly realizes that they're going to destroy Cedar Creek and is not only horrified by the notion but also shocked that the President has given the go-ahead for it after a conference that he wasn't a part of, feeling that he could have made a difference if he had been.

There are two other aspects of Daniels' character that I have to go into detail about, one of which is his sense of humor. Despite being very intense and downright manic at times, Daniels is also very witty and funny, with Hoffman's delivery of this dialogue coming across as so natural and off-the-cuff that it's remarkable. He has a great rapport with the members of his team and even with General Ford, showing that they've been friends for a long time and often rib each other. When Daniels arrives at the air base to take off to Zaire at the beginning of the movie, Casey comments on how Ford hasn't been up this early, "since Nixon was in office." Daniels immediately says, "I'm gonna tell him you said that," and Casey quickly shoots back, "I'll deny it." The first time we see Daniels, he's in the middle of giving his two dogs a bath when Ford calls him with the news about the outbreak in Zaire and he's forced to answer the phone, allowing the one dog in the tub to get out and get water everywhere, much to his annoyance. After he hangs up, he says to the dogs, who are sitting on the couch, "I can't believe this. You guys are wet, aren't you? You're wet! Who disobeyed me first? Lewis, it was you, wasn't it? You two are busted. You look very guilty." Another funny exchange is when Daniels has an argument with his ex-wife, Robby, about putting out an alert about Motaba, which is she reluctant to do, prompting him to yell, "Once in your life, take a chance!" She then says, "I did. I married you," and hangs up on him, prompting him to grumble, "Shit, first it was the dogs, now we're fighting over a virus. I can't believe it." Later on, when he and Maj. Salt commandeer an army helicopter to go search for the host animal, Daniels asks the sergeant in charge where his pilot is and, after hesitating for a bit, he says, "Sir, my pilot's taking a leak," to which Daniels says, "Taking a leak? No shit." However, his best line in the entire film has to be when, on their way back to Cedar Creek, General McClintock intercepts them and, after some arguing, tells them, "With all due respect, Col. Daniels, if you do not accompany us to Travis Air Force Base, I will blow you out of the sky!" Daniels' response? "General, with all due respect, fuck you, sir."

The other part of his character that I love is just how dedicated and determined he is to save the people of the town, including Robby when she becomes infected, from both the virus and McClintock's plan. After his meeting with Ford where he learns of the plan to wipe out Cedar Creek, Maj. Salt gives him a possible lead on the host animal, prompting the two of them to embark on a mission to find it that turns them into fugitives from the law. After they find capture the monkey carrying the virus and manage to get Ford to delay the bombing, Daniels and Salt outwit McClintock and another attack helicopter in an aerial chase and make their way back to Cedar Creek. Although they manage to create an antiserum for the virus that proves successful, they learn that McClintock has ordered the bomber plane back into the air and they head off to intercept it with nothing more than a small helicopter. Daniels attempts to talk the pilots down from completing their bomb run, telling them about the serum and that the President does not know about it. He has some truly great lines, like when he tells them, "Oh, Christ, guys, if you think I'm lying, drop the bomb. If you think I'm crazy, drop the bomb. But don't drop the bomb just because you're following orders!" He goes on to tell them about the other agenda their superiors have and then pleads to Ford over the radio, "Billy, why don't you do something? Call this whole thing off. Don't kill all these people to protect your lie. This is murder, Billy, any way you fucking slice it!" Eventually, they decide that if they have to, they'll sacrifice themselves by staying on the plane's direct path to the town, flying right into them. Daniels tells them, "No more words, guys, but we're not moving from your path. Did you hear me? I said we're not moving from your path. What you do in the next thirty seconds will be your testimony to life." As they're just about to hit each other, Daniels says, "You'll have to take us out with you. We're not moving. We're not moving!" This final act, combined with everything that Daniels has said, is able to convince the pilots to swerve out of the way and drop the bomb out into the ocean, where it explodes harmlessly, but even if it hadn't worked, you have to admire Daniels for just how far he was willing to go to stop them, putting his own life in danger if necessary.

A nice yin to Daniels' yang is Rene Russo as his ex-wife Ronny, who ends up working with him on the Motaba case when CDC sends her to Cedar Creek. We're not told exactly what happened that caused them to split up but, given how intense and manic Daniels can be on the job, we can guess that living with him isn't exactly a picnic. At the beginning of the movie when she's first introduced, there's a bit of tension between Daniels and Ronny when she tries to saddle him with all of the photos that have the two of them together and he becomes quite angry and throws them, with both of them then saying that they don't want them, and the tension continues when Daniels forces her to have to move to Atlanta later than she intended because of how long he was gone to Zaire. But, at the same time, you can tell that there's still some affection between the two of them when they talk about the dogs that she's taking with her and when she notices how tired Daniels looks after his trip to Zaire. And although she's initially reluctant to do what Daniels asks and get her superior at CDC to put out an alert about Motaba when all he has is a hunch, having a nasty argument with him about it, she eventually does discuss it with her boss since Daniels has been right about things like this before (he's been wrong as well, though). The alert, however, soon proves to have been pointless all along when Jimbo Scott and his girlfriend become infected with Motaba right after he arrives in Boston. When Ronny investigates and performs an autopsy on Jimbo's body, she realizes how right Daniels was and feels bad for not having pushed for the alert. Once Motaba takes hold in Cedar Creek, Ronny and her team are sent to help and they begin working with Daniels' team day and night to try to find a cure, with Ronny showing that she's just as dedicated to her job as Daniels, albeit not quite as intensely, and is determined to find a way to wipe out the virus. From here on out, although she does have to put up with Daniels' obsessive-compulsives mindset at times, there's no more tension between the two of them but rather mutual respect and affection, as well as the possibility of their relationship rekindling. That is cliche, I grant you, but I feel that it's done in a subtle and perfectly believable way, with it coming about simply because of the two of them spending every waking hour together, as well as because Daniels, and possibly her as well, has always held out hope that they could get back together. The love they once shared is most definitely back in full force when Ronny becomes infected and both of them realize that they could very well not see each other again, making them realize how important they are to each other. The film's closing lines suggest that they probably will get back together, with Daniels asking, "Would you go through it again?" and she says, "Maybe... now that I have the antibodies." Again, I know it's a little corny, but it works for me because of how much I like the characters and the actors playing them.

Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Maj. Salt, a new, young addition to Daniels' team who replaces a previous member, Jaffe, who's forced to leave when his wife goes into labor. At first, Salt is very serious and formal, addressing Daniels and Casey as, "Sir," and such every time he speaks and often looking straight ahead, per usual military etiquette, but he loosens up over time when Daniels and the others make it clear that their group is a casual one. He's also a little bit arrogant about seeing the effects of deadly diseases like hemorrhagic fever in the flesh, feeling that what he's read about them is enough preparation, an attitude that immediately cracks when they arrive at the village in Zaire and he panics upon seeing the horrific effects of Motaba, vomiting inside his helmet and ripping his helmet off despite Daniels and Casey's warnings not to. Fortunately, for him, the virus wasn't yet airborne at that point but he realizes that he put the team in danger and admits to Daniels that he got scared, with Daniels once again showing what a good guy he is by comforting him, saying, "You know, fear gets a bad rap, Salt. I don't want anyone on my team who isn't afraid." It's a nice bonding moment for the two of them, with Salt then joking, "Well, then, I'm your man, sir." From then on out, Salt is a humbled, less uptight, trusted and dependable member of Daniels' team, becoming more like a close friend of his when the two of them embark on the mission to find the host for the virus, helping him every step of the way. The two of them have some witty banter between them all their own, like when he tells Daniels that his plan, with all due respect, is idiotic, and Daniels says that since they're fugitives from the law, idiocy is their only option, and when Daniels tells him at one point, "Just don't get negative on me," to which Salt says, "Affirmative." Salt also gets to show off his flying skills when they get chased by General McClintock and his attack helicopters and he manages to skillfully outmaneuver them, almost causing them to run into each other at one point. Through the course of the movie, Salt becomes just as determined to save the people of Cedar Creek as much as Daniels, becoming so disgusted with McClintock's plan to destroy the town regardless of the fact that they now have an effective antiserum that he willingly puts himself in danger along with his superior in order to stop it. I like how the last time you see Salt after the bomb has been detonated over the ocean that he's so moved by what's happened that he has tears in his eyes, showing that the events of the movie have changed him significantly.

While they all have their moments, the real wise-cracker of Daniels' team is Kevin Spacey as Casey, who's just as smart as he is funny. At the beginning of the movie, he seems to be particularly close to both Daniels and Ronny, putting up with Daniels' obsession over whether or not their relationship is over, trying to make him understand that it's over and that he should be more focused on the lethal new virus that they've come across. I like how, when they enter the room where they put on their biohazard suits before entering the lab, Daniels says, "What do you mean it's over?" and Casey sighs and says, "Oh, you need professional help." One of his best moments is when they're in the lab and he picks up a test tube containing the Motaba sample and says, "Listen to the way it rolls off the tongue: 'Motaba.' You know, it sounds like a perfume. One sniff and you'll feel so different. Your lover will melt in your arms. Here, try a sample," and actually appears to throw the tube to Salt, who panics and tries to catch it as carefully as he can. "Quick hands," Casey says, showing that he's still holding the Motaba tube, adding, "but not as quick as mine. Don't mess with this stuff. You gotta be ready for anything. There's nothing in here that can't kill you, including the air." Like I said, though, he's just as smart as he is witty, theorizing correctly that the host animal has to be carrying antibodies to both strains of the Motaba virus, as well as proving to be just as vital and dedicated as anyone else in Daniels' team. He's also very thorough about checking his and everyone else's suits, noticing that there's a tear in Daniels when they're suiting up and proceeding to disinfect and tape it up, while Daniels stands there shocked, realizing how close he came to getting exposed to a lethal virus. At one point, Casey suggests to Daniels that he needs to get some sleep, seeing that he's running himself ragged and acting like a maniac as a result. While this concern for Daniels' well-being does work, with the colonel eventually lying down for a nap, albeit after an argument between the two, ironically it's a lack of sleep that does Casey in. After looking at samples under a microscope for hours, and having become frustrated and disconcerted about how the entire town appears to be infected, Casey nearly dozes off at his table and gets up to walk out. He's so tired that he doesn't straighten up his airline and it snags on the edge of the table, ripping a hole in his suit. Casey panics and quickly detaches the line and decontaminates himself, stupidly not telling Ronny or anyone else what happened. The virus soon hits him, and while he manages to retain his sense of humor despite his condition, he deteriorates rapidly into a discolored, blood-oozing mess and is barely being able to speak at this point. It's really hard to see him reduced to this given how he was for the rest of the movie and although you don't actually see him die, it's likely that he did given how far gone he was before Daniels and Salt managed to find the host.

As Brigadier General William Ford, Morgan Freeman plays the most conflicted character in the film. Although he was a part of the cover up of the discovery of the Motaba virus in 1967 that involved a village being wiped out and throughout the film, goes along with his friend and superior, General McClintock's, plan to keep Col. Daniels from finding about it and their development of the virus as a potential weapon, Ford has always had doubts about what they've been doing. He wasn't too keen on destroying that village to begin with and whenever he lies to Daniels and constantly tries to keep him from becoming involved with the case, you can tell that, behind his yelling and deceit, he feels bad about it since Daniels is also a friend of his and they've known each other for twenty years. Initially, he tries to have Daniels arrested in Cedar Creek since he went there against orders but when he comes to him and tells him that the virus is now airborne, Ford decides to leave Daniels and his team to do their work, deciding that the situation is now serious enough to warrant it, and tells him, "You were never here." He's also shocked when McClintock lets him know early on that he's going to try to get presidential approval to firebomb the town ("Operation Clean Sweep," as it's called), telling him, "Donny, you and I both know that we can throw these people a lifeline." He's referring to E-1101, an antiserum developed to cure the original strain of Motaba in case there were any accidents while developing it as a weapon that he eventually uses, although it proves useless against the new, airborne strain. He tries to talk McClintock out of going forward with Clean Sweep after he gets a green light but McClintock is determined to completely wipe out any traces of the virus and, since there does seem to be no other way to stop it, Ford reluctantly goes along with it, telling Daniels at that it's going to happen. One of Freeman's best moments in the movie is when Ford tells the plane carrying the bomb that they are to begin the bomb run and he gives a great speech to dispell any reluctance towards it: "I know there are some of you who have doubts about what we're about to do, we'd be less than human if we didn't, but the fate of the nation, perhaps the world, is in our hands. I'm confident that each of us, each of you, will do his duty." Once he switches off the mic, he somberly says to himself, "God, forgive us." But, when Daniels contacts him and tells him that they've found the host, Ford breathes a sigh of relief that there is now a way to kill the virus without blowing up the town and delays the bombing, much to McClintock's annoyance, who promptly orders it back on. Ford pleads with McClintock not to do this, telling him about the chance they know and saying, "It's not about saving our asses anymore, Donny," but McClintock is not having it. After standing by, doing nothing, while Daniels and Salt try to take the pilots in the bomber down, Ford tells them how to prevent the bombing and once they're successful and McClintock angrily orders the plane to return to base and rearm, Ford decides he's had enough of his superior's agenda, relieves him of command, and has him arrested for not telling the President about the effective antiserum that's now working. Ford knows there will be repercussions for him as well as McClintock but he's ready to face whatever happens, telling him, "It's out of our hands now, Donny."

Outbreak is a movie with two villains: the Motaba virus and Donald Sutherland as the unscrupulous and corrupt Maj. General Donald McClintock. This guy is a complete bastard and a prime example of a government official gone bad. As I've made clear by this point, he's willing to blow up the town of Cedar Creek, killing hundreds of innocent people, as he did back in Zaire in 1967 in order to wipe out all traces of the virus and ensure the secrecy of its development as a weapon over the years. Absolutely nothing will make him give up on this idea and he'll bulldoze anyone who gets in his way, including Col. Daniels, whom he seems to have contempt for even before he gets deep into the case and tries to have arrested and shot, going as far as starting a bogus rumor that he's a carrier of the virus and later gunning him down himself. What's even more despicable about McClintock is how he pretends to be concerned for the safety of the nation, using it as a means to justify Clean Sweep to Billy, calling the victims casualties of war and saying that he could give them all a medal if he could, but you know his only priority is to keep what he's done before a secret. He goes as far as ignoring the fact that the people can be saved by the serum derived from the host's antibodies and not letting the President know about this little tidbit once he gets approval to bomb the town. He'll always come up with some justification for the unethical things that he does, even if it's something flimsy he pulls out of thin air, like his suddenly saying that Daniels is carrying the virus because he's been in constant contact with others who have it, or when he says he can defend not having used E-1101 when the virus first popped up in the U.S. (he doesn't elaborate on that, though), refusing to acknowledge that anything he's done has been wrong. On top of everything, McClintock is also characterized as being very arrogant and having a superiority complex, thinking that he's above everyone, including Ford, whom he feels is too sentimental (which is ironic because he seems nervous and unfit for it when he takes part in the actual pursuit of Daniels). He's especially horrible to Col. Briggs, who set up the perimeter around Cedar Creek, constantly putting him down and calling him incompetent in no uncertain terms. The part where McClintock comes across as an out and out bully to Briggs is when he tells him where Daniels is and Briggs, trying to earn his approval, agrees he should handle it personally when McClintock himself suggests it. McClintock says, "You kiss ass with the best of 'em, Briggs. You hope to make general one day?" When Briggs says that he does, McClintock condescendingly says, "Well, you won't. Now get me on one of those choppers." Can you spell asshole? Fortunately, Briggs is the one whom Ford has arrest McClintock at the end of the film, much to the colonel's delight. McClintock, arrogant as ever, tells Ford, "No one puts me under arrest. Nobody," and tries to walk out like nothing happened, but Briggs then pulls a pistol on him and he has no choice but to go with him. It's a shame that he didn't get infected with the virus himself but the humiliation he suffered there and the serious consequences he'll no doubt face for his crimes is justice enough.

A young Patrick Dempsey plays Jimbo Scott, the guy who attempts to sell the monkey carrying the virus, Betsy, to the pet store in Cedar Creek and unknowingly gives the virus a way to spread throughout the entire town. He also unintentionally makes things harder for Col. Daniels and his team later on since he took her from bio-test without anyone knowing save for one obscure guard and then releases her into the woods near Cedar Creek when he's unable to sell her. He's not in the movie very long since Betsy spits water in his face on the way to the town, infecting him, but he does come across as a fairly decent guy overall who made a really, really bad mistake. The fact that he just let Betsy go rather than kill her or something of the like does say something in my opinion, particularly since he does seem to have some affection for her with how he talks to and handles her. Motaba hits him on the plane he takes to Boston and he really goes south when he reaches the airport there, dying later on in the hospital but not before infecting his girlfriend, Alice (Kellie Overbey), as well. Speaking of her, even though she's only in a couple of scenes, she makes an impact for me when, after Jimbo dies from the virus, she begins crying hysterically in her hospital bed across from him, pleading with the doctors to help him and screaming at him to speak to her. It's really hard to listen to and you learn that she didn't last much longer after that, succumbing to the virus while Ronny was performing an autopsy on Jimbo. Some other notable actors in the movie are Zakes Mokae, who was the villain in Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow, as Dr. Benjamin Iwabi, the village doctor who first informs Daniels of how deadly the virus is and how it infected the village; Bruce Jarchow, whom I recognized from the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV show, as Dr. Mascelli, the Cedar Creek doctor who makes the call that brings in the CDC when the virus begins to take hold of the town; Dale Dye as Col. Briggs, whom I feel really bad for when General McClintock treats him like crap and is able to get back at him in a very satisfying way at the end of the movie when General Ford tells him to arrest him; and J.T. Walsh as the White House Chief of Staff. I have to make special mention of this last guy because, even though he's only in one scene, he really leaves his mark. At a meeting at the Pentagon when the commitee is shown the less than optimistic projection for the virus' spreading and has to make a recommendation to the President on what to do, the Chief of Staff brings up the idea of Clean Sweep, how it works, and then very angrily tells them how very sure they need to be before taking such drastic action. "So, a couple of things before Clean Sweep is even considered. One: unanimous, unwavering support for the President on this, and I mean public. You're going to stand there shoulder to shoulder with him. He goes down, you go down. And the second thing is I want an army of experts citing hundreds and thousands of lab experiments telling any idiot with a camera that there was no other way! Got that? Hmm? No member of this government is going to go sneaking off to the Washington Post, telling them how they were the sole voice of opposition. If there is a voice of opposition out there, I want him in here, now." Things get even more intense when he tosses a bunch of photos of people suffering from the virus onto the table. "Those are the citizens of Cedar Creek! Go on, look at them. These are not statistics, ladies and gentlemen. They're flesh and blood! And I want you to burn those into your memories! Because those images should haunt us to the day we die."

Some movies of this genre come up with fantastical and unbelievable things that couldn't possibly happen in real life for their characters to deal with, while others decide to tackle real-life, legitimate fears that people deal with and few are more palpable or relatable than disease. As I said in my introduction, I was terrified of getting sick when I was young and, as a result, Outbreak really affected me when I caught my first glimpse of it, which is what gives the film its juice because this situation, as grim as it is, can and has happened (in fact, there was an outbreak of Ebola going on in Zaire when it was released). We can defend ourselves from so many dangerous external forces and yet, as Sam Daniels himself says in the movie, something that's one-billionth our size can very easily get inside of us and take us down before we know it. It's really amazing, and when you read up on all of the different, deadly diseases that are out there, from Ebola to Anthrax, HIV to Typhus, it's a wonder that anybody is alive or able to grow to adulthood. What's most frightening about the film, however, is something that's discussed in the production notes on the DVD, which is that a real virus as deadly as Motaba could very well be developing somewhere in the world at this very moment, waiting for the opportunity to spread and wreak havoc. Remember the discovery of AIDS in the 1980's or when it was feared that the bird flu could get out and circle the world? Also, lately there have been stories about ordinarily harmless diseases like the common flu becoming more resistant to vaccines and medicine that used to knock them out, similar to how the Motaba virus mutates into a new strain that's resistant to the E-1101 serum developed by the army. Very scary stuff.

From the beginning, we're made aware of just how deadly the Motaba virus is, basically feeling like Ebola on steroids (incidentally, that image of the virus actually is the Ebola virus). During the opening in 1967, we see soldiers suffering from the disease's early stages, with a horrible fever, red circles around their eyes, and sweat pouring out of them like crazy (when Casey is first infected, his temperature is said to be 106 degrees). We don't get to see what happens when the disease progresses until later on but, when we do, it's horrifyingly believable, with very good makeup effects used to bring it across. The infected person's condition deteriorates until they begin going through violent convulsions and as they get close to death, their eyes, nostrils, and other orifices begin leaking blood and their flesh becomes discolored with purple lesions here and there. Eventually they die as their internal organs are liquified by the virus, which Ronny discovers when she performs an autopsy on Jimbo Scott (we don't actually see this but being told about it after having seen what Jimbo's diseased body looked like on the outside is much more powerful). Equally horrific is how fast the virus kills once someone has been exposed to it and how quickly it spreads. Its incubation period is very short, apparently less than 24 hours, and it kills within two or three days, with a mortality rate of 100%. When Maj. Salt and the others experiment with the virus by putting it with healthy kidney cells, within just eight hours, it has killed every single cell, much to their horror. And this is all before it goes airborne! Once it does so, and is able to spread like the flu, it becomes even more of a threat to the nation and to the entire world, having infected virtually everyone in the town within a very short amount of time and making it unsafe to go outside or even breathe the air. From their data, USAMRIID predicts that, should the virus escape the quarantine zone, it would blanket the entire U.S. within just two days. Moreover, the host of the virus is Betsy, a little cute, black and white monkey (of a species that doesn't live in Africa, I might add) that you wouldn't look at twice. It's amazing that she didn't unknowingly infect more people when Jimbo let her loose in the woods near Cedar Creek. In fact, I'm not at all sure how Kate, a little girl who comes across her and begins feeding her apples on a daily basis, kept from getting the virus, especially since Betsy was carrying the airborne strain as well as the original.

While it would have been effective in its own way had the Motaba virus taken hold of a major city, forcing the army and Col. Daniels' team to contend with it on an enormous scale, I think having it infect a small, rural, upper class town proved to be much more palpable and made it easier for people to relate to. The idea of something monstrous, be it an evil person, an actual monster, or, in this case, a horrific virus from the other side of the world, entering into an intimate, close-knit setting like this has always been an effective motif because it feels like innocence is being destroyed. Cedar Creek is just a normal, quiet, sleepy little town full of average citizens going about their daily lives and who are completely unprepared for the nightmare that descends upon them. There are two scenes that really drive home this feeling. One is when Henry, a lab technician who, while working at the hospital where the infected pet store owner Rudy Alvarez was brought, was himself infected by the virus when he stupidly put his hand in a running centrifuge filled with vials of the guy's blood and gets sprayed in the face (he was listening to a ballgame on the radio instead of paying attention), single-handedly infects everyone at the local theater with the new, airborne strain. You get to see the particles that he coughs into the air going into the mouths of the people who are laughing at the cartoon that they're watching (which incidentally, although you can't really see it, is a Tom & Jerry cartoon where Jerry makes Tom think that he's deathly ill), not realizing that their fate has just been sealed. Henry also infects more people when he goes to the snack bar to get something to drink and pushes through the crowd to get to the front of the line, only to collapse and begin convulsing. The scene that really got to me when I first saw the movie from beginning to end, however, is only a few minutes afterward when the local hospital is swamped with numerous people who are now infected by the virus, most of whom were probably in that theater. A catatonic, teenage girl is hauled in on a gurney through the side-door, there are a bunch of people in the waiting room, with one guy spasming on the floor, and a flood of diseased and suffering people coming through the front door, with Dr. Mascelli and his nurse, Emma, having no idea what this is or what to do about it, which leads to the army getting involved to contain the outbreak. The situation deteriorates rapidly from there, with the whole town becoming infected as you see shots of hundreds of people lining up to be led into the hospital or medical camps outside of the town, scores suffering and dying from the virus inside said places, and shots of white cloths hanging outside of houses, indicating more sick people to be found inside, with a memorable shot of a guy who's clearly sick looking out a window.

Rather than just having you watch anonymous people that you've never seen before or enormous, faceless groups suffer from the effects of the disease, the filmmakers personalize a good number of the people who come down with it, and I'm not just talking about the main characters of Ronny and Casey. The best instance of this is when they give you an actual firsthand account of what's going on. After a soldier makes an announcement for anyone who's feeling sick to hang a piece of white cloth outside their house so they can be taken somewhere to be tested for the virus, we see a convoy pull up to a house where a young mother of two is the one who needs to be taken away. She tries to reassure her kids that she's only going to be gone for a few hours or that she may need to spend the night at the most but her facade soon cracks and she begins to cry. Her little girl tries to hug her but her father stops her and the woman is then taken away by the convoy, with a shot from her POV of the soldiers waiting for her outside emphasizing the comfort and familiarity she's leaving behind for something cold and alien. As she's taken away, she tearfully says goodbye to her family and is taken to a camp where a blood sample is taken and then marked with a number. The next shot is Casey testing the blood samples, which now number into the 600's, and each one, including the woman's, comes up positive. We then see her being moved into the hospital along with scores of other people, having now been given a personal face for what's happening to families all across the town, which in turn gives the White House Chief of Staff's declaration that these people are flesh and blood, not mere statistics, more impact. In addition, we also see a number of individual people before they get sick, when they're just starting to, and right before they die, adding more weight to it even when we only see them for those very instances, like Henry, whom later see being zipped up in a body-bag, and his girlfriend, who turns her head and coughs while visiting him in the hospital, whom we later see die in a hospital bed, with General Ford futilely trying to save her with E-1101 and explaining to Daniels that she was one of the first ones infected. Even when it's people whom we only see after they're dead or dying, like all of those bodies that Daniels, Casey, and Salt come across in the village in Zaire or that little, diseased kid who's crying on that bed with the bodies of his parents, it's still powerful just because of how horrific it is. Speaking of which, when they arrive they find that a number of the huts have been burned down in order to destroy the virus, some of which have smoldering corpses inside; eventually, the same thing happens at Cedar Creek, with dozens of dead people being zipped up into body bags (one of whom could possibly be that woman we followed for a little bit) and placed into a barn that is promptly set on fire. It's reached that same, hopeless point, and in this instance, we knew some of these people a little bit before they died.

Just as frightening for the people of Cedar Creek as the outbreak is when the military moves in, quarantines the town, and puts it under martial law (this all happens in the middle of the night, probably making it all the more unnerving for them). Although there is a team of doctors who do have everyone's best interest in mind and are working desperately to find a cure, the presence of numerous armed soldiers wearing bio-hazard suit-like fatigues, their faces hidden behind masks, military vehicles patrolling the streets, and helicopters doing the same above the town nonetheless pushes the citizens into hysteria, compounded even more so by the quarantine, the military curfew that's put into effect, and their feeling that their rights are being violated when no one tells them anything (Daniels and his team almost get attacked a few times when they go outside). The military is also forced to use physical and even lethal force at one point, with a chopper shooting down a truck full of people trying to escape the town, adding even more so to the panic. Even though we know that Daniels and his team are busting their asses trying to save everyone, and that the isolation and even the lethal force is for the good of the entire nation, you still understand the viewpoint of the people of Cedar Creek and how this is as horrifying as the outbreak (especially since you also know that certain people behind the operation are willing to wipe the town and everyone in it off the map to keep the virus from spreading across the nation). With a deadly virus in the air that they can't defend themselves from and the threat of being shot or arrested if they try to leave town or violate the curfew, they probably don't feel safe in their own homes or on the street.

I've already talked about how the makeup effects that are used to illustrate the effects of Motaba look and have provided plenty of gruesome images to go along with it but I will reiterate that they are very well-executed, coming across as very believable instead of overdone with a lot of excessive blood and pus oozing out of the victims' bodies. You can instantly tell when someone is in the early stages of it thanks to the fairly subtle effects of excessive sweat and dark-red rings around the eyes and when you see them in the later stages, they do look like they're at death's door, especially Casey and Henry's girlfriend. In addition, the dead bodies we see at the village in Zaire, particularly those that were burnt up along with some of the huts, look very, very real. There's also some early CGI work to be found here, like the shots of the bomb being dropped and then exploding at both the beginning and end, the shots of the virus spreading through the air in the movie theater, and a tracking shot through the air vents of the Cedar Creek hospital when Col. Daniels discovers that the virus is now airborne. Some of these may not hold up all that well, like the explosion and especially the shots of the bomb when it's dropped from the plane, but they're used sparingly enough that they're not at all distracting and get the idea across well enough. The use of blue screen and miniatures, however, is well done all-around. There are a number of shots involving helicopters and planes and often, I'm not entirely sure if what I'm looking at is a model, a digital effect, or the real thing. I do think that some of the shots of the bomber plane have to be CG and I know for sure that a lot of real aircraft were used but, again, there are many instances where I'm not sure how they pulled something off, including some things that would have been very dicey to do for real. And that sequence with Daniels attempting to jump out of the helicopter on the ship really looks like Dustin Hoffman is about to do exactly that. Again, very good blue screen work. As they say, the best kind of effects work is when you can't tell how it was done and I think Outbreak has more than its fair share of those.

Oddly enough, as grim as its story is, Outbreak is a movie that's often very pleasing to the eye. It never rains once in the movie and the sky, save for the scene where Daniels and Salt fly out to the ship that brought the monkey to America, is almost never overcast, instead being perfectly clear with lots of bright sunshine, a stark contrast to what's going on. I don't know if it was intentional or not but either way, that contrast kind of works in the movie's favor. Foul weather can help set the mood in films like Blade Runner and Se7en but, in some strange way, a town being blanketed by a lethal virus and facing the threat of being completely destroyed for the sake of the nation against the backdrop of California's beautiful geography in nice, early fall weather (I know it's early fall because they say that the ship with the monkey arrived in September) actually works well because it feels authentic rather than stylistic. The weather doesn't change to match whatever's going on in your life and I can relate to how it feels to be sick in some way while it's a nice day outside, making it easier for me to relate with the situation going on in both Cedar Creek and Zaire when the virus reveals itself. Maybe no one else feels this way and I'm putting more into the movie than was intended but the very nice cinematography is another thing I've always enjoyed about Outbreak. It kind of makes me want to visit California, something that I've never done.

Ever since the release of Contagion, I've heard many people say that it's better than Outbreak because it's not a "stupid action movie" like this film but is mainly a drama with a lot of talking. Since I haven't seen Contagion at this point, it'd be unfair for me to say much since I could possibly end up liking it, but I still have to ask what's so wrong with having action scenes and suspense to go with your story of a serious medical crisis, particularly if it all blends together well, as I think it does here. There aren't a lot of action scenes per se but those that are add to the movie rather than detracting from it and feeling out of place, like that scene where this guy and his family follow some friends of theirs in a small vehicle chase to escape Cedar Creek, only to watch as their friends are gunned down by a military helicopter that intercepts them. Not only is that a nicely done sequence but it helps emphasize how desperate the situation is even at this stage, which is fairly early on, and how the citizens of Cedar Creek are trapped in a nightmare that seems without end. And you can't tell me that you don't enjoy the sequence in the third act where Daniels and Salt run from two other helicopters, both of which are being commanded by General McClintock in one of them. This is where Salt gets to show off his flying abilities, dodging rounds being shot at them, pulling off some fancy maneuvers like flying underneath a bridge and doing a big loop in the air, and causing both choppers to just barely miss hitting each other, causing McClintock to exhale loudly with a look of sheer relief on his face afterward, before decoying them by shooting some rockets into the trees to make them think they've crashed while flying low to avoid radar as they head back to Cedar Creek. During all of this, poor Daniels is trying to both keep his composure and stay in his seat, once in a while having a nice line, like when Salt asks him if he'd rather go over or under the bridge and when he lets him decide for himself and Salt prepares to go under, he adds, "Oh, I would've said over," or when Salt performs that loop and he says, "Salt, you gotta warn me before you do something like that again." And talk about suspenseful scenes: to name a few, you've got a moment on a plane where Jimbo, beginning to feel the effects of the virus, eats half of a cookie and sets down on his tray, with a little kid nearly grabbing it to finish it before his mother stops him, not realizing she just saved his life; the very tense scene where the little girl Kate tries to help them catch Betsy but unknowingly blocks Salt's line of fire with the tranquilizer gun and the tension builds as it seems like Betsy may either eventually run away or attack Kate; and the scene at the end where Daniels and Salt prepare to use themselves to block the bomber plane from reaching Cedar Creek, with the tension again building and building as they get closer and Daniels trying to talk them down, culminating in him yelling, "We're not moving!" and the planes very nearly hitting each other. Maybe Contagion is a good movie, I don't know, but I don't see how a movie with mainly just a lot of talking could be better than a well-done medical thriller with a lot of great setpieces.

The only thing that could make Outbreak all the more memorable is a great score and fortunately, James Newton Howard provides just that. I can't point to any piece of music that I could call the main theme but that doesn't matter because all of them are memorabe in their own way, with the movie starting off with a loud, rhythmic, tribal-like theme when the village in Zaire gets blown up, climaxing with a low, doom-evoking chord when the actual title comes up, leading into the main title sequence and the theme that accompanies it. The backdrop to the titles is one continuous, panning shot through the halls and laboratories of USAMRIID, with the music starting off as very soft and low-key, then going into a driving, more urgent-sounding theme that you hear again later on in the movie when the military troops and the CDC doctors arrive at Cedar Creek. The theme appears to go completely silent in the middle before picking back up, once again starting off very soft before moving into a rather eerie piece as the camera tracks into the Bio-Hazard Level 4 lab, where the most dangerous diseases are kept. There's a suitably African, tribal-sounding piece that plays during the bits in Zaire, emphasizing both the atmosphere of the land and Dr. Iwabi's telling Col. Daniels that a local shaman feels that the virus is a punishment for helping build a road where one shouldn't be, tender bits for the scenes between Daniels and Robby, nicely exciting pieces for the action scenes, especially when Daniels and Salt are trying to escape McClintock, and horrific pieces when the virus begins to take hold of certain characters, like when both Jimbo and Rudy Alvarez get sick at the same time, when Henry gets sprayed with the latter's infected blood, when he spreads it throughout the movie theater before collapsing, and when Casey's suit rips open and he later collapses from the virus, and for some of the suspenseful scenes, like the moment between Kate and Betsy.

However, Howard also doesn't forget to illustrate the tragedy that's befallen Cedar Creek, with downbeat, doom-laden music when the hospital first becomes flooded with people suffering from the virus, very sad music when that young mother is forced to leave her family behind, and a much grander but still downbeat piece, known as Cedar Creek Exodus, when it becomes clear that everyone in the town has been infected and they're being herded into the hospital and medical camps. The saddest bits of music come when all of those who have died are stacked inside of a barn that's then burned, with vocalizing female voices adding to the sense of loss and hopelessness, and when General Ford gives the bomber plane the final go-ahead to begin its run. That latter theme, which is called Final Authorization, is particularly somber, emphasizing how neither Ford nor anyone else, including the pilots, want to do this but at this point, it seems like it's the only way to save the United States and the world at large, with the last bit of it going well with Ford saying, "God, forgive us." Even the very last thing you hear at the end of the ending credits, with a low-key bit of horn playing, doesn't make forget the heavy cost of finally coming to the creation of a serum that worked, and one last, very low chord making you remember the horror that everyone went through. And the seven-minute piece that plays during the climax hits every note perfectly, starting out bombastic when the bomber plane begins closing in on the town, becoming light during the bits where Daniels sees that the new serum is curing Robby, and then going into full-blown excitement and tension when he and Salt attempt to stop the plane, building to a fever pitch as Daniels yells that they're not moving and they almost crash in mid-air, ending in a bit accompanied by more vocalizing when you see that the bomb was dropped into the ocean.

Others may feel differently and that's fine but in my opinion, Outbreak is an awesome flick that deserves praise rather than nitpicky criticism. You've got a stellar cast who all give superlative performances, a well-written screenplay with some fantastic lines (that's why there were so many quotes in this review), a well-told, suspenseful, and nicely-paced story (the movie is 128 minutes long but it goes by fast), a setting that is relatable, a scenario that is frightening because it could happen, believable makeup effects that emphasize how deadly the Motaba virus is, and a great, memorable score to top it all off. Aside from some occasional wonky CGI, if I had to mention one major criticism I have, it's that I think the addition of the idea that the government plans to use the virus as a weapon and the steps some of them will take to make sure nothing endangers that agenda is a bit much, that a lethal virus that's threatening the country and the military doing whatever they can to stop it was enough. But, that said, that part, like everything else, is done so well that I can overlook my feeling about it and, as a result, what you have is a very well-made medical thriller. I don't really care if the movie is scientifically inaccurate now or not and I also don't see why so many people apparently like a bunch of talking more than well-done action and suspense to go along with this kind of story. I may one day see Contagion and like it but even so, I don't see how I could ever find it to be more entertaining than Outbreak.

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