Saturday, August 22, 2015
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.
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.
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.