Another variation on the “Ghost in the Machine” theme, this Sci-fi thriller based on the Dark Horse comic book is a moderately engaging effort. Directed with assurance by veteran effects designer John Bruno, “Virus” is a visual and special effects extravaganza, only marred by a pedestrian screenplay that seems to serve up every cliche known to the genre.

virusLuckily, the flighty dialogue is given some weight by a sturdy cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland. Both are no strangers to science fiction-horror films, and bring with them a confidence and that transcends even the weakest premise. Sutherland plays Captain Everton, a crusty tug boat captain whose latest cargo is his last desperate attempt to stay afloat.

Everton will do anything to make sure that his cargo arrives on time, including towing the barge through a typhoon. Everton’s desperation worries navigator Kit Foster (Curtis) and engineer Steve Baker (William Baldwin), who fear for their own lives. After eventually losing the cargo, the tug seeks out safe harbor in the storm’s eye. There, they discover a deserted Russian research ship. Once on board the ship, the crew of the tug discover what looks like the results of a monumental battle.

What the crew doesn’t know is that the ship has been infected by a an alien virus that arrived in the form of an electrical field during a transmission from the Mir space station. Once aboard the ship, the virus started replicating itself into human form through the use of machines and dead crew members. The only thing that stopped the virus from reaching full maturity was the bravery of Russian crew member Nadia (Joanna Pacula), who managed to shut down the power on the ship.

That information would have come in real handy when the tug crew finds the generator and turns the power back on. Then all hell breaks loose as the mechanical creations of the alien spring back to life, intent on completing their mission. Even though the screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer (who created the comic book) and Dennis Feldman is top heavy with bad dialogue, it is serviceable and does manage to get the actors from point A to point B without being too preposterous. The bottom line is that “Virus” is just another dark house movie, where a group of people are trapped in a haunted house overnight and must square off against the horrors that await them.

The ship idea is good, but it has been done before, while the monster as a machine gimmick has been plugged in so many times the cord is frayed. Still, the cast invests themselves thoroughly into the proceedings, and their conviction really helps carry the film to an exciting and edge of your seat finale. The cast is uniformly good, while Sutherland goes over the top more often than the waves during the incredibly realistic storm scenes. It takes a good actor to pull off such a feat with being totally offensive, and Sutherland is that actor.

Even though they are familiar, the alien creations are still horrific (robots that are half human cadaver, half machine). The film is a very visual experience, thanks to David Eggby’s atmospheric cinematography and Mayling Cheng’s creepy production design. Joel McNeely’s music is a plus. “Virus” isn’t a classic, or even a great movie. It’s a good movie that pretends to be nothing more than it is. You have to admire that.


VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Sturdy 2.35:1 widescreen transfer delivered in 16:9 for widescreen televisions. Outstanding imagery and attention to detail. Blacks are solid, and a pristine negative allows for pure whites and shadows. Flesh tones are realistic, while depth of field is strong. No noticeable compression artifacts or noise. Colors are especially vivid, with perfect saturation. Nicely done.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Extremely vivid 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack grabs you by the throat and drags you along for the ride. You can’t help but impressed with basses that go for the jugular and high ends so sharp they could cut glass. Impressive dialogue mix and effective stereo separation make the soundtrack exciting. Rear speakers come alive throughout the presentation with realistic ambient noise and powerful musical chords. I didn’t notice any audible hiss or distortion, even when I cranked this baby up to engulf myself in the high seas drama. The DVD also features a French language Dolby Surround soundtrack.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Nice collection of extras for a standard issue DVD. Handsome main and scene access menus compliment two production featurettes (the shorter one seems like a rehash of the longer one), an alternate audio commentary with director John Bruno, plus a healthy dose of production notes, cast & talent bios and filmographies, the film’s original theatrical trailer, and links to Universal Studios Home Video’s web site of the film. DVD-ROM features include a screen saver from the film. There are also three deleted scenes delivered in their rough cut form, and even though they don’t bring any new dimension to the film, they are fun to watch.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

Even though it lacks originality, “Virus” is still an effective thriller worth a spin.

VITALS: $24.98/Rated R/100 Minutes/Color/18 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#20431




HMO: Universal Studios Home Video

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