Case Number 00079


Universal // 1999 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Sean Fitzgibbons (Retired) // July 29th, 1999

The Charge

Earth is in for a shock.

Opening Statement

Virus takes a unique spin on monster flicks while Universal releases a disc almost comparable to their Collector's Series at no extra cost.

The Evidence

I first read about Virus this time last year and I was quite impressed. The premise of the film was unique and original and the creatures in the film looked nothing less than extraordinary. With a terrific cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, and Donald Sutherland, how could the film miss? Well, that shows how much I know. Virus opened in mid-January this year to poor reviews. I decided to skip the theater experience and wait for the film on DVD. Thankfully, Universal released one of their best DVDs to date, not including their Collector's Series.

Virus begins as a Russian research vessel is communicating to the MIR space station. The cosmonauts on MIR witness a huge electrical cloud hurtling towards the space station, and before they know it the cloud engulfs the station. Once the electricity infiltrates the station, it uses the link to the Russian vessel and transports down into the ship on Earth. The next day, fleeing into the calm eye of a typhoon, a tugboat crew happens upon the research vessel, dead in the water. Having lost their cargo in the typhoon, and hoping to gain a $30 million salvage fee on the Russian vessel, the tugboat crew boards the ship and reactivates its power. After the power is switched back on, the ship comes to life, as do a plethora of mechanical creatures. The crew soon discovers one single survivor on the Russian vessel who pleads with the crew to shut off the power on the ship. After a few encounters with robotic creatures, the crew discovers that an energy-based life form has taken control of the ship and is using both humans and spare parts to create machines. The life form considers the human race a virus and therefore concludes it must be destroyed. The crew then resolves to sink the Russian vessel before the life form can get to land and start to destroy humanity.

Director John Bruno, with extensive past experience on special effects and robotics, brings the diabolical mechanical creatures of Virus to life, in all their gory splendor. Curtis and Baldwin deliver good performances, if not stereotypical of the roles they commonly take on. The supporting cast also does a nice job bringing the tugboat crew to life with their self-serving personalities. Finally, the special effects team that worked on Virus did a tremendous job bringing character and life-like personalities to the machines that terrorize the tugboat crew. Both CGI and old-fashioned robotics combine almost flawlessly in this film.

The audio and video on this disc is absolutely outstanding. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the video on this disc is crisp and clean (especially in exterior shots) and holds up well during dark interior scenes (which there are plenty of) but one can occasionally detect some grain. Virus truly shines in the audio department with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. First, the film brings a typhoon to life with a great use of surround and bass effects. When the first gunshots ring out in the film, you will definitely leap out of your chair. From that point on, the action comes fast and furious with the audio track keeping pace every step of the way. Films like Virus you would expect to translate well onto DVD (considering it was only released in theaters six months ago), and thankfully it does.

Universal has really outdone itself on this disc. Probably originally planned for release as a Collector's Edition, this disc is packed with extra content but a little less than the average Universal Collector's Edition fare. I was caught completely by surprise because none of the extra content is actually listed on the box cover for this disc. For your money you get two featurettes (one, "Ghost in the Machine" contains extensive cast and crew interviews, while the second is a shortened version of the first with some additional material). Also available is an audio commentary from director John Bruno, cast members Marshall Bell and Sherman Augustus, as well as composer Joel McNeely. With the addition of the cast members to the commentary, things are livened up a bit and some different insights to the film are given. Another great extra feature for this disc is a deleted scenes segment. The three deleted scenes (and one extended scene) contained on this disc help the film to greater develop the tension between the tugboat crew members. Finally, you get the typical Universal stuff: production notes, cast and crew bios, a trailer, web links, and even a Virus screensaver for those with a DVD-ROM drive.

All that extra content at no extra price! A new approach to DVD from Universal? I doubt it, but it definitely would be nice.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

This film isn't a '90s update of Casablanca, nor does it pretend to be. People have to stop thinking they can walk into a theater, to a movie called Virus, whose entire trailer revolves around action, and expect some kind of thoughtful storyline. The real problem with Virus was its release in the winter, instead of the summer season where it truly belonged. Virus is a sci-fi action flick and has plot holes everywhere, but when I sit down to watch an action film I want to see good action sequences with a somewhat interesting backdrop. Virus provides a fast paced, entertaining, hour and a half of film; nothing more, nothing less.

I wouldn't mention this if it wasn't Donald Sutherland, but it is Donald Sutherland. In short, Donald Sutherland's performance in this film is completely horrible. His acting is completely over-the-top, which truly sticks out when everyone else in the film plays their characters down to Earth. Sutherland attempts to give his character some kind of accent (I have no idea what he is trying to do with his voice) and fails miserably. Needless to say I was very pleased when...oh, you'll see.

Closing Statement

I'm constantly on the lookout for films like Virus that look and sound great on DVD and have enough extras to show off the format. Universal has done a great job bringing this disc to the format with a great 5.1 audio track, a nice anamorphic transfer, and a lot of great extra content to keep the disc entertaining. All sci-fi and action fans should definitely consider "catching" this Virus.

The Verdict

Film, disc, and Universal acquitted on all counts.

Review content copyright © 1999 Sean Fitzgibbons; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 92
Audio: 94
Extras: 90
Acting: 75
Story: 82
Average: 87

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)

* English

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Production Notes
* Cast and Filmmakers' Bios
* Film Highlights
* Theatrical Trailer
* Web Links

* IMDb