Imagine the meeting that took between Wolfgang Peterson and the studio, Warner Bros:
Peterson: I want to make a thriller about a deadly virus.
Studio: No problem, hell this is the guy that made In The Line of Fire and Das Boot.
Peterson: I’ll need a big budget, there will be a lot of military action.
Studio: Fine, the money’s yours.
Peterson: Dustin Hoffman is the lead.
It sounds crazy - Dustin Hoffman as an action hero? Well, as crazy as it sounds, it works. As does everything else in the film.
The story revolves around a killer virus which we first encounter in a classic opening scene. Freeman and Sutherland visit Motaba in 1967. Promising aid to the sick, they instead drop a bomb wiping out the entire village. 30-odd years later that same virus is back in a little town called Cedar Creek. Hoffman is the Army’s top virus guy, his ex-wife Russo holding the same position in the civilian CDC (Centre of Disease Control). Together, with Kevin Spacey and a pre-Oscar Cuba Gooding Jr., they must stop the virus before the whole of the US is wiped out. And, as if that wasn’t enough, there is a sinister plot afoot involving an overzealous Sutherland and a reluctant Freeman.
Outbreak is one of my favourite films. Everything about it is just so good. Cast wise, it’s a dream come true. Like I said, when the film switches to action mode with helicopter chases and jumping onto boats in the middle of the ocean from same helicopter, Hoffman manages to convince. He’s no Bruce Willis, but then he’s not supposed to be. He’s a doctor putting his life on the life to save the world. And the fact is that he is an infinitely better actor than Bruce and carries off the doctor side perfectly.
Thankfully the support he receives is also top-notch. Russo is very good as the ex-wife but doesn’t have that much to do except catch the disease and provide the momentum to find a rapid cure. Spacey, likewise, is underused. But when he is used he is fantastic. A quip here and there, the joker to Hoffman’s straight man. Gooding Jr. also excels, Proving that the Oscar wasn’t a one-off but an event waiting to happen. Freeman is as reliable as ever as the General torn between national security and the moral right. And Sutherland has great fun as the other General, who will stop at nothing to protect his weapon, including bombing Cedar Creek off the face of the Earth.
The real star, however, is the virus. Once infected, you have about 24 hours to live. Your skin cracks, your eyes bleed, your internal organs are turned to mush. And is spreads like wildfire. In fact, Peterson conveys the spread very well, the best example being the careless young doctor who sprays himself with the infected pet-shop owner’s blood. He then goes to the cinema and coughs and we follow one of the little particles of spit through the air until it comes to rest in someone else’s open mouth. Less than an hour later the hospital is full of patients all with the same symptoms. Truly frightening.
Outbreak could easily have turned into a gore-fest but thankfully Peterson knows what he’s doing. We see the odd face here and there and it is revolting but when Russo performs an autopsy, the director cleverly keeps the camera on her face. All we see is the faint reflection of the body in her visor. Action wise, Peterson also delivers. The helicopter scenes are well executed, the various explosions likewise. Some have criticised the change in pace for the final third, when the film moves from medical thriller to race against the clock action stuff. I liked the change and I can’t see any other way around it. All in all, a top film.
Sadly, no. A typical back catalogue release from Warner: good picture and sound, no extras. The anamorphic 1.85:1 image is fine, not the best I’ve seen. There are noticeable specks throughout the opening scene but after this the picture clears up. The tracking shot through the USAMRID facility in chapter 2 is very clear with no sign of grain or artefacts. The picture is perhaps not as sharp as recent releases like, say Space Cowboys, but for an older disc it is more than adequate.
The sound, again, is good but not great. Using the opening scene as a reference, the gunshots are limited to the front speakers while the explosions lack bass and any real oomph. But, like the picture, things improve. The helicopters sound great and the chase scene is well balanced. Dialogue is centred and clear throughout.
Extras wise we have (drum roll please!) Production Notes and Cast and Crew (read: director) biographies. The former consists of a few pages of fairly pointless information while the latter is of even less value. No only to they browse over the careers rather than listing every film, they are not even correct. For example did you know that Robert Altman directed The Dirty Dozen? I thought it was Robert Aldrich, but there you go.
Menus are static and silent. There are 45 chapters, 9 of which are accessible from the scene selection menu.
An absolute cracker of a film on a bog-standard disc. Picture and sound are fine but not reference quality. Extras are non-existent. But, this is one of the £12.99 titles and so can be picked up for £9.99 or less. I got it for £7.50 so I’m not complaining. And at a price that low, who can?