The crew of the ocean tug Sea Star are having a bad day: overtaken by a typhoon, their uninsured cargo lost, and slowly taking on water. In the eye of the storm, things seem to look up: they discover an apparently deserted Russian research ship and make plans to salvage it. Their real problem, though, is what caused the desertion - an inimical energy being has downloaded itself from the Mir space station, taken over the ship's systems, and is using robotic labs to manufacture bodies for itself. Worst of all, it seems to regard the human race simply as a source for spare parts...
Virus began life as a Dark Horse comic book, and therein lies its major pitfall. Whereas it was novel to see a complete B-movie played out in graphics form, transplanting the story back to film only serves to heighten awareness of the story's derivation. If you've seen one movie with people trapped on a ship with a monster, you've seen them all. A pity, because taken on its own merits, Virus is actually a good movie... it just reminds you of another movie every ten minutes or so.
Visual Effects maestro John Bruno, making his feature debut, crafts a fine, solid thriller. The cast is uniformly good, with stalwarts like Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland, Joanna Pacula - they even have a Baldwin in there, for pete's sake. The secondary characters are actually interesting. The practical robot effects are ingenious, and the lead monster is one of the most seamless blendings of puppetry and CGI work I've seen.
I just wish I'd never seen Alien or Moontrap.
A crisp clean picture with solid blacks - hey, it's a creepy Alien-type movie, remember - and good flesh tones. The soundtrack is nicely balanced, though I'd like composer Joel McNeely to rely a little less on that trombone motif. Look - industrial pipes! They're scary!
I also have to take exception to the interactive menus - the only clue as to which icon is currently active is a thin green circle around the icon's edge - very hard to see, and truly irritating when you've accessed the Chapter List for the umpteenth time when you thought you were getting Bonus Materials.
"Ghost in The Machine" is a nicely done, concise making-of feature that concentrates on the production design and effects. The same footage is used in the "Featurette" to lesser effect. "Deleted Scenes", as usual, deserved their fate.
The commentary track features
director Bruno, composer McNeely, and actors Marshall Bell (who plays
Woods, the picture's Designated Coward) and Sherman Augustus (Richie,
the refreshingly non-jive-talking black engineer). There are an odd
number of silences for a track that has four people working on it, but
the technical tidbits that come out regarding the shooting of an effects-heavy
movie are interesting. Bell's constant asking of "So when did you
shoot this?" seems to eventually grate on Bruno, who evidences
more patience than I. Bell likely thought he was keeping the conversation
moving, but really needed another question in his arsenal.
Like two far better movies, Tremors and The Mummy, Virus has been bundled with another Universal genre flick, End of Days, a double-pack which costs slightly less than either disc individually. This will come in quite handy when you host that festive Home Cliche-O-Rama Film Festival.
Dr. Freex, 3/19/2001