Monday, January 15, 2018

March of the Plague Survivors

Film plots that I will never turn down: save the rec center through dance, prevent/survive nuclear war, and worldwide plagues.

1980's Virus has two out of three.

Somewhere in my personal heaven, a movie exists wherein breakdancing teenagers struggle to disarm Soviet missiles while coughing through a superflu.

If that's not motivation to live morally, what is?

Quick Plot: Ah, the Cold War, a time when everyone couldn't help but create messy scenarios that could inevitably go wrong and lead to the end of the world. 

Or most of it.

After an experimental virus is accidentally released, the majority of human beings are wiped out by the new malady known as "The Italian Flu." The only hope for mankind awaits in Antarctica, where the freezing temperatures provide a natural barrier to the germs. With 800 men,  8 women, and a whole lot more (unseen) penguins, the remaining survivors (mostly scientists, thought probably not the penguins; or maybe the penguins, who am I to draw conclusions?) re-order society under the wise guidance of George Kennedy.

Things are going peacefully enough until an impending earthquake is detected. Because it's the 1980s, nuclear missiles have been locked and loaded with just about every spot of land in target for one political reason or another. An American survivor realizes that the movement from the earthquakes will trigger some bombs towards the Soviet Union, which the Russian diplomat reveals will in turn blast some weaponry toward suspected U.S. stations in none other than the lonely outposts of the Arctic shores. 

Thankfully, there's one working submarine still in action, and it's captained by none other than Tourist Trap's Chuck Connors who plays a British naval officer with an accent that makes Kevin Costner's Robin Hood seem authentic. Actually, he doesn't really even TRY an accent. He just reads his script littered with Englishisms ("chaps", "you Yankees," etc.) in the same grizzly Brooklyn/Southern cadence he used as Mr. Slausen. It. Is. Weird.

Anyway, American soldier Bo Svenson(!) teams up with scientist Masao Kusakari to deactivate the bombs, now armed with a possible vaccine. Can they save the lingering bits of humanity? SHOULD they? 

Virus, also known as Day of Resurrection (spoiler alert?), was an incredibly big budgeted international production directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the visionary who would go on to helm Battle Royale and fuel Emily's imagination in every scenario. Based on a novel, its international scope feels epic in intention. Unfortunately, the pared down version streaming on Amazon Prime (with some 45 minutes cut out from the original cut) doesn't quite reach the bigness the material deserves. 

There's a good 45 minutes or so spent with characters who (SPOILER ALERT) die en masse as the virus spreads throughout the northern hemisphere. While it's exciting to see such an assortment of actors (Henry Silva! Glenn Ford! Robert Vaughn!), the constant shifting of protagonists takes a little too long to stabilize, eventually leading us to figure out by default that our real lead is a mild-mannered but secretly brave Japanese scientist. 

Perhaps because of the editing, there are also a ton of ideas that don't quite get the attention they deserve in being fleshed out. The gender politics are incredibly complicated, and while there's a small amount of effort made to show how a society of educated individuals would deal with such matters, it ultimately feels fairly shortchanged in the overall final product. 

Problems (of which there are many; did I mention this is Amazon Prime and therefore, very poorly lit?) aside, I certainly enjoyed Virus because, well, it's a movie about the end of the world involving both nuclear missiles AND a devastating plague. It's brimming with recognizable actors from all over the globe, from Sonny Chiba to Edward James Olmos to, you know, CHUCK CONNORS PLAYING AN ENGLISHMAN.

Sorry, this one just REALLY lingers.

High Points
You can't be unhappy with the sheer internationalism of the cast, which includes not just a diversity of actors, but characters from every part of the world

Low Points
Look, it's also sort of what will make me remember this movie forever so it can't be THAT bad a thing, but seriously: how DID I MENTION CHUCK CONNORS PLAYS A BRITISH CHARACTER DESPITE NOT ALTERING HIS VERY AMERICAN ACCENT AT ALL?

Lessons Learned
In the early '80s, the going rate for transporting flesh-eating bacteria was 50,000 pounds

The real secret to world peace is a stern Bo Svenson

Tying one's shoes is more difficult and time consuming than activating nuclear weapons

I can only speak to the truncated 108 minute version available on Netflix, which looks grainy and doesn't seem to flow with the full epic scale one would imagine for a film of this subject matter, budget, and director. That being said, if you, like me, love a good fashioned On the Beach-style end-of-world saga, this is certainly one loaded with a whole lot of the hallmarks of the genre. I'll be on the lookout for the extended version, which is probably (I'm guessing) the more proper way to watch.

Proper, in the truest of British forms.

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