Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Outbreak Follow-up: Nature Revenge?

It's very likely that Outbreak was one of if not the first film to focus on an containing and dealing with an infectious disease on a global scale. A possible exception could be And the Band Played On (Roger Spottiswoode, 1993), a TV movie aired on HBO--based on Robert Shilts's book--about a group of doctors that identified the HIV virus.

Wolfgang Petersen is also responsible for helming films such as Das Boot (1981), The Neverending Story (1984), In the Line of Fire (1993), Air Force One (1997), The Perfect Storm (2000), Troy (2004) and Poseidon (2006). What do we have here? A WWII film about a German U-boat, a fantasy, a political thriller, an action-thriller involving a hijacked plane, an action film on the high seas based on a true story, an epic, and a remake of Ronald Neame's 1972 disaster film The Poseidon Adventure.

As David A. Cook explains in his book Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam 1970-1979, "the transformation of science fiction from B-genre into big-budget, special-effects laden spectacle was coincident with the rise of the disaster film, a closely related genre that originated in the 1970s and remains popular today. In disaster films, manmade systems failure or a force of nature, often monstrously perverted, threatens to destroy a group of characters brought together more or less by chance (as passengers on a jet or ocean liner, for example or vacationers at a resort), and while many of them die, a few prevail through their courge and resourcefulness" (251).

Outbreak possesses the same sense and scope of epic danger or peril as a disaster film, but can it be considered part of this genre under the guise of a nature-revenge disaster film? Think of all those films (of the 70s) where toxic waste has turned otherwise harmless fish, amphibians, and reptiles into swarms of killers.

If i were going to analyze Wolfgang Petersen's body of work in support of his being an auteur, I would probably try to make an argument that Outbreak does not lie outside the director's propensity for fear of impending doom that may or may not be inspired by real events. For instance, one could read Outbreak as a variation of the nature-revenge disaster film because it all "started" with a monkey that should never have been allowed to be illegally sold to a pet store in Califorina. Rather than the monkey ending up in a zoo and infecting other primates that then go on a killing rampage, the "revenge" is carried out through microscopic means from human to human (after the initial exposure from animal to human). Moral of the movie? None of this shipping cute animals from other countries to be pets in America. It's OK for zoos because they know how to take the proper precautions.

View the trailer of Outbreak:

A clip of And the Band Played On (I'm not sure if the Elton John song was in the original or not; I haven't found the trailer):

View image of Wolfgang Petersen:

View this post with all the pictures that were supposed to be included but couldn't be because I can't figure out how to make pictures appear where the cursor rests--here:



Ishtar said...

The Andromeda Strain was a 1968 Michael Crichton book (1971 film) about a virus that causes fatal clotting of the blood, but the story only dealt with potential outbreak, not global outbreak.

Pandora's Clock was a decent mini-series (1996) with Richard Dean Anderson about someone with a virus that causes cardiac arrest, but the events are primarily constrained to the one airplane with the infected person (So it doubles as an airplane/disaster film too). It has a very eerie ending, I remember, where Richard Dean Anderson takes up his romantic connection with one of the other characters, by some sea/lake side, only to get a phone call that someone else who had been on the plane had died... leaving the potential open for global outbreak.

Then there's my favourite outbreak film of all, which doubles as a zombie film, 28 Days Later. The unfortunate (or fortunate) thing about AIDS I feel is that it is a chronic, slow-moving disease, so we can't have disaster movies scaring people into action...

YiQi C. said...

I think i watched Pandora's Clock. Hey, if you decide to get a PhD, you could incorporate disaster-outbreak films into it.