TITANIC it ain't. This is a horror movie y'all, with the kind of gore that only Universal (we're talking the major film studios here gang) understands. I can well imagine some studio bigshot saying, "More blood, more meat!" Bless 'em. VIRUS pulls no punches.
The story is based on the most effective 4 issue graphic novel miniseries published by Dark Horse comics back in the early 90's. I can't say I've read their entire catalog, but what I have read from Dark Horse has impressed me. Their stories are lean and well paced. The action carries the stories along with lots of interesting bits and asides that stimulate the reader. More to the point, the stories lack the kind of wandering filler that is found in so many of todays adult graphic novels.
VIRUS was originally written by Chuck Pfarrer, a former Navy Seal who gave his story a grand depth seemingly without effort. His Navy experience gave the story a realism that rang true even to the wogs among us who wouldn't know a chock from a knee-knocker. Inspired by James Cameron movies like ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2, Pfarrar crafted VIRUS, which you can still buy at most comic book stores.
The movie begins on a Russian spaceship tracking vessel somewhere in the Pacific. The scientists onboard are in direct communication with their pals onboard the MIR spacestation. A bright bolt out of the sky goes whipping through the spacestation and follows the invisible communication beam down to the ship below: Merry Mishaps Ensue.
Next we see a tugboat battling through a storm. It is towing a derelict ship. The Captain, only adequately played by Donald Sutherland (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE PUPPET MASTERS), is the absolute WORST Captain imaginable. Since these are all civilians, it is a wonder why anyone would sign up with this guy for anything. Yet, some of the crew have been with him for 23 years. Tthis is a major plot hole gang. This Captain, who has zero leadership capabilities, and little understanding of how to handle a boat, boat engine or people, is supposed to be an old salt seaman who has led many a crew. Nothing about this character makes any sense. Let's move on.
Jamie Lee Curtis (Horror Scream Queen! Yay!) is Kit Foster, navigator of the tug, and she doesn't like her job or the Captain. Despite his years at sea, he is bonehead ignorant about all things nautical and his lack of knowledge could get the crew killed.
William Baldwin (FLATLINERS) is Steve Baker, the young and dashing engineer. Doe-eyed and unsure of himself, he knows his job like a savant.
After losing their cargo at sea, Foster directs them toward the eye of the hurricane where they come across the Russian 'wessel. They board the ship and find her deserted. According to their maritime books, the Russian ship is loaded to the gills with research labs and a "State of the Art Robotics Lab".
I have to pause here to tell you that, once this was mentioned, I couldn't hear what was said for a moment as a big groan went up from the audience in the theater. A Russian satellite tracking ship, okay. Non-satellite research laboratories on board instead of back on land? Well . . . maybe, okay, I'll give you that. A STATE OF THE ART ROBOTICS LAB??? This obvious plot device was not only entirely unnecessary to the story, it caused the kind of groan that you would expect from a viewing of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, when the Narrator shows his face.
Anyway, they find the engine room, turn on the power, and, once again, Merry Mishaps Ensue.
To be quite honest, this was a movie I really wanted to like. I read the Graphic Novel which, unlike regular novels, laid out the entire tale in practical storyboard terms. Despite its flaws, the graphic novel made the story simpler, easier to follow, and just made more sense.
So where did everything go wrong?
Gale Ann Hurd is the producer and has given us many outstanding Horror/SF movies over the years, including ALIEN NATION, ALIENS, TERMINATOR 1 & 2, and TREMORS. Even her ridiculous movies like THE RELIC were entertaining and profitable to boot.
John Bruno marks his directorial debut here, but has impressive Oscar kissed credits as SFX supervisor, SFX director etc. on movies like POLTERGIEST, E.T., STAR WARS: Return Of The Jedi, GHOSTBUSTERS, TERMINATOR 2, and TITANIC.
Phil Tippet, robotics guru of JURASSIC PARK fame lent his master talents to the craftwork of Eric Allard and Steve Johnson.
So with such a golden cast and crew, and a movie company of great renown in the Horror field, what went wrong?
Enter screenwriter Dennis Feldman, who is responsible for garbage like SPECIES (which was only saved by H.R. Giger's fantastic creature designs and Natasha Henstredge's nudity) and THE GOLDEN CHILD (arguably, Eddie Murphy's Worst movie ever).
The script clutters the movie with unneccessary exposition that never seems to stop. It is like the screenwriter (or Memo and Post-It Noters) thought the audience was so arthritically stupid that everything must be re-stated again and again.
There is no slap against the director, John Bruno, but there is one thing. If you are going to use something novel like Thermite Grenades, understand that those babies, when unleashed on human flesh, don't leave slightly smoked flesh. THEY LEAVE ASH!
A Very Fine Powdered White Ash.
If yer lucky!
The actors all turn in fine performances with the exception of Donald Sutherland, who treats his role as he plays nearly all of his roles. As if he was just walking through on the way to pick up his check. The last movies I've watched Sutherland act in started downward the moment he made his appearance. From PUPPETMASTERS to Outbreak. His presence is a pariah to any film. That's too bad because he has genuine acting talent (talent, not just ability) and brought a real shine to movies back in the 1960's and 70's. Witness Kelly's Heros, M*A*S*H*, Johnny Got His Gun, DON'T LOOK NOW, and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), to name just a few. He was also outstanding in his many foreign films ranging from French to Italian. Since the 1980's, I can't think of a single American movie to which he gave any effort.
Jamie Lee Curtis is, in my opinion, an under rated actress who deserves far more credit than she gets. She makes every movie better. Imagine HALLOWEEN, Trading Places, or A Fish Called Wanda without Ms. Curtis in the role. Difficult, isn't it? Like very few actresses, Jamie Lee Curtis becomes her character and makes her role. She's a rare breed.
William Baldwin does his job and very slowly, but surely, is getting better. The script, such as it is, doesn't really give this exposition boy much more to do than look blank, say "Huh?" and run around avoiding, or chasing, trouble.
Second major plot hole: It haunts you all through the movie. It is stated at the beginning that the Russian ship is a peacetime vessel, no weapons, and yet it is loaded to the GILLS with all manner of machine guns, grenades and Rocket launchers. Okay, so the Russian Government wasn't entirely honest on their ship's charter - yet they would tell the truth about a State of the Art Robotics lab?!?
Again, given that this satellite tracking research vessel has its secrets; most of the weaponry is for hand to hand land combat . . . AT SEA??? Yet with all the exposition going on, the weapons are never explained.
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT!!!:
Much has also been made of the fact that this movie is by the producers of ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2. Big deal for all the good it did them. They may have had Bruno's fine eye and sense of direction, but they sure as hell didn't have James Cameron's story telling ability.
As a strict Horror movie, VIRUS still delivers, with some chilling, memorable scenes thanks to both Phil Tippet & crew as well as Director of Photography, David Eggby, who gave the movie the claustrophobic atmosphere such a film demands. The science of it, as well as the plot, was unbelievable to even the most gullible viewer.
A word of help that seems overly obvious to the most CASUAL observer but
must not be getting through the dimwit heads of the folks who make these
movies, is this:
On the strength of its horror, direction, and special effects, I give VIRUS a "barely earned" 3 Shriek Girls.
*Thanks to audience members Ron Dyer and Helen Dyer for their input.
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