Contagion: Pandemic Thriller Arrives on 4K Ultra HD

Contagion. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 pandemic thriller, Contagion, is making its arrival on 4K Ultra HD a few years after renewed interest in the film.

Nobody would have thought in 2011 that people would be taking a renewed interest in 2020. But sure enough, the Covid-19 pandemic happened and people made the film a streaming hit. I was not one of those people because of my headspace at the time. It was tempting, don’t get me wrong. Hell, I didn’t even do a 10th anniversary review in 2021. Because of everything going on, I needed happier classics for comfort viewing. In fact, I took in my disaster film viewing by way of the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies time and time again. Why I kept going back to Isla Nublar so frequently is beyond me. But anyway, I digress.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave since just before 2020, I don’t need to remind you about terms such as pandemic or lethal virus. Or, for that instance, how these things are transmitted from one person to another. Unfortunately, this has been our lives for the past few years. At the time that the film was made, we were a few years removed from the 2002-04 SARS outbreak and the 2009 swine flu pandemic. I remember freaking out about the swine flu pandemic and actually know people who walked down the aisle with swine flu.

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) thinks that she has a bad case of jet lag after returning home to Minneapolis. Unfortunately, she ends up dying the ER, much to the shock of doctors and her now widowed husband, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon). Beth’s symptoms prior to dying included hacking coughs, fever, seizure, and brain hemorrhage. Before you know it, multiple people are displaying the symptoms as it slowly becomes a global pandemic.

The CDC’s Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) thinks it may be a bioweapon. He sends. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to perform contract tracing. Unfortunately, it leads to her death and the virus spreads. In an example of life imitating art, we see cities under quarantine and people buying things in a panic. Not to mention the looting and violence.

Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) not only figures out what makes up MEV-1 but is the first to vaccinate herself against the virus. A lottery system goes into effect, rather than how the Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out. Regardless, millions upon millions are already dead.

To say that the CDC and WHO have its work cut out is not an understatement. There is so much pressure to find a vaccine and much like our real-world pandemic, time is of an essence. How quickly are they going to find one? Regardless, the film allows audiences to watch the fictional heroes in action.

The film makes the pandemic seem really horrifying, which it is, of course. There are some things that we do not actually see in the film such as online learning through Zoom. Responding to the pandemic means taking leadership, which includes shutting things down to prevent spread and mitigate damage. Contagion is a film that quickly shows just how society manages to breakdown as the pandemic escalates. Conspiracy theorist blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) thinks there is more that the government isn’t telling the public. Naturally, he only releases more paranoia and fear onto the world after lying about the virus and promoting forsythia as a cure.

It isn’t until the very end of the film in which we see the origins of the virus. According to an interview with Edward Douglas at ComingSoon, screenwriter Scott Z. Burns started his research half a year before the swine flu pandemic in 2009. My initial thought had been that pigs played a role in the MEV-1 virus because of swine flu coming two years prior. Watching a pandemic play out in real time can definitely impact a film about a pandemic! Burns comments in the same interview about blogging just being graffiti with punctuation. One could write so much commentary about that idea alone. Here’s Burns on the phrase:

Jude had a really good idea about where to take that character, but Steven and I have talked about this for a long time and my view is… Look, that line that I wrote about blogging as being graffiti with punctuation, I feel like there’s a lot of unfiltered content in the world now. It is both a great freedom and a huge danger. I don’t think we spend enough time talking about that.

All the film’s bonus features are from previous home video releases. There’s a missed opportunity here to have a retrospective doc about the film’s newfound popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. I wonder if the SAG-AFTRA strike played a role in not adding a new doc featurette.

Fun fact: there’s a universe where Soderbergh and Burns make a biopic of Leni Riefenstahl. Thankfully, Soderbergh chose against going forward with that. What is the audience for that film other than maybe World War II historians or people studying fascism? I certainly would not have seen it but that’s just me.

Contagion might be a more important film in 2024 but it really speaks to the importance of being prepared when mitigating a pandemic outbreak. What did we not learn from this film when it came to mitigating damages during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Bonus Features

  • The Reality of Contagion – Featurette
  • The Contagion Detectives – Featurette
  • Contagion – How a Virus Changes the World – Featurette

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
CAST: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Elliott Gould, Chin Han, John Hawkes, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Josie Ho, Sanaa Lathan, Demetri Martin, Armin Rohde, Enrico Colantoni, Larry Clarke, Monique Gabriela Curnen

Warner Bros. Pictures released Contagion in theaters on September 9, 2011. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.