To set the stage here, it certainly seemed like a great idea popping up at the right time. It was less than three years after The Borg hit the big screen in Star Trek: First Contact, it was right when big movie studios were starting to experiment (carefully) with Comic Book movies in films like Blade and X-Men, it was high time to give the talented visual effects veteran John Bruno a chance at his first feature film after he co-directed the excellent T2 3-D: Battle Across Time and it was still at a time when people hadn't yet given up on the (admittedly asinine) concept that Billy Baldwin was just poised to be a big movie star.
Throw in a seventy-five million dollar budget, the production of Gale Anne Hurd, the music of Joel McNeely, the cinematography of David Eggby, effects by the Phil Tippett Studio and starring roles for Donald Sutherland and scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and you've got a big hit waiting to happen.
Unfortunately the hit never happened. In spite of all it had going for it, Virus made less than Fifteen Million Bucks at the box office. That means it flopped bigger than that World's Biggest Pancake record holder on that enormous Skillet.
I hesitate to be too damned cruel to this here motion picture, considering that John Bruno is a remarkably talented fellow, who has directed some very cool things on the big and small screen. He's also a talented writer, artist, animator and visual effects wizard as well as a good friend and almost constant collaborator with James Cameron (who receives a "special thanks" credit here). The fact that Virus turned out to be an ass-barnacle is no more a comment on John Bruno's talents than it is a referendum on Jamie Lee Curtis suddenly morphing into a bad actress. We'll just call this one a Cyborg-Caliber Misfire!
The main brunt of our waterlogged plot splashes down as the intrepid crew of the little tuggy little boat, the Sea Star, finds itself losing its salvaged payload in a Typhoon the size of anything we might see in The Day After Tomorrow! The greedy Captain Bob Everton (Sutherland) is not only a douche to his crew but is, in fact, such an asshole that he has no insurance, so the sunken salvage most assuredly cleans Robby E's ass OUT. This puts the crew at each others' throats and leaves the Sea Star close to sinking itself. While Steve Baker, the handsomest crew chief on the seven seas (Baldwin), is about ready to either go awol or Scuttle the Skipper, the really good looking Technician named Kelly Foster (sweet Jamie Lee) instead gets the floater to the relative safety of THE EYE OF THE STORM where she discovers another ship floating comfortably in the calm-ass waters.
Yeah, you read that right. While the idea of a ring of storm clouds encircling an incredibly peaceful radius of Ocean Wa-Wa does sound quite cool in theory, I'm afraid it doesn't quite work that way, man. The EYE may be a bit MORE calm, but that doesn't mean it's the wave-free, placid bathtub we see here.
Be that as it may, the news is clearly pretty damned good for the stars of the Sea Star! Another ship, man... could they be salvaged themselves before going down like some junkie cosmonaut? Well, what they didn't see is the film's opening, where some strange-ass cosmic intelligence from beyond the stars beamed through the Russian Mir Space Station onto this very Russian Research Vessel to snatch bodies and remake them in their very own INVASION! And this time Donald Sutherland isn't helping much!
No, this time, Donald Sutherland's character is seeing dollar signs, because if the Akademik Vladislav Volkov is indeed an abandoned Ghost Ship, that means the salvage haul is even bigger than they could have imagined (though not as big as this film's inflated budget). But when the ship starts to come back to life, the Alien Intelligence begins to build little spider robots (not quite as lame as the ones from Runaway) to scavenge more parts for its bizarre plans. Those parts include machines... and man.
Soon the ship is again teaming with malevolent Cyborgs with monstrous mad-ons for anything living or dead that they can remake in their unholy image and nothing that the overacting of Sutherland or Baldwin can do could possibly save the proverbial day.
This is too bad, actually, because a lot of the ideas that Pfarrer brought forth in his comic book and screenplay are really quite cool. Oh, they're not so original (the comic book came out just after the slew of seafaring horror flicks from the late '80s and early '90s and only a few years after the introduction of Star Trek's Borg), but they do lead to an interesting story with cool concepts and fearsome monstrosities.
For the most part, these do look really cool. The mechanical monsters and surprise cyborgs make for a very uncomfortable experience, especially when we see the "upgrade" process. However, other times, for all of the talent of the effects crew, these look like a combination of wind-up toys and weirdos in monster suits. It might have been fun to make the film, but it doesn't come off as nearly the quality Sci-Fi Horror feature that it promised to be.
On the bright side, the cast is pretty cool for the most part and Joanna Pacula and Cliff Curtis both give very good performances, considering what they have to work with. The rest of the cast, although filled with good actors, is more likely to ham it up than save the day. Julio Oscar Mechoso, Sherman Augustus and Marshall Bell are all fine here, though their characters are inconsistent (even for their limited screen time) and somewhat underdeveloped. All three occasionally push into the realm of cheesy overacting as if to keep up with Sutherland, who didn't seem to take his role terribly seriously. Even Jamie Lee Curtis (who later admitted she regretted this "piece of shit movie" - her words) occasionally seems more tired of being in the film than frightened by the star beasts she faces.
Again, it's really too bad, because this might have been a very cool, if derivative, film. Sort of a Borg Adventure on Earth or a Zombie Flick with interstellar technology limited to one boat. How can they stop this THING from getting to civilization and taking over the world? How can they stop it from growing beyond the confines of its floating tomb?
Yes... very cool ideas, if not-so-original. For better films of the like, check out the aforementioned First Contact and Invasion of the Body Snatchers along with The Thing, Planet of the Vampires and even Alien! This one remains an interesting curiosity, but not the thriller and blockbuster that Universal was hoping for.
Virus may only be worth Two Stars out of Five, but this is hardly an insult to Bruno himself. The man has plenty more good films of his own left in him, but he's been a little too busy working on films like Titanic, Alien Vs. Predator X-Men: The Last Stand and a tiny little film called Avatar! As for Virus... well, unfortunately there's no cure. It seems that the themes that went into this film replicated on the cellular level and spread its DNA to all kinds of imitators like this one. It's not the worst thing out there, but it's most certainly not the Cyborg Masterpiece of all time. The sinking ship may be a metaphor. Grab a lifesaver and dive on overboard, true believers... as for me, I'll hang on to the mast until the last boat launches screaming "I'll see you women and children in the next reel first!"
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