May 06, 2008

VIRUS (1980) - whoops apocalypse

(1980, Japan)

Slow, grim, apocalyptic disaster that might eventually haunt…

I tried to upgrade my tatty old VHS copy of Virus by buying a recent DVD release, only to find that while it’s called 'The Director's Cut', it’s shorter than my VHS copy, and it isn’t widescreen, while the VHS was!

Both the UK and US DVD releases are listed as 1.33 – which means they are severely cropped down from the original widescreen, an injustice to the spectacular location cinematography, one of the few saving graces that Virus has to offer.

The running time of 100 minutes represents the international cut (which failed to get a cinema release in the UK or US, back in 1980), a whole hour shorter than the original version released in Japan.

One of the US DVD releases

The UK DVD starts with a long explanatory build up as the deadly MM88 virus is stolen and then accidentally exposed. The introductory scenes are full of badly disguised exposition, using unknown actors, giving the wrong impression of the film that is about to unfold. Only when the virus begins to kill large numbers of people around the world, does the story take off. Some horrifying scenes of riots breaking out around the world are taken from actual news footage, including a very nasty incident where a protester catches on fire.

As recognisable actors appear, they are lumbered with embarrassing dialogue and melodramatic conflicts. Unlike more recent apocalypse stories which ground the story among the public, this is very Japanese in structure – where huge disasters are only dealt with by the authorities. Politicians, military, scientists receive the latest news and use cold, hard logic.

Some of the Japanese scenes are the most involving – where a hospital is overrun with people needing treatment, and the police have to burn piles of bodies in the streets, unable to cope with the mounting death toll. But these scenes are just illustrations, aside from the main drive of the story in the Oval Office. Glenn Ford plays the US President, aided by Robert Vaughn, whose lumbered with some very awkward direction...

This DVD cover illustrates the missing prologue scene

As the board meetings continue among the last people on Earth – in Antarctica, where the virus can’t survive the low temperatures. The new World Council includes a young Edward James Olmos. Even a case of rape is coldly discussed in a meeting. The ratio of 855 men to 8 women is simply unfortunate. The women will have to have babies with new multiple partners. Well at least condemn the rapist, guys!

Many different countries are represented reasonably well, but casting Chuck Connors as a British submarine captain is bizarre. The actor normally plays cowboys. Two cheeky cockneys represent the British crew in yet another example of the Mary Poppins/Dick Van Dyke stereotype.

The overall story is realistic, doomladen and slowly paced. The vision of a world decimated by a biological warfare accident, and a climactic plot twist may haunt anyone who stays awake to the very end of the movie.

The worldwide locations are impressive, especially among the polar icebergs. Though there are unusual choices of establishing shots for various capital cities. Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) directs, favouring the Japanese scenes and actors. But without their back-stories, and without a fluent command of English, it’s hard to know why they are the only civilians at the centre of the action.

The prologue on my old Intervision VHS seems to be taken from the climax of the longer Japanese version, which is supposed to be a superior experience all round. As it stands, this is another example of the Japanese spending a huge budget aiming at international success, and floundering badly. The tedious Sayonara Jupiter also springs to mind - a huge budgeted, internationally cast, botched, sci-fi catastrophe...

Gotterdammerung has a host of screengrabs and plot spoilers if you want to investigate Virus further...

- - - - - - -

No comments:

Post a Comment