Contagion, the movie

Contagion (2001)Contagion is the name of a new action-thriller movie about a global outbreak of a deadly viral disease. Slated to be released in 2011, it is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lawrence Fishburne. That’s certainly an outstanding crew, but will they get the science right?

According to Beyond Hollywood, “the film will have most of the big names playing doctors who are called to duty by the Centers for Disease Control when a major viral outbreak starts killing people around the world. The cast will then be split up and jet off to different continents.” Dread Central calls it ‘the deadly viral outbreak film of the decade’. Apparently Jude Law will play “a kind of unbridled blogger who’s a sort of scaremonger. Basically, it’s about a deadly virus unleashed and you see it from many different points of view, whether it be the public, medical care, politicians.”

The particular virus involved in Contagion has not been identified, but I have a good source which tells me that it’s a paramyxovirus. That’s not too hard to believe since the lethal Hendra and Nipah viruses are both members of the same family.

We’ll have to wait for more information to determine if the science in the film is credible. I do know that a prominent virologist, for whom I have a great deal of respect, has been hired as a script consultant. Whether or not the director and writer actually listen to that virologist is another question.

Moviegoers may know about the eponymous 2001 sci-fi movie (pictured) in which a group of terrorists concocted a seemingly unstoppable strain of Ebola. The first target is the President of the United States. Scientific reality just isn’t exciting enough for the movies.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • gsgs 16 March 2010, 10:06 am

    the only virus that causes these “pandemics” is influenza, AFAIK.
    They talked about cholera-pandemics but these didn't really spread worldwide
    and were slower. Then medieval plague, but not a virus and nowadays we have antibiotics
    and it traveled by rats (slow) rather than humans (fast).

    So, what does influenza have that other viruses are lacking ?

  • profvrr 16 March 2010, 10:32 am

    HIV-1 is also causing a pandemic. That virus and influenza virus are
    extremely plastic: the virion proteins can vary greatly, allowing for
    antigenic variation. Hence they can escape the host immune response.
    They are better at antigenic variation than most other viruses.

  • gsgs 16 March 2010, 11:00 am

    HIV is much slower, (not good for a movie) because it doesn't transmit by breathing.
    Cold-viruses apparantly dont spread globally, too much competition,
    too many sorts of them and slower mutation.
    Flu-B has no reservoir in other animals for separate evolution to escape immunity
    and it mutates slower.
    However, even nonpandemic flu travels the world in a few years infecting billions.

    If it comes badly, civilizations should be possible that avoid unfiltered breathing.
    It should be tested in a small town.

  • angierasmussen 16 March 2010, 12:11 pm

    Don't forget that hepatitis C virus is also a pandemic. Currently 3% of the world's population is chronically infected with HCV.

  • dmcilroy 16 March 2010, 2:47 pm

    Well if I was making the film, I would use a reemergence of smallpox. Spread by aerosol; 20-30% mortality rate; no-one under 40 has immunity; no anti-virals available; lots of historical examples that can be illustrated with hi-tech 3D animation. All you have to do is throw in an evil genius who produces a variant that is resistant to the vaccine, and you really have a scary scenario.

    Oh bugger, now I've gone and outlined the idea for free. There goes my chance for a movie consulting fee…..

    DMc

  • poxdoc 16 March 2010, 3:43 pm

    Great idea. As we have said at times before, there's no need to dream up a phony scary germ; nature has already produced some of the scariest possible, and smallpox is the champ. Plus it adds the “gross” factor because the disease is so ugly with lots of blistering lesions, and it would give the producers a shot at a makeup award. But let's make sure to get the science right. There is actually precedent for making a vaccine resistant poxvirus. Turns out that if you clone some cytokine genes (genes that tinker with the immune system) into mousepox you can create a virus that will break through immunity, that is, it will successfully infect mice vaccinated against mousepox. (This finding was unintentional; the scientists who constructed the virus did so for another purpose and discovered the vaccine breakthrough serendipitously.) There are however anti poxviral drugs available. They were developed in response to the biodefense efforts of the US government. One is a drug that already had FDA approval for another purpose, cidofovir. Another, ST-246, does not yet have full FDA approval but is in clinical trials. ST-246 looks great in numerous animal models and has been used now at least twice in emergency situations to treat runaway smallpox vaccinations, that is, vaccinia virus infections. The results are of course anecdotal, but the patients did recover upon treatment. So you could set up a plot with the good guys developing antivirals battling the bad guys developing vaccination breakthrough viruses. You can hire me as a consultant. My fees are very reasonable, but I definitely want to attend the premier and the Oscars.

  • Heather Martin 16 March 2010, 5:59 pm

    I remember reading The Andromeda Strain as a kid….when it was made into a TV movie here a few years ago, I was disappointed to say the least….something always gets lost in the translation.

  • mfrieman 17 March 2010, 7:13 am

    What about the first epidemic of the 21st century, SARS! The parent of SARS Coronavirus is from bats. With bats being a good scary movie trend, have SARS mutate so it is spread from Vampire bats, feeding on cattle and humans alike. Make it a highly pathogenic strain and you have a great science-fiction movie. There is already precedent for it spreading by air travel, leaky sewage pipes, coughing, animal to human. And there really isn't a good vaccine or treatment available.

    I'm getting scared already!

  • profvrr 17 March 2010, 7:17 am

    A SARS-like outbreak is a great idea. But as I wrote, Hollywood
    doesn't like scientific reality; I guess the truth doesn't sell
    tickets. They need to warp reality sufficiently to make a thriller. I
    know, that's why it's called 'science fiction'. But in my view the
    best science fiction is the believable kind: it's realistic and hence
    scarier than something that isn't possible.

  • mfrieman 17 March 2010, 2:13 pm

    What about the first epidemic of the 21st century, SARS! The parent of SARS Coronavirus is from bats. With bats being a good scary movie trend, have SARS mutate so it is spread from Vampire bats, feeding on cattle and humans alike. Make it a highly pathogenic strain and you have a great science-fiction movie. There is already precedent for it spreading by air travel, leaky sewage pipes, coughing, animal to human. And there really isn't a good vaccine or treatment available.

    I'm getting scared already!

  • profvrr 17 March 2010, 2:17 pm

    A SARS-like outbreak is a great idea. But as I wrote, Hollywood
    doesn't like scientific reality; I guess the truth doesn't sell
    tickets. They need to warp reality sufficiently to make a thriller. I
    know, that's why it's called 'science fiction'. But in my view the
    best science fiction is the believable kind: it's realistic and hence
    scarier than something that isn't possible.

  • mono symptoms 5 June 2010, 5:20 pm

    I remember reading The Andromeda Strain as a kid….when it was made into a TV movie here a few years ago, I was disappointed to say the least….something always gets lost in the translation.

  • brandon clinkscales 26 August 2010, 5:01 pm

    They should really make a movie out of the book “The Hot Zone.” It was defitnetly one for the books shall i say. It goes over the Ebola virus also though. I'm guessing its similar to The Andromeda Strain.. which i never saw or read but have heard of.

  • Jenny 1 November 2010, 7:23 pm

    I was an extra from this.One of the recent shoots was where the virus starts- The Shedd Aquarium.They give no source of information in the shoot but the virus (possibly paramyxovirus) says to make her feel like shes going to pass out.Would that still possibly be paramyxovirus??

  • profvrr 1 November 2010, 8:50 pm

    Feeling like passing out is a non-specific symptom that could be
    attributed to many viral infections. The known paramyxoviruses
    (measles, mumps, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus) induce
    fever which could lead certain individuals to feel as though they are
    passing out. But it is my understanding that the virus in Contagion
    (not the final name I believe) is a newly emerged virus, in which case
    its symptoms would be novel.

  • Blondieb188 3 November 2010, 5:12 am

    did they give you a call back right away? im supposed to be an extra as well but have not gotten a call for the scene im supposed to be in yet.

  • Toaster116 8 November 2010, 8:01 pm

    They are filming in Waukegan today

  • Mike 13 November 2010, 2:30 am

    They’re now in Skokie, downtown at the Technology Center. Going to look into getting my sons into EXTRA scenes!

  • NurseKasi 7 December 2010, 12:32 am

    Now they are shooting in Elgin at the old Sherman Hospital campus.

  • Ricochetrabbit000 8 December 2010, 3:27 pm

    Shooting in Western Springs tomorrow

  • Jtcarney913 6 January 2011, 1:42 pm

    Shooting in Atlanta today!

  • Lshar 6 January 2011, 9:04 pm

    Lord, the traffic around CDC and Emory U. campus was ghastly today!!!!!!!!! Why didn’t they send an emergency notice to our phones??? We have traffic contagion!

  • profvrr 6 January 2011, 9:30 pm

    Thanks to everyone for posting the shooting locations! I’m enjoying it.

  • Mteceno19 13 January 2011, 8:51 pm

    No kidding! We were trying to get to the Emory hospital on that day.

  • flippertie 3 March 2011, 8:54 am

    I was an extra too when they did a couple of days in filming in Hong Kong at the end of last year.

  • Dayteck 18 August 2011, 2:18 pm

    I bough a new sofa only $199.00  regular price $379.00 what A deal!

  • Kapt_kan 10 September 2011, 7:27 pm

    This is possibly one of the worst movies ever made.  It’s a sure cure for insomnia, though.  The whole, long, dreadful waste of time is just one big propaganda piece about how The Government Is Your Pal and you can’t trust anyone but the mainstream media, FEMA, the CDC, and the WHO.
    Don’t waste your time and money.

  • Bbblueeyez 12 September 2011, 2:57 am

    OK so I saw the movie and was more than a little disappointed with it, especially the ending  –  Too many loose ends.  So why don’t they make a movie based on The Hot Zone.   The Rift Valley is a great hotbed for viruses and a mutated version of Ebola, or Ebola Reston with a high mortality rate and no known vaccine would be equally as interesting.  Only, please make the people be more human and not such automatons.  What a waste to pull all that good acting talent together and then not allow them to tap into their emotions and show their humanity!!

  • Coverend 16 November 2011, 2:23 pm

    In the early ’90s, Outbreak was based on the Hot Zone

  • Ink Wells Rock 16 September 2014, 11:21 am

    What you are seeing today (and what we saw in Katrina) is how ill-prepared the government is to DO anything (except tax and spend). It is ALL loose ends. That is part of the problem. All of the governments did nothing (with Ebola) for 8 months (actually 10, but 8 to be kind). Now they talk and release prepared statements. There is no vaccine (private sources), there is no treatment protocol. They don’t have a response.so they release statements and make it up as they go along. More than 50% of what they do is the WRONG thing (so they blame something or someone) and for some reason they get re-elected. They are incapable of “caring” and they have no burden to “do the right thing.” They bumble and blunder and good people do get killed but not the ones at the polished mahogany tables. (they get rich from what falls off the table)