Pandemic
MTI // R // $24.95 // October 27, 2009
Review by Jeremy Biltz | posted October 24, 2009
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:
With a movie about government conspiracies, biological weapons, paranoid ex-special forces on the run, virulent hemorrhagic fever and a beautiful veterinarian who doesn't play by the rules, one would think it would be difficult to make said movie dull, pointless and unbelievable, but the producers of Pandemic have managed to pull it off.

Set in Diablo County, New Mexico, the least populated county in the United States, the film follows Dr. Sydney Stevens (Alesha Clarke), a local veterinarian, as she tries to figure out the cause of the fast acting, lethal hemorrhagic fever that is killing livestock and seems to have spread to people as well. Her efforts are stymied when the military shows up, declares martial law, quarantines the town and shuts off all communication with the outside world.

Of course, Sydney's paranoid client, the rancher Spenser (Peter Holden) believes that the whole outbreak is part of a secret plot by the government to test biological weapons, and that the military is looking for him and will kill him on sight. There is not a lot of plot in the film, and most of it involves a lot of running, hiding, crashing and bleeding out, sneaking around and angrily confronting military personnel. None of which inspires the least bit of tension or concerns for the safety of the characters, nearly all of whom are blazingly dull, or alternatively unappealing.

The film has a lot of problems. The first and major issue is the premise, which requires one to believe that it is at least strongly possible that the U.S. government would blithely murder several hundred Americans to test a biological weapon. The film however does not require the viewer to believe that trained medical professionals need to wear anything other than a surgical mask and gloves when examining people who have died from an as yet unknown Ebola like illness with unknown vectors of transmission. There are a lot of curious lapses of logic in this film. How was the military able to cut off all communications? Doesn't anyone in Diablo County own a ham radio? Or an ATV? Or a horse? There didn't seem to be enough soldiers to physically surround an entire New Mexico county. These issues are skimmed over or ignored, leading the viewer to ask questions when he should be focusing on the story.

There are also some performance problems. Most of the actors are competent, but stiff and muted. Peter Holden as Spenser is one standout, being quite bombastic and quirky as the conspiracy nut who may be right after all. Ray Wise as General Matthews is calm, relaxed and effortless in his performance. In fact, Wise is so good that he stands in sharp contrast to the other mediocre efforts, and makes them appear worse than they otherwise would.

The film's biggest flaw is stylistic. It tries to marry a grandiose conspiracy with an otherwise realistic and normal world. The paranoia doesn't infuse the fabric of the characters' lives, providing an all explaining theory of everything, like in Conspiracy Theory. Nor is the conspiracy tightly bound up in understandable motivations and realism like in The Conversation. Nor is an elaborate back story and supporting mythology established as in The X Files. Pandemic tries to place an elaborate, far reaching plot (or at least the reasonable belief in one) to kill innocent civilians into a humdrum, workaday environment that simply can't support the weight of it all. Combined with the lackluster performances and underwritten plot, there is little here to sustain an audience's interest. Skip this one.

The DVD

Video:
The video is presented in 1.77:1 widescreen, and is sufficient but not spectacular. The image is generally bright and clear, with some grain visible during night scenes. This review is based on a check disc, so no judgment can be made about the quality of the final product.

Sound:
The sound is in 2 channel Dolby, and is free of hiss. Dialogue is quite often muffled and difficult to hear, particularly in an early scene when listening to a message from an answering machine. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are available. This review is based on a check disc, so no judgment can be made about the quality of the final product.

Extras:
The only extra included on the disc is a mediocre trailer. This review is based on a check disc, so no judgment can be made about the quantity or quality of extras on the final product.

Final Thoughts:
Pandemic is a muddle. The story is weak, and has a number of logical inconsistencies that puzzle the viewer. The acting, with the notable exceptions of Ray Wise and to some extent Peter Holden, is muted and dull. Realistic makeup effects are the only bright spot in this otherwise dismal film. There are no thrills, no tension and no empathy developed for any of the characters. Pandemic is a disappointment.



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