By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Isolating a dangerous virus.
When a satellite returns to earth it brings back a mysterious virus that ends up killing all the residents of a town where it lands. Two scientists Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) and Dr. Dan Hill (James Olson) go to the town to investigate and find that the only survivors are a wino (George Mitchell) and a six-month-old baby. They bring these two people along with the remnants of the satellite back to a secret Nevada lab known as Wildfire that’s buried deep below the ground. It is here after close examination that they are able to observe the virus, which appears as small green dots on the satellite, but they fail to realize that this virus can also mutate and presents an even greater risk to them in the lab.
One of the major selling points of this film is the fact that it keeps everything within the realm of ‘realistic sci-fi’. No bubblegum action, scary monsters, or any other form of over-the-top dramatics get added; instead it’s on a ‘thinking man’s level’ with an extraordinary attention to detail. I enjoyed seeing all of the decontamination procedures that the crew is forced to go through before they are even allowed to begin their investigation. The isolated lab, which is hidden beneath what looks to be just an ordinary farmhouse and shed, is really cool and director Robert Wise’s use of the split-screen during the search of the town is both flashy and slick.
Showing the scientist’s personal lives and how the government agents literally demand that they drop what they are doing and come with them helps humanize the characters to a degree. I also liked how the male character of Dr. Peter Leavitt in the Michael Crichton book from which this is based gets switched to a female character here, which helps add an extra dynamic and is very well played by Kate Reid. In fact the only thing about the character’s that I didn’t like, aside from Arthur Hill’s sterile performance, is when we see the dreams of the doctors as they sleep, which seemed corny and unnecessary.
The mysterious nature of the virus is compelling and I certainly enjoyed the way they were able to detect it by scanning the satellite with cameras that could focus onto the object in minute detail, but the plot itself gets stretched farther than it needs to. There are a few interesting twists, but it starts to feel quite labored around the 2-hour mark and the climatic finish isn’t all that intense and seems rather stagy and predictable.
I was also amazed that this film achieved a G-rating. For one thing there isn’t much action and the narrative is on a more sophisticated level that is clearly aimed at adults and something most children won’t be able to pick up on. Also, one of the victims that the two men come upon is of a woman with no top on. The image is brief, but her breasts are clearly exposed making this one of the few G-rated movies to feature nudity.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: March 12, 1971
Runtime: 2Hours 11Minutes
Director: Robert Wise
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube