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Details At A Glance

Category Sci-Fi/Horror Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary - John Bruno (Director), Marshall Bell (Actor), Sherman Augustus (Actor) & Joel McNeely (Composer)
Theatrical Trailer (1.85:1, 4x3, Dolby Digital 2.0)
Featurette - Virus: Ghost In A Machine (17:17)
Featurette - Untitled (6:20)
Deleted Scenes (3) (4:52)
Cast & Crew Biographies
Production Notes
Rating m.gif (1166 bytes)
Year Released 1999
Running Time 95:15 Minutes
(Not "2 hours 6 minutes" as per packaging)
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (87:11)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director John Bruno
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Magna Pacific Pty Ltd.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis
William Baldwin
Donald Sutherland
Joanna Pacula
Marshall Bell
Sherman Augustus
Cliff Curtis
Case Click
RPI $34.95 Music Joel McNeely
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0, 224 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    A number of films have been made by people who have worked with James Cameron without his presence behind the director's chair, with Kathryn Bigelow having the biggest successes in the form of Point Blank, Near Dark, and Strange Days. Virus is the work of special effects technician John Bruno, who worked on such Cameron epics as Terminator 2 and Titanic. His efforts in the director's chair on Virus are hampered by the fact that the story stretches credulity to its absolute limit, with one scene getting such an unintentional laugh that it stays with the film for the rest of its running time. One criticism of the film that has some merit is that it rips off too many elements from Leviathan, The Thing, and Hardware for its own good.

    Based on the Dark Horse comic book of the same name, Virus begins with a Russian space station and a relay vessel in the sea that are both hit by a cloud of strange alien gas.

    We then fast-forward a week to see a salvage vessel, captained by a man named Everton (Donald Sutherland) crossing the path of the derelict ship on which the alien form is lying dormant. With him are Kit Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis), Steve Baker (William Baldwin), J.W. Woods, Junior (Marshall Bell), Richie (Sherman Augustus), and Hiko (Cliff Curtis). A series of accidents and implausible events lead to the crew being stranded aboard the Russian relay vessel, where they come across its last surviving crew member, a woman named Nadia (Joanna Pacula). Eventually, they learn that the ship has been infected with a sentient version of a computer virus that was beamed from outer space, and likes to manifest itself in various forms of mechanical equipment. From there on, it is simply a case of waiting to see which hapless crewman will be disposed of in which manner, much like your average B-grade slasher film. I can understand that Jamie Lee Curtis got her start on a slasher film, albeit one of the greatest that has ever been made, but her going back after appearing in action blockbusters such as True Lies is a little perplexing.

    According to the reports that I have read, Virus cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of seventy-five million dollars to make. Very little of that budget can be seen on the screen, save for some rather grisly special effects and some well-realised animatics. I cannot help but feel that a better script would have helped this film's entertainment value, but if you're looking for a no-brainer film to kill ninety minutes with, Virus is worth a look.

Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, but there is some confusion as to whether this is Pan & Scan or Full Frame. There are conflicting statements about how this film was shot, with Widescreen Review stating that the film was shot in Super 35, and the IMDB stating that it was filmed anamorphically. In either case, the opening sequence of this film leads me to believe that the film has in fact been Pan & Scanned to this ratio, which is a real pity considering that films made by those who have worked with James Cameron generally have a reputation for looking beautiful in their proper aspect ratio. However, this is probably the worst of the complaints I have to make about this transfer.

    The transfer is very sharp, with an abundance of detail apparent in the foreground at all times. The foreground haze I was looking out for wasn't apparent at any time, and the backgrounds are mostly quite well-detailed. The shadow detail is rather disappointing, with much of the film being reduced to gradations between dark, darker, and darkest with little steps of detail within or in between. Given that much of this film takes place in dark locations such as the belly of a sea-borne vessel in the middle of a stormy night, the lack of shadow detail is more detrimental to the transfer than would otherwise be the case. Still, most of the important parts of each shot can be made out with a little effort, so this is acceptable. There was no low-level noise in the transfer, and grain is not a major issue, either.

    The colour saturation of the film can be described as dull, with all of the colour spectrum being subdued and devoid of life. This can be blamed on the lack of shadow detail as well as the intentions of the filmmakers. This lack of colour suits the overall style of the film quite well, but one must not approach this film expecting an abundance of bright, vivid shades.

    MPEG artefacts were not a problem in this transfer, and this is helped to a certain degree by the dark, subdued look of the film. There did not seem to be any problems with panning shots or macro-blocking, which was a pleasant surprise. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some interference on a computer monitor at 59:27, but there was little aliasing or telecine wobble to be overly worried about. The most troubling instance of aliasing can be seen in a wire door at 61:26, but this goes by so quickly that most people will not really notice. Film artefacts were not a real problem with the transfer, either, which looks like it was taken from a very clean interpositive.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 87:11. This is during a natural fade to black, but it is still quite noticeable due to the interruption to the music. There are far worse places where the layer change could have been placed.


    Like the video transfer, the audio transfer is pleasant enough to sit through in spite of having a couple of small problems.

    The audio transfer is presented with two soundtracks: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo commentary track which I will elaborate on further in a moment. Some will lament the lack of any foreign dubs, but I doubt this film's plot will seem any better with the dialogue rendered in a language one doesn't understand. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, even when a deliberate distortion effect was added to simulate the voice of the alien intelligence. There were no apparent problems with audio sync, although I didn't perform any serious testing to make certain. Some hiss can be heard in the background during the first twenty minutes of the film, but this settles down and becomes a non-issue once the action gets underway.

    The score music in this film is credited to Joel McNeely, and it seems appropriate for the film in that it leaves very little impression upon me. Most of the score music has a certain Indiana Jones adventure sort of mood to it, with wild and energetic themes being the order of the day in moments when a slower, more sombre tone would have been more appropriate. The converse applies to several sequences in which the film should have been accompanied by a more exciting or uplifting theme, so it all works out evenly in the end.

    The surround channels were used aggressively to support the abundant special effects and music, with most of the channels contributing as much as they can to the overall sound field. The only disappointing aspect is that there were little split surround effects or directional sound effects, and discrete placement wasn't exactly the order of the day, either. Still, the soundtrack justifies the encoding with all six available channels, which is as much as you can really ask for without seeming too picky.

    The subwoofer had a whale of a time supporting every aspect of the soundtrack, with the music, special effects, and explosions all being supported by some consistent use of the low frequency channel. Overall, this is one of the better Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks I have heard on a film of this variety.


    Regardless of what I may think of the feature itself, a good selection of extras are present upon this disc, and you have to admire that sort of effort.


    The menu is static, and it is definitely not 16x9-enhanced, which is most obvious in the minor blockiness of the text. On the positive side, it is very easy to read, and the main menu has some nice audio. There is menu animation between some choices such as the theatrical trailer that looks a little haphazard in its integration with the rest of the menu system.

Audio Commentary - John Bruno (Director), Marshall Bell (Actor), Sherman Augustus (Actor) & Joel McNeely (Composer)

    John Bruno and Marshall Bell speak without any real pause about various aspects of the production. Marshall Bell sounds so radically different on this commentary to how he sounds on this film (or any film) that it is hard to believe at first that it really is him. Sherman Augustus and Joel McNeely introduce themselves after nine minutes, making it slightly more confusing to follow who is saying what. This commentary is quite delightful to listen to, overall, making it likely that some will exclusively view the film with the commentary enabled.

Theatrical Trailer (2:34)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this two and a half minute theatrical trailer is not 16x9 Enhanced and manages to give away the whole essence of the film. On the bright side, the video and sound quality are very good considering the condition theatrical trailers are usually in by the time they make their way to Australia (it appears to have been taken from the Australian print).

Featurette - Virus: Ghost In A Machine (17:17)

   This seventeen-minute featurette describes the background of director John Bruno, who worked as a special effects technician for James Cameron on The Abyss and Terminator 2. It is presented in variable aspect ratios, with interview and documentary footage presented full frame, and footage from the film presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 without 16x9 Enhancement. The sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0, and perfectly serviceable for the purposes of what I consider to be a few steps above an extended advertisement.

Untitled Featurette (6:20)

    Presented Full Frame, this six-and-a-half minute featurette is basically an extended theatrical trailer, and much of it looks as if it were edited down from the longer, more substantial featurette I've just described. The sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0, and seems serviceable enough.

Deleted Scenes

    This is a featurette comprised of three scenes that do not appear in the final cut of the film. The first thing you will see when you select this option is the reason why they are not included, with green text on a black background stating that the three scenes were never finalized or completed, and removed because of pacing concerns. This introduction is also kind enough to explain that they are shown in "rough cut" form. Clocking in at just under five minutes, all three scenes are presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and they are not 16x9 Enhanced. The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is in a very rough form, with hiss and whine being frequently present without intruding upon the clarity of the dialogue. These scenes add little to the overall film, and it is easy to see why they were deleted.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Listed in the menu as Cast & Director biographies, this submenu contains biographies for Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, and director John Bruno. Their readability is good if you have perfect vision like I do, but their presentation could have been a little better.

Production Notes

    A text description of what the producers were trying to accomplish and how they went about it on this film. Worth reading once, and the text is fairly easy to look at as long as you don't have any major vision problems.

R4 vs R1

    Two versions of this disc are available in Region 1, both of which are in the proper aspect ratio. One features a Dolby Digital soundtrack, while the other features a DTS soundtrack.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    Obviously, if you really must have this film, the Region 1 version is the way to go since it is in the proper aspect ratio and 16x9 Enhanced to boot.


    Virus is an average B-grade science fiction horror film, presented on a reasonable DVD.

    The video quality is good, even if about half the picture is missing.

    The audio quality is good, with only a slight hiss early in the film posing any real problem.

    The extras are comprehensive.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
November 7, 2000. 
Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer