Most viewers expect films with star-studded casts to be romantic comedies or action-packed thrillers. After watching the trailer for "Contagion," they would most likely expect the latter. But this is no heart-warming “Love Actually” or muscled “A-Team.”
Most critic and fan reactions have noted the film’s plausibility, supported by a sound scientific argument. The setting is convincingly present day, smoothly referencing social media and past epidemics like the swine flu. Even the Center for Disease Control worked with “Contagion’s” producers to ensure accuracy. Overall, the movie starts to seem more like historical fiction for an event we missed.
Rainey Jernigan, a junior at Babson College, said the movie’s realism caught her attention. “I thought it was a very good story and very compelling, because I could actually imagine it happening in real life, which kind of scared me a little bit.”
Hector Velez, a junior at The City College of New York, said the movie was a continual chilling reminder of how quickly a cough or sneeze can cause hundreds of people to be sick, but there was much left to be desired.
“As a sci-fi thriller, ‘Contagion’ had all the earmarks of a winner with a star-studded cast and a plot seemingly ripped from the headlines of a not too distant future. Sadly, however, I failed to catch the bug,” he said. “At times, the movie was mundane and filled with analytical terms than even had me, a pre-med biology major, scratching my head.”
The film progresses like a documentary, starting with Day 2 of the epidemic and Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) coughing in an airport. As the story continues, familiar Hollywood faces appear as government officials, scientists, journalists, dying patients and survivors.
“The only bad thing was that I felt like there were too many characters, and some of their stories did not get developed enough. But that happens a lot when you have casts filled with many big-name people,” Jernigan said.
Velez thought the forgettable acting of these A-List actors was the major problem. “The only exceptions were Gwyneth Paltrow's rendition of Beth Emhoff and the actor who portrayed Alan (Jude Law), the blogger from San Francisco. At both ends of the spectrum shined excellence,” he said.
Movies with large casts tend to touch lightly on individual relationships and roles, and instead focus on broader themes. Romantic comedies like “He’s Just Not That Into You” and “Valentine’s Day” all look to draw in audiences looking for an amusing feel-good movie during the holidays. Notable and attractive casts make it easier for viewers to convince their significant others in going to the theater.
Adrienne Buckley, a junior at The Ohio State University, said she usually will see movies with one or two big stars, because they are perceived well. “If it has a lot of big names then I usually wouldn't see it, since the more stars that are in it the worse it seems to be,” she said.
The quality of the film depends on the viewer, but it may not affect a movie’s success. The Ocean’s 11 series entertained the audience with major casino heist jobs, “The Expendables” saturated a military mission with thrilling action, and award-winning drama “Crash” combated Los Angeles’ modern racial problems.
“Contagion” is all about a simple, yet powerful virus. It’s a breed of its own, and doesn’t use its stellar cast as a crutch. Each individual appears as an everyday American, dealing with an epidemic crisis that could easily be a disaster in our future. But does the entertainment measure up?
“As a whole, the movie left me waiting for that plot twist that simply never came,” Velez said. “Overall, ‘Contagion’ would make a great National Geographic special, but as a movie, it simply falls flat.”
The fact is that a star-studded cast isn’t what wins the Oscar. The Hollywood elite might draw people to the box office, but a deeper theme is what merits a healthy rating on Rotten Tomatoes.