aka Winds of Terror
Director – Robert Mandel, Teleplay – Daniel Taplitz, Producer – Iain Paterson, Photography – Claudo Chea, Music – J. Peter Robinson, Visual Effects Supervisor – Jon Campfens, Visual Effects – GVFX, Prosthetic Makeup Supervisor – Adrien Morot, Production Design – Anne Pritchard. Production Company – Gary Hoffman Productions/Fox Television Studios
Timothy Hutton (Agent Larry Sullivan), Lane Smith (John Sullivan), Marin Hinkle (Dr Judy Rosenberg), Vanessa L. Williams (Agent Blake), Michael Constantine (Yuri Zenkovsky), Terry O’Quinn (Assistant Director Eric Farrell), Judy Reves (Maria Cruz), Brian Adam DeJesus (Oakley Cruz), Gary Perez (Edward Cruz), Peter Benson (Peter Mint), Gabriel Oseciuc (Serge Kurbsky), Matthew Harbour (Timmy Mint)
Passengers aboard the cruise liner American Anthem suddenly come down with a deadly infection. Larry Sullivan, a Chicago FBI agent specialising in medical fraud cases, is rushed to Washington D.C. as part of the task force brought together to deal with the contagion. There Larry learns that the infection is caused by a variant of the Marburg Virus, which was engineered in US biowarfare labs in the 1960s. Larry has been called in because they want the input of the virus’s designer – his uncle John who has become a recluse since the closure of the labs. After Larry obtains John’s help, the source of the engineered Marburg hybrid is discovered to be somewhere in Russia. As infection strikes at a baseball game in Chicago and rapidly spreads across the city, it is believed that terrorists either with al-Qaeda or the Russian military are planning to release samples of the Marburg on four corners of the American continent and that these will spread to obliterate 25% of the population within seven days.
WW 3 is a routine biowarfare/viral contagion thriller. The film moves through the cliches of the genre – the outbreak; the race for a cure and to find those responsible; the discovery of the conspiracies at the source of the virus. It is all tried and familiar material. On the plus side, the script from Daniel Taplitz, who also directed the vampire tv movie Nightlife (1990), the horror film Black Magic (1992) and wrote the adaptation of Dean R. Koontz’s Black River (2001), is reasonably competent. There is the interestingly ambiguous character of Lane Smith’s bio-designer, although Taplitz’s script never truly questions any of the morality that Smith uses to justify his actions. Nor does the film ever mention the significance of the title WW 3, which one would normally take to refer to World War 3.
What does give WW 3 a great fascination is how predictive it is of recent historical events. WW 3 premiered on US tv in July of 2001 – two months before the infamous attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, not to mention the biowarfare-based anthrax mail scare that occurred a matter of weeks after that. What is fascinating to see is how WW 3 names Osama bin Laden as one of the potential threats to the US who might unleash such a viral attack. One has to remember that July 2001 (when the film aired) was a time when almost the entirety of the American public had no idea who Osama bin Laden was. This makes WW 3 not only extraordinarily predictive but with an amazingly astute perception of the world political stage.
Where WW 3 falls down is not having the leap of conception to imagine exactly what changes that bin Laden and 9/11 wrought on the world stage. In the end, like the very similar nuclear terrorism film The Sum of All Fears (2002), WW 3 still falls back on old Cold War thinking and cliches of East-West rivalry, that the real villains are disaffected post-Soviets as opposed to militant jihadi Islam. One might also complain about the thrust of the film as a thriller. It is all focused on the apprehending of the terrorist Serge (Gabriel Oseciuc) before he unleashes the virus on Washington D.C. and Timothy Hutton’s reuniting with his wife through the course of this, while the much wider issue of the mass devastation that the virus is said to be causing is left aside altogether – not to mention the question of ever finding an antidote to it.