'The Hot Zone' review: A chilling reminder of Ebola virus' relevance in today's world, with a shining Julianna Margulies in the lead
Based on Richard Preston's novel of the same name, the Nat Geo show tracks the origins of the deadly Ebola virus from the African rainforest to the American soil in 1989.
The recent past has seen several true stories being reenacted on TV screens. From Robert Zemeckis' 'Project Blue Book' to Ben Stiller's Escape at Dannemora' - the list goes on and contains some of the most exceptional stories presented on the screen. But the one problem that true stories panning out on the screen have always faced in terms of criticism, is the over exaggeration of the story, saturating it with unnecessary drama, just to captivate viewers. The latest addition to the list is 'The Hot Zone,' based on Richard Preston's novel of the same name, that tracks the origins of the deadly Ebola virus from the African rainforest to the American soil in 1989.
As dark and intense as the plot might sound, there are a lot of other things the upcoming show has going for it. In that, the National Geographic miniseries from showrunners Kelly Souders and Brian Wayne Peterson, definitely dramatizes what might have actually happened at the time, but it does so with gripping acting by a protagonist played by Julianna Margulies, and also goes on to prove just how relevant the dangers of the epidemic are in today's world.
Margulies plays the role of an absolutely badass Dr. Nancy Jaax - US Army scientist working with a secret team of experts from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease. The team was the first one to spot traces of the deadly virus on American soil, and the story progresses as Dr. Jaax and her team put their life on the line to stop the epidemic from spreading further. Joining her team are Liam Cunningham as Wade Carter, Topher Grace as Dr. Peter Jahrling, and Lenny Platt as Captain Kyle Orman. The cast also includes other big names such as Noah Emmerich as Lt. Col. Jerry Jaax, Paul James as Ben Gellis, Nick Searcy as Frank Mays, Robert Wisdom as Col. Vernon Tucker, and Robert Sean Leonard as Walter Humboldt.
But if the commendable cast of Hollywood's finest wasn't enough to attract viewers, what will definitely captivate their attention is the Dr. Jaax that Margulies channels on the show. A pro who is no stranger to the medical drama genre, Margulies - who is known for her works in 'The Good Wife,' and 'ER' - proves just why she is the best fit for the badass that is Dr. Jaax. The character is a lead without being condescending to her peers unnecessarily. And even when times come for Dr. Jaax to dish out medical jargon with precision, Margulies plays the role effortlessly without overdoing the bit. As she cracks the code about the seemingly unstoppable virus, she also simultaneously sets arrogant juniors straight, without allowing viewers to forget even for a second that this is what a female character taking front seat should be like.
In terms of storytelling and action, what really works for the show is its pace, which is impeccably executed without overdoing the drama, while also establishing each character's distinguished storylines. Speaking of the drama, the titular hot zone - where all the research and action happens - might have been a toned down environment in real life, so saying that certain elements weren't intentionally heightened for shock value would be a wrong assumption to make. But again, there's no denying that the writers were really calculative with the creative license they adopted for the show, which really helps to balance everything out as the cast slip into their hazmat suits and embody the real-life soldiers who were able to nip the virus' spread in the bud back in the late 80s.
In ways, more than one, 'The Hot Zone' - though set in the 80s - proves to be really significant for a modern day world. From teaching viewers about the keys to combat viral epidemics to establishing just how real science and its many developments are, 'The Hot Zone' offers a stern middle-finger to anybody who would like to profess that medical science is a sham. And considering the liberties certain anti-science activists take up to prove the Earth is flat, or that vaccines are harmful, 'The Hot Zone' couldn't have arrived at a better time.
'The Hot Zone' premieres on Monday, May 27, at 9 pm, only on National Geographic.
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