The Andromeda Strain (1971)

The Andromeda Strain (1971)


After a satellite falls to earth carrying a deadly virus from outer space, a team of scientists tries, in a race against time, to isolate the deadly strain of the virus before it’s too late.

Reaction & Thoughts:

In May of 1969, Michael Crichton (Coma, Jurassic Park and Congo) published his first novel, The Andromeda Strain. His book introduced a new kind of villain into American literature. Invisible, lethal, almost irreducible and very much alive, baby boomers were confronted with a new kind of super-evil: the microbacteria. Science not only became a source of anxiety, but a real threat.

Like the book, this film adaptation of Crichton’s bestseller is a lot of things all at once: a vivid, matter-of-fact science fiction story about mankind at terminal odds with technology, a tense political thriller that exposes the pitfalls of our bureaucratic system, and a scary cautionary tale about science getting ahead of us and its moral implications. And it does what it does without looking down on its audience — The Andromeda Strain is completely devoid of cheap thrills.

The Andromeda Strain is a smart film. It was one of those rare science fiction films that actually tried to present science in a realistic way. Most of the credit should go to physician-turned-writer Crichton, of course. He provided a story that anticipates the contradictions and ironies of a technologically advanced society.

We should also praise director Robert Wise (West Side Story and The Sound of Music) — he succeeds in keeping the film focused on its main themes. Wise doesn’t have all the answers, but he certainly raises some interesting questions.

Wise surrounded himself with a team of professionals. Composer Gill Melle’s (The Sentinel) simple but scary music score isn’t obstructive and sets the mood for most of the movie. Richard H. Kline’s (Soylent Green and Star Trek: The Motion Picture) complex multi-image camerawork creates considerable suspense. The excellent visual effects were created by Albert Whitlock (Papillon and Earthquake) and Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner).

Despite being part of the golden era of disaster cinema, The Andromeda Strain has no movie stars in the film. The cast of talented but largely unknown actors — James Olson (Amityville II: The Possession), David Wayne (The Three Faces of Eve), Kate Reid (Atlantic City) and Arthur Hill (A Little Romance) — look and act like real people. It adds an appropriate touch of realism to the proceedings.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

As we start debating the moral aspects of a missile defense system, human cloning and stem cells research, the issues presented in The Andromeda Strain look more and more relevant today. This is an exciting, engaging, totally believable thriller; a thinking person’s “disaster” movie. Color, 131 minutes, Rated G (?).

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