The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Synopsis:

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

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Establishment gonna fall down and go boom.”

In May 1969, physician-turned-novelist Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park and Congo) published his first novel, The Andromeda Strain. Crichton’s book introduced a new kind of villain into American literature. Invisible, lethal, cruel, almost irreducible and very much alive, baby boomers were confronted with a new kind of super-evil: The micro-bacteria. Science not only became a source of anxiety, but a real and imminent 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 this extraordinarily well-crafted movie does what it does without looking down on its audience — The Andromeda Strain is completely devoid of cheap thrills. It’s one of those rare science fiction films that tries to present science realistically. Most of the credit should go, of course, to best-selling author Crichton. He provides a story that anticipates the contradictions and ironies of a technologically advanced society.

We should also praise director Robert Wise (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. The veteran director’s intelligent handling of complex issues does justice to Crichton’s intriguing narrative.

Wise surrounded himself with a team of world-renowned 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. People who tend to dismiss the split-screen technique as a mere gimmick,

The excellent visual effects were created by legendary illusionists Albert Whitlock (Papillon and Earthquake) and Douglas Trumbull (Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner). The Oscar-nominated work of editors Stuart Gilmore (John Wayne’s The Alamo) and John W. Holmes (Diamonds Are Forever) is notable too — the film is long, but it’s packed with many tense moments.

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 cell 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. Highly recommended! Color, 131 minutes, Rated G (?).

21 responses to “The Andromeda Strain (1971)

  1. With the exception of the dying monkey scene which is so utterly disturbing, I appreciate this film’s ensuing relevance over time. Especially the final quote by Arthur Hill as Dr. Jeremy Stone: “Precisely, Senator. What do we do?”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This all very 2001. The budget is tight, but it looks so much better than say, Chosen Survivors — the one with the bunker and the bats; if I remembering my old ’70s films, correctly!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh, and this makes me remember The Satan Bug (1965). Now that one, is very cheap and has no sci-fi sheen to it at all: it looks like a film from the ’50s, with the wooden tables and flasks n’ beakers nonsense. It’s a great story (based on a best-seller) but wow, it could have been so much better in the production department. And George Maharis is no leading man. Maybe if they had gotten Steve McQueen, like they wanted?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I never heard of The Satan Bug before. From what I’ve just seen of the trailer on YouTube, it may not have been the best that it could have been. But like several 50s’ films, it can refresh my perspective on how far thrillers of that nature have come. Thanks for mentioning it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, I did some reading on it a few months back. There’s a WordPress’er on here (forgot) that did a pretty deep dive on it. It had a lot of production problems. In the end: McQueen wasn’t thrilled with the script and bailed. Without McQueen, there went the budget. And without the budget, you end up with Maharis, a TV actor.

        Liked by 2 people

    • I kinda liked The Satan Bug. But I agree with you that the movie could have been better (it does look like a glorified Dragnet episode). Considering what’s going on right now, I’m surprised that no one has remade it! Virus (1980) is another one that could be remade today.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You nailed it: Dragnet. I love Virus and glad you brought that up. That was meant to be a worldwide theatrical. And it was, is some foreign quarters — but ended up as a syndicated TV movie. None of the Big Three networks — even with the American casting — wanted it.

        Liked by 2 people

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