The Andromeda Strain (1971) - Contamination
The Andromeda Strain (1971) is based on the bestselling novel by Michael Crichton (1942-2008) and was directed by Robert Wise (1914-2005), 20 years after his seminal SF classic The Day The Earth Stood Still.
A probe returns from space carrying an extraterrestrial virus. It crash lands in a small town in New Mexico and, soon all but two of the population are dead. A team of scientists is called in to quarantine and study the virus. However, it shows resilience and begins to mutate, eventually learning how to penetrate the seals of the scientists' protective garments. It becomes a race against time to learn how to defeat and contain the deadly virus that is threatening to kill not only the scientists working on it, and the population of the immediate area, but the majority of the human race. The film accurately portrays a group of scientists working together in a crisis situation. However, there is more to this movie than a simple biological thriller.
The alien invaders in this movie are not intelligent or evil, they are simply indiscriminate and merciless. But this is not really a film about an alien virus, more a cautionary tale of the failures of science, a story of the fallibility of our modern religion. The performances of the actors are quietly understated and emphasize the pre-eminence of the machines, which are seen to be the dominant force in the laboratory setting of much of the movie. Man has created a monster - a mechanical Frankenstein's monster which is taking the place of humanity.
The microbe, code named "Andromeda", mutates with each growth cycle, changing its biologic properties. Eventually the mutated Andromeda infects the hatch seals within the Wildfire complex and starts to spread, triggering a nuclear detonation countdown to incinerate all exo-biological diseases.
The scientists realize that given Andromeda's ability to generate matter directly from energy, an atomic explosion would cause the organism to feed, reproduce, and spread further possibly becoming more destructive. There is than a race against time to switch off the self-destruct. The exciting climax swaps cerebral tension and discussion for genuine action.
One disturbing scene I find hard to watch was when Andromeda is tested on a rhesus monkey and you see it dying before your eyes. The filmmakers accomplished this by placing the monkey and it's cage in an airtight room which was flooded with carbon dioxide, with no oxygen to breathe the monkey started to fall unconscious, it was revived by a waiting veterinarian who administered oxygen to the animal. The end credits have the usual disclaimer that no animals were harmed during the making of the film. But in my opinion that monkey was harmed for a briet period of time.
Robert Wise was Oscar nominated for Best Film Editing for Citizen Kane in 1941, he went on to become one of Hollywood's most successful directors, he directed two very popular musicals in the 1960s - West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965) which was the first movie to topple Gone With the Wind as the most successful film of all time. Both musicals won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars.
Wise also directed the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). He died in 2005 aged 91.
Michael Crichton's novel was first published in 1969 and made it on to the New York Times Best Seller List, the reviews were positive with one reviewer stating - "I was awake way past bedtime. My arms were numb from propping up my head. I had driven the cats from their place at the foot of the bed, and they were disgruntled. But I was well into Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain. And he had me convinced it was all really happening." (New York Times)
Crichton was very tall, 6ft 9in, he graduated from Harvard with an M.D. he went on to write several more bestselling novels including - Congo, Sphere, Disclosure, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Rising Sun, Airframe, Timeline, Prey and State of Fear. He died of cancer in 2008, aged 66.
The Andromeda Strain was one of the biggest movie hits of 1971 and was nominated for two Academy Awards - Art Direction and Editing.
The novel was adapted for TV in 2008, directed by Mikael Salomon and starred Benjamin Bratt, Eric McCormack and Christa Miller.
The critics wrote -
“The film's triumph over triteness lies primarily in two aspects: brilliant production values, sustaining almost constant visual interest, and a script brimming with plain old common sense, a value sadly lacking in most science fiction films... All in all, The Andromeda Strain is probably the best s-f film to come along since 2001, and will probably even be preferred to it by the crowd that can't see beyond their slide-rules, because it doesn't get all "mystical" and artistic.” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction).
"The mechanical complexity of the huge, computerized installation is fascinating for a while, but meanwhile no momentum is building." (San Francisco Chronicle)
"In the first half hour, the plot puzzle and eerie mood are well established, and in the final half hour, there is a dramatically exciting climax. The middle hour, however, drags proceedings numbingly. There are times when one wants to shout at the players to get on with it." (Variety)
“The ‘purest’ science fiction thriller to come to the screen in years... That clinical microbiology, epidemiology, pathology and electrolyte chemistry are made the stuff of breath-stifling suspense while the film sustains its quasi-documentary stature is the major tribute to all involved.” (Judith Crist)
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