The Film: The Andromeda Strain (1971)
The Principles: Based on the Novel by Michael Crichton. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding. Directed by Robert Wise. Acted by Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Kate Reid and Paula Kelly.
The Premise: An American satellite falls to Earth near Piedmont, New Mexico, mysteriously killing everyone in the town except for a baby and an old man. A scientific team is brought to Wildfire, a secret underground base specifically designed to deal with pathogens of unknown origins. Whatever attached itself to the satellite is unlike anything the scientists have ever seen before. And it’s growing.
Is it Good? Good is actually the perfect word to describe this film. It has a few moments of greatness and some exceptionally tense bits and pieces, but none of it combines well enough to make the film rise above being a well directed procedural. Even in the last 10 minutes, when we have laser dodging, nuclear blast avoiding shenanigans, it ends up feeling quaint more than it does exciting. I think a lot of it has to do with how dry the script is and how the actors don’t have the gravitas necessary to give any of the proceedings stakes that feel personal and get you gripping the sides of your chair.
When I was a kid, I read Michael Crichton’s Sphere and it scared the living shit out of me. I don’t remember what in particular did it, but ever since then I’ve revered Crichton and all of his output. Andromeda Strain was one I never got around to reading and the film version really makes me want to sit down with it. I’m not incredibly well educated in The Sciences, but I can get disturbingly sucked in to some heavy jargon if the author’s voice is compelling enough to wrap my imagination around what the hell they’re saying. For example, I don’t understand half the shit Neal Stephenson writes about (especially in The Baroque Cycle), but I am hanging on every word because I know by the end he’ll teach me. While watching The Andromeda Strain, I realized about 90 minutes into its 130 minute running time, that almost all of the dialogue was science jargon with not much room for character development in between. Yes, the scientists all have distinct personalities (especially Kate Reid’s wonderful Dr. Ruth Leavitt), but the men are all so bland and flatly appealing in that early-70’s sort of way that I never cared enough to get swept up into the science. However, I bet I would be savoring every word of Crichton’s prose and eagerly awaiting the next description of different types of synthetic rubber.
But it’s good. The film is slowly paced and methodical about it’s usage of (at the time) state-of-the-art scientific equipment in their proper ways and that can be fascinating to watch at times. It’s also surprisingly brutal and graphic for a G-rated film. There’s a 15 second shot of the exposed breasts of one of the victims that seemed extremely gratuitous and some of the animal testing is very sad to look at. This makes me wonder if people were just more fucked up in the ’70’s, or whether they just didn’t have the whole ratings system down yet. Probably the former. I was never bored watching the film, but when it ended I drank a ginger ale, went to bed and thought about my imaginary version of the final 8 episodes of Breaking Bad and instantly forgot about The Strain. It’s a decent way to spend a few hours, but there’s better. And worse.
Random Anecdotes: When they gassed a cute little Rhesus monkey with the virus and made us watch it go from scared to seizures to dead, I instantly stopped the movie to see if they actually killed a monkey. They didn’t, but they did “render it unconscious with CO2″ and it still pissed me off. That little monkey shakes so horribly that it kind of broke my heart and no matter whether the animal dies or not, there was no way it was a pleasant experience.
The Wildfire set cost $300,000 to build, which was the most costly set of all time at that point.
I feel like Resident Evil totally ripped off the Wildfire set for its Hive set. Am I wrong on that one?
Is It Worth A Look: Sure. Why not. Although, you probably have better things to do than I normally do. I watched Drop Dead Dive once just because I could.
Cinematic Soulmates: Outbreak, Resident Evil, Westworld, The Manhattan Project, Project Nim.