The Andromeda Strain (1971)

A classified, scientific expedition into the most bizarre endemic possibly-scripted – boasting some of the most breathtaking set design, biological exegesis, human sin, & curiosity-provocation in sci-fi-despite.poorly-scripted/baseless-ending. 7.9/10.

Plot Synopsis: Chilling tale about a US research satellite carrying a deadly extraterrestrial microscopic organism that crashes into a small town in Arizona. A group of top scientists are hurriedly assembled in a bid to identify and contain the lethal stowaway. Based on the novel by Michael Crichton.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Review

Andromeda? Strain?

Two Antithetical Words Symbolizing The Terrestrial & Extraterrestrial In A Film From Musical-Director Robert Wise?

Andromeda? Strain? Two antithetical words symbolizing the terrestrial and extraterrestrial in a biological-sci/fi film from primarily-known musical director Robert Wise (The Sound Of Music, West Side Story), the prospect seemed a bizarre undertaking to say the least. Wise had shown some aptitude in the genre of the stars in 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still, but had been out of practice in the category for two full decades – would his rustiness cripple him or is it really like a bicycle? The answer is: both. While The Andromeda Strain displays clear signs of brilliance for the vast majority of the movie we would argue, there are some contingencies and overdramaticized follies we attribute to his theatricality stage for a downright-weird package as esoteric as TAS’ premise. A classified, scientific expedition into the most bizarre endemic possibly-scripted – boasting some of the most breathtaking set design, biological exegesis, human sin, & curiosity-provocation in science-fiction, The Andromeda Strain is one of the most compelling and experimentally-astute genre entries – despite a poorly-scripted/baseless-ending that threatens its structural-integrity worse than its virus.

The Weirdest Endemic Ever

Where The Andromeda Strain is most terrorizing and magnificent is in its first act’s endemic. We’re taken to the harsh-sunned, mauve deserts of New Mexico and a small-town America named Piedmont – where every single member of the town has dropped dead, seemingly-instantaneously. From children playing ball on the playground to adults getting some milk from the fridge, having sex, or getting a haircut, this syblinne canvas of everyday routine normalcy-interrupted is one of the most strikingly-intriguing and perplexing ever-scripted: what happened to these people? One of the best hooks ever in a contagion film, this is only made even further gripping by idiosyncratic cinematography choices like shifting block frames and constant shots of the blank stares of corpses in every possible routine, eerie silence in auditory soundscape, and the presence of two lone survivors and an alienic capsule opened by an ill-fated doctor whose wrist-slit reveals blood so clotted, it’s turned to powder. We beg for answers to the infinitesimal questions bursting from this epidemiological descent into Piedmont and the stage is set for the scientific analysis and experimentation of discovering what caused it, in one of the most breathtakingly-designed set pieces in sci-fi history: Wildfire.

Amongst The Most Breathtaking Set Design In Science-Fiction

The multi-million dollar facility the U.S. Government built as a doomsday bunker and the ultimate biological funhouse is quite simply the most stunning set design I’ve ever seen in science-fiction – only rivaled by Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. A B.Sc graduate in Biology from the Ivy League level and someone who went to Medical School, there is nothing like this cinematically; It set off a lust I’ve never felt before in the movies. A five-story underground cylindrical structure packed with laboratories and prognostic equipment decades ahead of its time, in the middle of the desert with no life around for 100+ miles in every direction while heavily guarded with secret passcodes and quarantine protocols, this is the lost gold of Atlantis if you’re into the hard sciences. Each level brings progressively-intense disinfection: from parboiling to irradiation to xenon-flashing to try to clean one of the aptly-described ‘dirtiest things in the known universe’ comprised almost entirely of infectants and microorganisms: the human body. The CGI, set/production design, and technical wizardry to bring all this to life is nothing short of a masterpiece achievement that solely establishes the film as a treasure of science-fiction. The score is less elegant, but still effective blaring us with the sound of cacophonous typewriters typing up secret memos and classified transmissions to add to the film’s overarching theme of secrecy and the behind-the-scenes of government. There is no better place in the annals of film history to set a contagion’s experimentation than Wildfire: the biochemically-gifted scientists and doctors tasked with finding the cure and saving humanity itself. This is showcased by how – miraculously in a mere few-day-span – the team of hand-selected Nobel laureate scientists are able to diagnose, analyze, and find cure for the virus itself: The Andromeda Strain.

The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain is primally-fascinating in the most futuristic/xenophobic of ways. Biological exegesis by Wildfire’s team reveals the virus to be so deadly, it kills life instantly upon contact – horror in its purest form contagion-wise. Its structure is even more perplexing than its method of inhalant death – a crystalline structure composed of the four major building blocks of terrestrial life: Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen, but one singular subunut across structures without even nucleic/amino acids or interaction with other subunits. The virus just grows and grows upon exposure to energy, turning even the ultimate death-cloud of all life we know of: nukes into the best of growth mediums for a supercolony. This extraterrestrial virus is devilishly-inventive and perhaps the perfect biological strain if death is the name of the game, looking and giving signs of alien intelligence through-and-through that will set off the most primordial fascination in the back of your psyche. Though the film doesn’t take any liberties or explore/explain the point of such a perfect virus like an alien race trying to wipe out mankind, TAS does deserve accolade for its biochemically-advanced, authentic glimpse into the science of viruses – with a compelling one in the most cinematic/weirdest of ways in The Andromeda Strain. Also of note is the ethical dilemmas it takes as avenues with what to do with the virus, exposing themes of corruption and governmental greed/profiteering trying to weaponize the virus for a form of biological warfare as the most sadistic and evil possible sins of the whole point of Wildfire – a harrowing twist to be dealt with by our characters.

The Performances & Characters

The characters aren’t lost in the periphery of this tale of science and esoterica. A team of esteemed biochemists, Nobel laureates, and surgeons is tasked with documenting and classifying what rocked that small town of Piedmont, and they compliment each other well charismatically – with fine performances. James Olson – predictively – performs well as lead single-man and dutiful surgeon Dr. Mark Hall maintaining experimental ethics not to treat their human subjects like lab rats, Arthur Hill’s Dr. Stone is calmative and calculating as the classical scientist-demeanor, David Wayne’s Dr. Dutton a nice dose of sarcasm, and Kate Ruth’s Leavitt a side-splitting comic relief and unfiltered/cynical/zesty presence. The film’s B-arc of a communications-mixup in relaying a crash-landed ship + possible transmission beyond the safety-corners of the cordoned safe-area gives the film a nice dosage of tangible human experience outside labs and microscopes for a fine balance of the two.

Flaws

The Andromeda Strain ignominiously sports one of the worst endings in sci-fi history – juxtaposed with the other intangibles it boasts amongst the best for a combination weirder than its virus. A formulaic final act with lasers – lots of lasers – that feels more out the annals of B-film Mission Impossible/Bond knockoffs than a science-fiction movie, the tonal motif of the finale is absolutely jarring. What’s even worse is the fact that it does not even explain the virus: what was it? who sent it? where did it come from? why is it here? etc. While one could make the argument the virus themselves were the alien race, this is kooky and cheesy beyond belief and opens tons of more plot holes and nonsensical claims: how could a race be microscopic and why is it fine-tuned perfectly to kill life on this one far, distant, random planet? why did it come wrapped within a UFO? how did it get in there? No matter if the novel gives a more explicit explanation, the film should have taken liberties if needed or just had the basic elemental cognition to recognize that the story is vastly incomplete and lacks any sort of base or point without at least any remote sign of exposition or life – one of the most disappointing endings I’ve ever seen in sci-fi. Disgraceful.

Conclusion

A Good Film That Could’ve Been Great

A Classified, Scientific Expedition Into Virology & Weird Endemics That Boasts Mythic Sci-Fi Set Design & Exegesis, But Is Only As Good As Its Ending

Overall, The Andromeda Strain is a good movie that could have been great. In fact, it is great – up until the last 15-20 minutes it nearly falls apart worse than the oxygen mask of the ill-fated pilot flying over Piedmont. Conspiracy theorists salivating over Area 51 rumors, sci-fi junkies, and scientists of all kinds will absolutely love this movie – the rest, however: 50/50. Robert Wise’s film (based on the eponymous novel) boasts some of the most imaginative scripting and biological analysis ever to grace the screen cinematically, but reflects the paradigm that acts as a natural law in filmmaking: a film’s only as good as its ending. A classified, scientific expedition into the most bizarre endemic possibly-scripted – boasting some of the most breathtaking set design, biological exegesis, human sin, & curiosity-provocation in science-fiction, The Andromeda Strain is one of the most compelling and experimentally-astute genre entries – despite a poorly-scripted/baseless-ending that threatens its structural-integrity worse than its virus.

Official CLC Score: 7.9/10