Penned by science thriller guru Michael Crichton – a former doctor himself – there’s no glossing over technical detail in 1971’s The Andromeda Strain. At times, it actually seems as if the laboratory set and the gadgetry therein grab more spotlight than the actors themselves.
Director Robert Wise had helped build mainstream sci-fi film with 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still, but his 1960’s resume had focused more on musicals like West Side Story and The Sound Of Music. The Andromeda Strain let him put the emphasis back on things that don’t sing and dance.
No one in Piedmont, New Mexico, is singing or dancing, that’s for sure. A government research satellite that was busily, and secretly, collecting deadly micro-organisms from outer space has just crash-landed near that town. Buzzards circle overhead and reconnaissance photos indicate everyone in the town died instantaneously.
A crack team of radiation-suit-wearing scientists headed by Dr Jeremy Stone are collected from around the country and sent into the body-strewn ghost town. To the team’s horror, all the dead bodies have powder in their veins, instead of blood. All, that is, except for the two lone survivors that are found – a crying baby and the town drunk.
The scientists and the two survivors steal away to an underground government facility, where “Project Wildfire” is underway. With the threat of a worldwide epidemic looming, the science team performs tests, tests, and more tests – computer printouts are a-printing and vials of blood are a-taken.
As the team works on a cure, the nasty extraterrestrial virus begins to mutate and is soon able to dissolve plastics. If this keeps up, the scientists fear, the killer bug might ultimately be able to escape the confines of the lab and enter the unsuspecting world.
Eschewing big-name Hollywood stars, The Andromeda Strain cast an ensemble of low-key, relatively unknown character actors in the major roles, and they made for authentic looking and sounding brainiacs.
There were scenes that were nearly silent, scenes with very little action (but loaded with tech talk), and overall, cinematography that evoked documentary filmmaking.
The movie certainly had some melodramatic, “the end is nigh” Hollywood moments, especially in its finale, but it explored the not-so-glamorous, real-life world of science, too.
It may not have been glamorous, but it made for a good, solid thriller.
Dr Jeremy Stone
Dr Charles Dutton
Dr Mark Hall
Dr Ruth Leavitt
Major Arthur Manchek
Major General Thomas C.Sparks
Joe Di Reda
Quinn K. Redeker
Dr Rudolph Karp