The name Michael Crichton is best known among genre fans as the novelist whose works were adapted into the Jurassic Park series, or as the man behind the classic sci-fi movie Westworld. Another of Crichton’s sci-fi novels, The Andromeda Strain, was adapted to film in 1971 by The Day The Earth Stood Still director Robert Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding; this movie is now getting a DVD re-release courtesy of Australian distributor Umbrella.
The story begins shortly after a US government satellite has crashed near the town of Piedmont, New Mexico, and all but two inhabitants of the town have died instantly. The science types called in to investigate come to believe that an alien germ somehow latched itself onto the satellite. A crack team of scientists is assembled and locked in a high-tech underground base; their mission is to investigate this germ, identify why the two survivors resisted it, and find a way to protect humanity from its spread.
And what this results in is a divisive movie. Those who appreciate The Andromeda Strain praise its adherence to Crichton’s bestselling novel and its scientific depth. Indeed, you can’t fault its dedication to accuracy as it digs deep into how an investigation like this would be carried out and the scientific process of studying an alien lifeform.
But this is also its biggest flaw, as Gidding’s script prioritises the scientific process over any kind of drama or character, and the bulk of the movie which details this process can seriously plod. The first twenty minutes or so, in which the dead town is being investigated, shows some intrigue and promise, as well as some interesting camerawork, but this is scarpered by the slower pace once the team are assembled and begin to watch a PowerPoint presentation about the layout of their base. The largely dull cast don’t seem to bother trying to make this more exciting than it sounds. In the final half hour, some more interesting themes are brought in, such as the idea that the government my have had shadier motivations than thought about building this biological research base, plus we finally get a bit of action, though it’s too little, too late.
This release from Umbrella is rather lacking – not only are there no new extras, but there are no extras at all. Better versions are out there. Only pick this one up if you haven’t seen the film before, have a Sunday afternoon to spare, and are really into your biological analysis.
THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ROBERT WISE / SCREENPLAY: NELSON GIDDING / STARRING: ARTHUR HILL, DAVID WAYNE, JAMES OLSON, KATE REID / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW