ⓘ The Andromeda Strain (film)


ⓘ The Andromeda Strain (film)

The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 American science fiction thriller film produced and directed by Robert Wise. Based on Michael Crichtons 1969 novel of the same name and adapted by Nelson Gidding, the film stars Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid, and David Wayne as a team of scientists who investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin. With a few exceptions, the film follows the book closely. The special effects were designed by Douglas Trumbull. The film is notable for its use of split screen in certain scenes.


1. Plot

The story is told in flashback by Dr. Jeremy Stone, testifying to a congressional committee. After a satellite, a U.S. government project code-named Scoop, crashes near the small rural town of Piedmont, New Mexico, almost all of the towns inhabitants die quickly. A military satellite recovery team tries to recover the satellite, but is stopped in mid-sentence. Suspecting that the satellite brought back an alien organism, the military activates an elite scientific team it had previously assembled for this type of emergency.

Wearing sealed protective suits, Dr. Stone, the team leader, and Dr. Mark Hall, the team surgeon, are dropped in Piedmont by helicopter, where they search for the satellite. They find that the towns doctor had opened it in his office and that all of his blood had crystallized into powder. They soon discover almost all of the victims blood had crystallized like the doctors. Not all victims had died quickly: Two townspeople had gone insane before committing suicide. Stone and Hall retrieve Scoop and locate two survivors - a 69-year-old alcoholic and a 6-month-old infant.

The team of four core research scientists, who also include Dr. Charles Dutton and Dr. Ruth Leavitt, are summoned from their academic and research appointments to a top-secret underground facility with the code name of Wildfire, located in Nevada. Upon arrival they undergo a full day of decontamination procedures, descending through four disinfection levels to a fifth level, where laboratories are located. If the organism threatens to escape, the Wildfire facility includes an automatic nuclear self-destruct mechanism to incinerate all infectious agents. Dr. Hall is entrusted with the only key that can deactivate the device.

By examining Scoop with powerful cameras, the team discovers the microscopic alien organism responsible for the deaths. The greenish, throbbing life form is assigned the code name "Andromeda". Andromeda kills animal life almost instantly and appears to be highly virulent. Members of the team study the organism using animal subjects, an electron microscope, and culturing in various growth media in an attempt to learn how it works. Hall tries to determine why the elderly man and the baby survived.

A military jet crashes near Piedmont after the pilot radios that his plastic oxygen mask is dissolving. Meanwhile, Dr. Stone, the creator of the Wildfire laboratory, is accused by Dutton and Leavitt of designing the laboratory for research into biological warfare. Unbeknownst to other members of the team, Leavitts research on the germ is impaired by her epilepsy.

Hall realizes that the old drunk, Jackson, didnt die since his blood was acidic from drinking Sterno and the baby survived since his blood was alkaline from crying continuously, suggesting that Andromeda can survive only within a narrow range of blood pH. Just as he has this insight, the organism mutates into a non-lethal form that degrades synthetic rubber and plastics. It escapes the containment room into the room where Dutton is working. Once all the laboratorys seals start decaying from Andromedas escape, a five-minute countdown to nuclear destruction is initiated.

Hall rescues Leavitt from an epileptic seizure, triggered by the flashing red lights of Wildfires alarm system. Meanwhile, the team realizes that the alien microbe would thrive on the energy of a nuclear explosion and would consequently be transformed into a supercolony that could destroy all life on Earth. Hall races against the laboratorys automated defenses to reach a station where he can insert his key and disable the nuclear bomb. He endures an attack by automated lasers as he climbs through the laboratorys central core until he finds a working station, disables the bomb, and losing consciousness, collapses.

Hall awakens in a hospital bed. His colleagues reveal that clouds are being seeded over the Pacific Ocean, which will cause rain to sweep Andromeda out of the atmosphere and into alkaline seawater, rendering it harmless. The movie ends with Stone testifying to a senator that, while they were able to defeat an alien pathogen this time, they may not be able to do so in the future. The cliffhanger ending shows "Andromeda" dissolving in seawater and then forming the number "601"- the Wildfire computer signal of too much information coming in too fast for the computer to analyze.


2. Background

Film rights were bought by Universal for $250.000. The cast of characters in the novel was modified for the film, including by replacing the male Dr. Peter Leavitt in the novel with the female Dr. Ruth Leavitt. Screenwriter Nelson Gidding suggested the change to Wise, who at first was not enthusiastic, as he initially pictured the female Dr. Leavitt as a largely decorative character reminiscent of Raquel Welchs character in the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. When Gidding explained his take on Leavitt, Wise resolved the question by asking the opinion of a number of scientists, who were unanimously enthusiastic about the idea. Eventually Wise came to be very happy with the decision to make Leavitt female, feeling that Kate Reids Dr. Leavitt was "the most interesting character" in the film. Another minor change was the character of Burton in the novel, who became Charles Dutton in the film; no reason was given for this name change.

The Andromeda Strain was one of the first films to use advanced computerized photographic visual effects, with work by Douglas Trumbull, who had pioneered effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with James Shourt and Albert Whitlock who worked on The Birds. Reportedly $250.000 of the films budget of $6.5 million was used to create the special effects, including Trumbulls simulation of an electron microscope.

The film contained a faux computer rendering, created with conventional film-making processes, of a mapped 3-D view of the rotating structure of the five-story cylindrical underground laboratory in the Nevada desert named Project Wildfire. The filming in the fictional town of Piedmont took place in Shafter, Texas.


3. Reception

Awards and honors

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:

  • Best Art Direction ; lost to Nicholas and Alexandra
  • Best Film Editing Stuart Gilmore, John W. Holmes; lost to The French Connection

3.1. Reception Box office

The Andromeda Strain was a moderate box office success. Produced on a relatively high budget of $6.5 million, the film grossed $12.376.563 in North America, earning $8.2 million in United States theatrical rentals. It was the 16th highest-grossing film of 1971.


3.2. Reception Critical response

The opinion of critics is generally mixed, with some critics enjoying the film for its dedication to the original novel and with others disliking it for its drawn-out plot. At review aggregator Website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 68% approval rating based on 34 reviews, with an average score of 6.26/10. Roger Greenspun of The New York Times panned the film in the 22 March 1971 issue, calling the novel "dreadful".John Simon called The Andromeda Strain "a tidy film, yet it completely fades from memory after its 130 minutes are over".


3.3. Reception Awards and honors

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:

  • Best Art Direction ; lost to Nicholas and Alexandra
  • Best Film Editing Stuart Gilmore, John W. Holmes; lost to The French Connection