Friday, 20 November 2015

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Following a group of scientists as they discover and then try to understand a terrible disease may not sound terribly exciting; but in taking its lead from Bullitt (1968), The Andromeda Strain is far more concerned with the process the researchers go through, and as such is very compelling.

Based on the novel by Michael Crichton and directed by Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951), the movie begins with the discovery (brought to life by some clever split screens) of a town whose population is annihilated by an unknown contagion brought back from space on a crashed piece of satellite.

The first half of the film is then concerned with all the decontamination procedures that the "hero" quartet of scientists have to undergo as they descend through the increasing biosafety levels. Until at last they reach the highest biosafety level (lowest physical level underground) where the piece of infected satellite is being stored.

The balance of the movie is then concerned with discovery, characterisation and ultimate remedy of "Andromeda" as the contagious particle is called.

Again, this doesn't sound like the stuff of dynamic film-making but it is very compelling, especially as both technological and human error combine with a sudden threat of a nuclear strike to raise the stakes in the final act. I agree that the story needs a climax, but the sudden escalation of events feels a little incongruous to the sedate story-telling of the preceding 100-odd minutes.

The unknown (to me) cast are all great, all really inhabiting their specialist roles. However, the real star is the science; yes it's science fiction, but the fiction part seems to be confined to the nature of the infective particle rather than the protocols followed by our scientists. Just like these protocols, the Andromeda Strain is a meticulously planned and executed film. But, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion man.