The Andromeda Strain

Year: 1971

Production: Universal

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Kate Reid

Screenwriter: Nelson Gidding

Based on The Andromeda Strain (1969) by Michael Crichton

130 minutes; Color


This film, whose director had in 1951 made the classic sf film The Day The Earth Stood Still, concerns a miroscopic organism, inadvertently brought to Earth on a returning space probe, which cause the instant death of everyone in the vicinity of the probe's landing (near a small town) with the exception of a baby and the town drunk. These two are isolated in a vast underground laboratory complex, where a group of scientists attempt to establish the nature of the alien organism. The real enemy seems to be not the Andromeda virus but technology itself: it is the mankind's technology that brings the virus to Earth, and the scientists in the laboratory sequences - most of the film - are made to seem puny and fallible compared to the gleaming electronic marvels that surround them; they have, in effect, become unwanted organisms within a superior body. (Wise deliberately avoided using famous actors in order to get the muted performances he wished to juxtapose with the assertive machinery.) The celebration of technology is only apparent - the film, despite its implausible but exciting ending, is coldly ironic, and rather pessimistic.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Based on the best-selling novels by Michael Crichton, this film shares many of the preoccupations of Westworld (1973) which Crichton himself wrote and directed. Gidding's screenplay, which is very faithful to the novel, follows a government research team that is trying to isolate and destroy an alien micro-organism that arrives on Earth on board a space satellite that crashed in New Mexico. Wise, who termed the project "science fact" (rather than fiction), spent most of his $6.5 million budget on making believable both the massive Wildfire Research Establishment and the attempts by the scientists (Olson, Hill, Wayne and Reid) to stop the alien micro-organism spreading. Ironically, however, it is the opening and closing sequences, the retrieval of the two living humans from the ghost town in New Mexico, shot to look like another but eerily familiar world, and Olson's attempt to defuse the research center's fail-safe system when the organism has mutated into a benign strain on its own, that are the most successful. Thus, though Wise, with the capable assistance of Trumbull's special effects, holds true to the central vision of Crichton's novel, that technology must not be trusted, much of the irony of the story, the organism mutating on its own and the research team's sudden new task of defeating their own computers if they are to survive, is lost through Wise's visual commitment to technology.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

Related links:
Classic Science Fiction Reviews at scifi.com


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