Off-List: The Andromeda Strain
It is time for my second off-List movie of 1971 and I dare say I could not have found a more fitting movie. A strange new disease, doctors working frantically to understand it and find a way to treat it and politicians who fail to grasp the gravity of the situation. Hmmm… sounds so familiar, but this is not about the Corona virus but the 1971 movie “The Andromeda Strain”.
Based on a novel by Michael Crichton (whom we all know from “Jurassic Park”) this is about a satellite bringing back something mysterious from space that kills of an entire village literally in their tracks except for an old drunk and an infant. Dr. Stone (Arthur Hill) has established a secret underground government laboratory called Wildfire to work as an ultra-high security laboratory and now it is coming into use for the investigation of this mysterious passenger on the satellite. Experts Dr. Hall (James Olson), Dr. Dutton (David Wayne) and Dr. Leavitt (Kate Reid) are called in, initiated to the lab and set to work on the project. Meanwhile on the outside the politicians a stalling on what to do and the military are failing to take it seriously.
The core of this movie is the investigation of the organism from space, the Andromeda Strain. To some this may sound boring, but to an old scientist (sort of) like me this is heaven. There are tons of police procedure movies around but precious few scientific procedure movies. Usually the scientific process is handled in a montage and voila, problem solved, or it is dealt with so ridiculously it is an insult to call it science. In this case however the producers took it very seriously and involved the scientific community and actually listened. Everything they do in “The Andromeda Strain makes sense. Even the high security facility is logical and my guess is it is not so far off modern top security laboratories.
In fact, the art direction is outstanding. The computer graphics are very impressive for 1971 and the set design is very futuristic. Apparently, they got the people from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to work on this movie and it shows. “The Andromeda Strain” was nominated for Best Art Direction.
The only thing that worked less realistically was the time frame involved. I should think such investigations would take just a bit longer. Also the dramatic plot itself suffers. In the frenzy of getting the science right the screenplay writers seemed to have forgotten that this is a movie and as such need a dramatic climax. What they did come up with comes very late and feels almost pasted on and the resolution is something that happened literally while the hero slept. That part was a bit underwhelming and I cannot say if the movie managed to justify all the precautions made or ridiculed them. For all the scientific and security rigor it was mundane errors and human interaction which both caused the problems and solved them
The current Corona crisis makes a movie like “The Andromeda Strain” both interesting and relevant. When we do not know what we are facing we have to be careful and we only get the right answers by considering it scientifically. COVID-19 may not be as deadly as the Andromeda Strain, but it is loose out there and it has changed everybody’s life.
For all its flaws “The Andromeda Strain” is my kind of movie and for nerds like me highly recommended.