The Andromeda Strain (1971) (Blu-ray film review).

June 3, 2019 | By | 2 Replies More

I’ve always had some affection for ‘The Andromeda Strain’. Next to ‘2001’, it was probably one of first hard science SF films I’d seen with a no-star cast, although I did recognise James Olsen from ‘The Time Tunnel’ as I originally saw this film when it first came out. This is also the first book written by Michael Crichton put to film. You might remember his later books resulted in a series of films based on resurrecting dinosaurs in the modern age.

Three scientists, Jeremy Stone (actor Arthur Hill), Charles Dutton (actor David Wayne) and Ruth Leavitt (actress Kate Reid) and surgeon/doctor Mark Hall (actor James Olson) get a wildfire alert. A returning satellite has contaminated a small village, Piermont, leaving two people alive. Jackson (actor George Mitchell in case you’re interested who is an old drunk and a baby, Manuel Rios (actor Robert Soto in case you’re interested). The rest have had their clotted blood turned to powder.

The cure could probably save the world if the infection spreads. However, if they fail or the virus gets out from their underground laboratories, the Wildfire base has an in-built nuclear bomb set to detonate. Hall’s position is unique in that he is the odd man hypothesis, a bachelor should decide whether to stop the bomb going off rather than to start it.

It’s rather interesting seeing the decontamination procedure against what we know today as we now know that there are a variety of organisms in our gut and elsewhere that keep us alive. It would be interesting if today would they go so far and risk killing the team in decontamination. It’s rather fun seeing them keeping their hair, too, which you would think with scalp fibre loss would neglect the other efforts. Considering there is staff on every level, this means they must have gone through the same procedure which should make you wonder how long they stay down there as Level 5 means a liquid diet.

Although I’m being a little jocular in this paragraph, bear in mind the decontamination procedures carried out on the Apollo astronauts when they first returned to Earth was in case they brought back anything infectious from the Moon. These things are treated seriously although nearly a day in decontamination before looking for and at the organism slows things down considerably.

The film is unique in applying real science to an off-world threat and how it would be treated. At the opening of the film, this information is based on the US Air Force’s Project Scoop. If you ever want to watch scientific procedure carried out, then this is the film to watch. It gets intense and bewitching and I have a scientific background. You might not care for the choice of guinea pigs to find out how the virus is passed but rather them than humans. You also get a taste of ethics, showing scientists do care about such things. If you aren’t gripped by the finale of the film, then you haven’t invested enough time with it.

Objectively, you do have to wonder why the staff at the various levels weren’t more fatalistic when seeing Mark Hall running. After all, they have nowhere to run when the 5 minute warning is given. What have they got to fear? Contamination or a nuke going off? They must surely know the labs are built over a nuclear bomb?

One of the strongest lessons to be learnt from this film regarding an unknown organism is to quickly discover what it is and what promotes its growth before applying any decontamination procedure. Equally, all equipment should be tested and proven to be working on a regular basis and nothing taken for granted.

The audio commentary is with critic Bryan Reesman who gives history of the films, director Robert Wise and the cast. It’s interesting how many of them were involved in spoofs of the film later.

He explains everything from the film which is actually explained in the film. Reesman also admits that he rehearsed his commentary so ensured he had an enough to say throughout the movie and bear in mind its 130 minutes long that takes a lot of info with no gaps. The film was made for $6.5 million. I do think he draws too much comparison to CSI, which is 40 years later and how it might be filmed today with different technology.

He’s wrong on one thing. He calls something a suppository yet Leavitt says she’s going to smoke it which would be the way to clean the lungs out. The other extras in the film that it was carbon dioxide not carbon monoxide as he says that put the test animals unconscious. Monoxide is far too toxic to do that with. He also doesn’t understand why computer text was green on black but that was largely because computers weren’t working in colour yet and green was less extreme than using white. It’s a bit worrying that throughout all the research Reesman admits that he couldn’t find a couple hours to read the original novel.

The 28 minute ‘A Strain In Science Fiction’ has film critic Kim Newman looking over the history of plague strains in various films, not always SF, over the decades. Only about 8 minutes is devoted to ‘The Andromeda Strain’ itself.

The 30 minute ‘Making The Film’ was originally included in the DVD version in 2001. In it you have interviews with director Robert Wise, scriptwriter Nelson Gidding, novel writer Michael Crichton and special effects maestro Douglas Trumbull. Wise explains by not having ‘names’ meant ‘The Andromeda Strain’ was more grounded in a documentary fashion. The biggest significant change was turning Leavitt female although Wise had to be convinced that there were female scientists out there. Ultimately, because of her sarcastic attitude, became the most popular character. Trumbull going through how the effects were made should make you think as it was a long time before computer effects came into their won. About the only thing computerised was the camera movement. Much of the so-called microscope-sized examination of the probe was actually full size. Oh and Albert Whitlock painted the top of the tunnel from the end of the film.

‘A Portrait Of Michael Crichton’ is as it says on the box is also from 2001. Crichton contributes much about his own history. His first article was in the New York Times. He also saw that with only 200 pro-authors making a living from writing books, decided the odds of 600 becoming doctors was better odds. Even so, he wrote 5 books using the pen names John Lang and Jeffrey Hudson before writing ‘The Andromeda Strain’ and never saw it as a best-seller when it came out.

There’s a pdf file of the film script and an ‘Image Gallery’, although the 5 minutes of this isn’t on the advance disk.

Time for my own bit of analysis. Here’s an odd quandary. Why weren’t the vultures having a meal on the dead inhabitants of Piermont dead already? After all, they were in a contaminated area. Where does the helicopter pilot get his environment suit decontaminated? Where did they get Stone’s glasses as he didn’t bring them with him. In fact, he doesn’t get them back until reaches the 5th level. With the Andromeda Strain itself, considering that it is crystal based, what bi-product does it release that becomes gaseous to contaminate sufficient air to kill a village population. Its growth doesn’t seem dependent on absorbing anything come to that.

Considering the President was delaying the use of a nuclear bomb on Piermont in case it raised criticism from the Russians, wouldn’t the same problem have arisen had Mark Hall not prevented the Wildfire nuke detonating.

Interestingly, nothing is said about parts of the opening sequence at the village was used in ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ episode ‘Population: Zero’. The Andromeda molecule footage was used in ‘The Bionic Woman’ episode ‘

If nothing else, ‘The Andromeda Strain’ will make you think. Although I’m not a particular advocate for film re-makes, a new version of this film would make sense. We know a lot more about decontamination techniques these days and even more about the possibility of alien microbes. Should the manned trips to Mars be carried out then certainly some sort of quarantine process would have to be carried out when they return to Earth. Yes, they would have had anything up to 18 months in space on the way back and might even have an immunity should anything be infectious. Even so, you would have to ask what would happen if any of them were struck down. Hmm…that could make a good film in its right.

In the meantime, enjoy ‘The Andromeda Stain’ but wonder if it could happen here.

GF Willmetts

June 2019

(region B blu-ray: pub: Arrow Video. 1 blu-ray disk 130 minute film with extras. Price: £24.99 (UK). ASIN: B07Q47ZR48)

cast: Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olsen, Kate Reid and Paula Kelly

check out website:


Category: Films, Scifi

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (2)

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  1. bruce harrip says:

    There is a remake it was a Mini series .

    • UncleGeoff says:

      Hello Bruce
      I can’t recall it being shown in the UK. Even so, spreading it into a series would reduce the emergency of getting it sorted out.

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