The Andromeda Strain Review
After a government satellite crashes outside a small town in New Mexico, within minutes every inhabitant of the town is dead, save for a crying baby and an old man. The satellite and the two survivors are sent to Wildfire, a top secret underground laboratory equipped with a nuclear self destruct mechanism in case of an outbreak. Realising that the satellite brought back a lethal organism from another world, a team of government scientists have to race against the clock to understand the extraterrestrial virus, code name “Andromeda”, before it can wipe out all life on the planet.
The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 American science fiction thriller film produced and directed by Robert Wise. It was based on Michael Crichton's 1969 novel of the same name and adapted by Nelson Gidding. The film stars Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid and David Wayne as the team of scientists who investigate the deadly organism. The stars at the time were relatively unknown, they certainly weren't a box office draw, and the film, which follows the book relatively closely, was set up as fact, which it clearly wasn't, but having non-stars in the lead roles adds to that faux authenticity.
The film is notable for numerous reasons. Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running) created the special effects, which are still as effective today; and the film's cinematography by Richard H Kline, with his use of split-screen and split-diopter shots, almost outdoes Brian De Palma’s use of the same technical elements.
Generally since its release, the opinion of critics of this film has been mixed, with some praising the film for sticking close to the original novel, and others disliking it for the plot being drawn out for as long as it is. This was one of the few Michael Crichton adaptations that I had never before seen. I had heard of it, and I felt for a long time I must have seen it, but it was clear from five minutes in, I had never watched it before. From this first time viewing, for my money, I felt it took a time to get going, but ends up being quite taut and suspenseful. Of course, with Arthur Hill's character recounting the story to a mainly unseen committee, we know that he is in no danger, but the cast mainly play their stock characters well. Arthur Hill, as previously mentioned, plays the stoic leader, James Olson is essentially the voice of the audience, Kate Reid is the grumpy frumpy comic relief, and David Wayne is the know it all scientist.
Wise’s film is at times very dark and pessimistic. It is a visually powerful social commentary, but the real stars of the film for me are Gil Mellé’s electronic score, along with Trumbull's effects, and the aforementioned Kline cinematography. Without these, the exposition heavy science fact story would fall flat on it's face. These elements keep the film feeling as fresh as it must have done back in 1971.
Arrow’s new Blu-ray has a new restored image from a 4K scan. It looks glorious and the production design really pops in this new restoration. The special features include a old documentary from 2001 which is very informative and also talks up the 'realism' of the piece. Within this feature, I was startled at how they managed to get the animals to look like they were 'dying', by the way that they were able to make a monkey look like it was being killed by the strain. Robert Wise mentions that the American Humane Association was involved and were able to revive the monkey with oxygen after the take, and that the monkey wasn't killed. While this adds to the realism of the strain taking hold, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yes, the monkey didn't die, but it was starved of oxygen for a scene in a movie. Ugh. Not a good look Hollywood.
Other extras include an interview with Crichton from 2001 (he died in 2010), an informative commentary by Bryan Reesman and a new appreciation essay by critic Kim Newman.
All in all, The Andromeda Strain is a fine package from one of my favourite labels. They always throw the kitchen sink at their physical media editions and this is no exception. Yes, the film is a bit of a product of its time, the exposition a bit heavy handed, and other Crichton stories in my opinion work a lot better, but I was glad to finally catch the Andromeda Strain, and walk away unscathed.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
New restoration by Arrow Films from a 4K scan of the original camera negative
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Original uncompressed mono audio, newly remastered for this release
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary by critic Bryan Reesman
A New Strain of Science Fiction, a newly-filmed appreciation by critic Kim Newman
The Andromeda Strain: Making The Film, an archive featurette from 2001 directed by Laurent Bouzereau and featuring interviews with director Robert Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding
A Portrait of Michael Crichton, an archive featurette from 2001 directed by Laurent Bouzereau and featuring an interview with author Michael Crichton
Cinescript Gallery, highlights from the annotated and illustrated shooting script by Nelson Gidding
Theatrical trailer, TV spots and radio spots
BD-ROM: PDF of the 192-page “cinescript” with diagrams and production designs
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Peter Tonguette and archive publicity materials