The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain (1971)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“The Andromeda Strain,” based on the novel by Michael Crichton and adapted to the screen by Nelson Gidding, is especially, but not exclusively, for a niche audience: those who love to watch characters with specific jobs simply doing what they do best. In this case, four scientists (Arthur Hill, Kate Reid, David Wayne, James Olson) are contacted by the government to investigate a small town in New Mexico after a satellite crash. Since then, Piedmont residents have perished with the exception of a sixty-nine-year-old man and a six-month-old male infant. Suspecting that the satellite may contain an organism of extraterrestrial origin, the scientists perform numerous tests in a government-funded underground laboratory.

Its eye for and level of detail is astounding, from the isolated, bare-brown desert town to the polished and expensive, state-of-the-art equipments utilized in the lab. Notice how the camera is unafraid to look closely at a person or an object so the audience can have a complete mental picture of what is possibly going on. For instance, the first third of the picture is dedicated to examining the town that is filled with corpses. We look inside homes and small businesses, at yards and the yellow-brown streets. From a bird’s-eye view, it were as if the residents were going about their day and simply dropped dead.

Buzzards have begun to eat the flesh and these birds, too, have died either on or a few inches away from their meal. The camera employs closeups of the faces of the dead. It wants us to notice the cuts or wounds of the bodies. The material pushes us to ask questions. Why is it that, despite deep enough breakages on the skin, there is no sign of blood? We hold our breaths as the scientists purposely make new cuts or make bigger cuts from existing ones out of fear that some thing might come out of there. But this is not some cheap sci-fi horror in which the goal is make us jump out of our seats.

Its choice to engage by observing rather than consistently showing action is likely to bore some… yet captivate others. I belong to the latter group, especially because the subject matter itself is fascinating. The approach is clinical rather than emotional. It is purposeful in its steady pacing and tone. Many of us have wondered what a government might do when confronted with an alien organism with the potential to infect the human population. The movie provides possible answers, from identifying and isolating the organism to determining how it grows and how it could be destroyed. One gets the impression the material is well-researched not necessarily for its accuracy but rather due to the level of detail of the images as well as the firecracker dialogue. As someone who works in science, I believed in these personalities; they may clash at times but they ultimately must work together to attain a common goal.

Confidently and astutely directed by Robert Wise, “The Andromeda Strain” can teach modern movies a thing or two about how to approach a scientific dilemma and make it dramatic in unexpected ways. There is more to science fiction than jump scares, chases, and flashy special and visual effects. This movie understands the value of making the audience deeply curious by striving to make the environment as real and convincing as possible. There are moments captured here that evokes the feeling of a science documentary.

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