Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Andromeda Strain

Released in 1971, directed by Robert Wise
Starring James Olson, Arthur Hill, David Wayne

Scary, beautiful, and daring, The Andromeda Strain has a reputation for impeccable acting, storyline, and set design. While the plot of a virus that wipes everyone out save a select few who are mysteriously immune may sound as cliche as gets, this is probably the movie by which most others of that plot get their inspiration. Where 'A Boy and His Dog' inspired Mad Max, 'The Andromeda Strain' is equally influential and essential to not just the PA sub-genre, but to the Sci-Fi genre as a whole.

See, until the seventies, most sci-fi thrillers depended on bigger and bigger monsters to scare the crowd, and huge slabs of budget would be fed to these often gaudy and usually terribly designed beasts that made the movie more of a laugh-fest than a thriller. The Andromeda Strain stands the test of time and avoids feeling too dated because it succeeded in bringing a very realistic and frightening killer to the big screen: a virus. And not just any virus, but an alien life form that is so small it can only be seen by an electron microscope(which in th 70s, were pretty bulky and intimidating instruments in themselves, and leave it to the great director to surround these instruments with an equally intimidating super-lab called Wildfire).

The imagery is cold, isolating, with lots of air and space typical of seventies environments, and you really get that sense of, shit, if we don't fix this, we really will be the only ones left, and for how long no one can say.

The film is based on a story by Michael Crichton(Jurassic Park), and it's reputation marks it to Crichton as Carrie to Stephen King. So a space crew returns to Earth from a successful mission, and people start dropping like flies. Turns out they brought back something very deadly. Soon, the landscape looks like Jonestown and everyone is dead except a grumbling old alcoholic and an infant. These two are brought into the massive Wildfire Laboratory, which was built specifically for such a purpose. The casting was reportedly a determined move to avoid including too many big names and go with actors who could deliver the kind of suspense and tension this movie really needed to avoid imploding in on itself in a storm of pretentiousness. Indeed, between the great acting, Wise's direction, incredible art direction by William Tuntke(Mary Poppins, Buck Rodgers), and the palpable tension and pacing, I promise this will instantly become one of your favorite seventies films right alongside A Clockwork Orange and Serpico. It's film done right.

There was a TV series remake of this in 2008 that may or may not totally suck. So be sure you're buying the one from 1971 with the cover above, not the cover below.

This is the 2008 TV remake. Be sure you're buying the right one!

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