The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Feeling the strain

Definitely time to talk about this one – Robert Wise, who was one of the most talented and versatile directors ever to come out of the Hollywood system, turned his hand to sci-fi/paranoia just when the Cold War was still in full swing and, in his adaptation of Michael Crichton‘s novel made a genuinely thrilling, engaging, intelligent and creepy science fiction flick, that should really have been on my 10 Best Sci-Fi Films list, but nobody’s perfect, eh?

And, if ever there was a film that could be brilliantly remade by David Cronenberg, this is it – Nelson Gidding’s superb screenplay takes us to Piedmont, New Mexico, where a US satellite has crash-landed and, in so doing, killed all but two of the town’s inhabitants, a 62-year-old man and an 18-month-old baby boy. Why? Well, it was carrying something, something from ‘out there’, something that will kill everything on Earth unless four scientists, attached to the ‘Wildfire’ project which was set up to counter just such an eventuality, can pin down the microscopic invader (which is very much alive) and find a way to stop it.

Our four gallant knights are group leader and Wildfire creator Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne), Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson) and Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid) – none are particularly happy to be asked to drop everything to join the ultra-sterlised Wildfire research lab, but all know that life on Earth depends on them. Apparently it’s OK, though, because Wildfire is equipped with a nuke, in case infection breaks out, and the US president is about to give the go-ahead to similarly obliterate Piedmont. Uh-oh…

This works so very well – the term ‘docu-drama’ is frequently banded about these days, normally to describe films in which the cinematographer shakes the camera around a bit, but it has never been more appropriately used than with The Andromeda Strain. Thanks to entirely credible characterizations, a central premise that becomes more credible with each passing minute and an ending that is a genuinely thrilling ‘Oh-my-God-get-to-the-switch-now!’ chase, this has also managed to age very well, to remain near-enough timeless in fact, thanks to its unflinching (and at times truly disturbing) examination of its central themes.

Of course, there has already been a remake and, guess what? It wasn’t any good. No matter – if you have not yet done so, there’s still time for you to enjoy The Andromeda Strain and, if it’s a first view, I envy you.

Click here.

131 mins.

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