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The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain on DVD

Robert Wise directs this fascinating and gripping Michael Crichton tale, a look at Mankind’s first contact with an alien species - a microbe capable of killing any animal life unlucky enough to inhale it.

The film is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, which is a nice change, and as is so often true with Crichton tales it’s a ripping yarn the deals with the potential conflicts between technology and nature, and/or man and nature, this time as a potential germ warfare project blows up in the faces of its creators and threatens to wipe out all animal life on earth.

The havoc breaks out when a Project Scoop satellite comes back to earth near Piedmont, New Mexico and some of the locals stupidly open it up to see what makes it tick. The next thing they know, they’re dead - as is the rest of the town around them with the exception of an annoyingly colicky baby and an old wino.

The incident causes a special team to be assembled, rapidly, and housed in a special, top secret underground lab designed to let them isolate, identify, and (with luck!) find a defense for the extraterrestrial critters.

Director Wise assembled an excellent cast of no name stars. Well, that probably isn’t fair to Arthur Hill, David Wayne, Kate Reid, and James Olson; they probably aren’t “Hollywood A List” actors, but they're good actors and that works for the film’s benefit because you can watch the movie unfold in an almost documentary fashion without pointing at the screen and going “Look! It’s (Insert Movie Star Name Here)!”

The documentary feel really works to the film’s benefit, too. Though you know this is a work of fiction, director Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding have used Crichton’s trick of treating all the fiction as fact, and it takes “The Andromeda Strain” right out of the sci-fi movie realm and gives it a realism that over the course of the movie creeps up on you almost without your knowledge.

The cast is outstanding, and added to that is the sterile, almost antiseptic production design of a Wildfire facility that’s so realistic you could swear the film was shot on location (watch the “Making of” documentary, though, for some interesting insight into that).

Douglas Trumbull’s special effects are also perfect for this film. They never jump out at you, and are completely convincing in a documentary-like way that matches the overall film.

Even the music is worth remarking about. While it almost seems as if there is none (or at least very little), there really is - but it’s electronic in the tradition of the theremin of “Forbidden Planet” and kept in the background where it doesn’t intrude on the realism.

About the only time the movie comes close to becoming formula is the climactic scene where Olson has to climb the central core to prevent the auto destruct sequence from blowing the facility into a nuclear neverland. It’s well done, of course, and we can’t imagine the story without it, but it’s also the closest thing the story has to an action scene and as such that makes it seem a tad out of place. But it’s easy to forgive it and, as mentioned, we can’t imagine the movie without it since it’s an integral part of the story and not some tacked on action sequence designed to sell tickets.

The DVD is very good. Though there’s some grain (quite a bit in a few places, in fact), the anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) picture is generally first rate, with great color - though in some of the Wildfire sequences the colors obviously are mostly not used.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono and is unremarkable. Yet even that kind of works in the film’s favor because it adds to the documentary sense of realism.

Extras include an excellent “Making of” documentary and a fascinating portrait of author Crichton. You also get the trailer.

An excellent film, done justice by this Universal DVD.

The Andromeda Strain, from Universal Home Video
131 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Starring Arthur Hill, David Wayne, Kate Reid, and James Olson
Written by Nelson Gidding, Directed by Robert Wise


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Updated May 13, 2006