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the Andromeda Strain

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: the Andromeda Strain

Starring: David Wayne, James Olson
Director: Robert Wise
Rated: G
RunTime: 131 Minutes
Release Date: May 1971
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Kate Reid, Eric Christmas, Peter Hobbs, Arthur Hill

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

The great director Robert Wise will probably be forever remembered for such popular musicals as WEST SIDE STORY and SOUND OF MUSIC even though he does have some significant science fiction films to his credit, including STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

In 1971 Wise directed the first film adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. The film's screenwriter, Nelson Gidding, has had a particularly mediocre career, including such unmemorable films as BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE MUMMY LIVES. Nevertheless, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN's staging and scripting give it an eerie documentary feel that works perfectly.

The setup for the movie is that a United States satellite crashes into an isolated desert town. On-board the satellite is a tiny organism from outer space that instantly kills everyone in town except an old drunk and a crying baby. The show's conundrum is what is the common thread that saved these two disparate individuals.

Men in protective gear are sent to survey the scene and determine what has happened. The only thing they are sure of is that the organism from space is responsible and that death occurs by turning their victim's blood into powder.

This first and most frightening part gives way to the second where deep underground in the world's cleanest environment, four scientists rush to find the cause and the cure for the greatest disaster to have ever struck earth.

Arthur Hill in one of his finest performances ever plays the team's lead scientist, Dr. Jeremy Stone. Dr. Stone wants all procedures followed carefully and no short-cuts taken just because they are under pressure. When the strain has them all about to crack, he relents and becomes more willing to cut corners in their experiments.

David Wayne plays the team's wise old man, Dr. Charles Dutton. James Olson is the team's handsome, young Dr. Mark Hall. Since Dr. Hall is the only single member of the crew, he gets to carry the key that can disarm the underground station's self-destruct system. They discuss in detail the scientific experiments that proved that a single person will be the most rational user of the key. Presumably a married person might stop the self-destruct for some selfish reason having to do with his family.

As the odd woman out, Kate Reid plays the only female member of the group, Dr. Ruth Leavitt. Carefully casting an exceedingly homely and pudgy woman, the focus stays firmly on her technical abilities and leaves aside the usual love interest that most scripts seem obliged to include. Dr. Leavitt, as it turns out, has some yet-to-be-discovered limitations, but scientifically she is a valuable member of the team.

The beauty of the script and the direction is the contrast of the fast paced demands placed on the researchers with the meticulousness of their experiments. They talk and argue like scientists whereas audiences are used to expensive actors showing off their emotions at every turn. One might criticize Wise's presentation as dull, but to me it was brilliantly realistic and totally captivating. Every twist and turn in the show draws you more and more into the story. The ending is arguably a bit too neat, but works nevertheless.

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN runs 2:11. It is rated PG for mature themes and would be fine for kids around nine and up.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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