Michael Crichton, 1971's The Andromeda Strain uses that new age weapon (of sorts) as a jumping off point in a story that must have seemed ahead of its time on its release. Now? Not so much.
Searching for a downed satellite, the U.S. Army discovers that
almost the entire population of the desert town of Piedmont is dead, the
bodies lining the street. What happened to all the people to cause them
to drop dead? The satellite is found, recovered and brought to a top
secret government facility -- dubbed Wildfire -- where it will be
examined by a team of doctors, including Dr. Stone (Arthur Hill), Dr. Dutton (David Wayne), Dr. Hall (James Olson), a medical surgeon, and Dr. Leavitt (Kate Reid).
Two survivors were found in Piedmont -- a 6-month old infant and an old
man -- but can the team explain how/why they survived while also
containing whatever caused the mass deaths? Danger is looming, something
that could not only kill the team but thousands and maybe millions
around the world.
Serial killers, world-killing storms, all creepy, but what about a
disease that could wipe out the world? That's scary as hell, and in that
way 'Andromeda' reminded me off The Satan Bug by Alistair MacLean. It
doesn't really matter what era, decade, region, country. A disease or
virus that can't be stopped is a great villain. It is inhuman. So the premise is
good/scary, and the story certainly has potential. Director Robert Wise
assembled a set for this underground facility that resembles a
spaceship -- curved hallways, sliding doors out of Star Trek, and a
sanitary, ice cold feel to the proceedings. It is unsettling at times,
incredibly creepy at others, and even gets the adrenaline flowing late.
The only problem? Getting there.
Clocking in at 131 minutes, 'Andromeda' basically wastes most of its
potential with a more-than leisurely pace. It feels like a documentary,
presenting the inner workings of a government facility, like the viewer
is privy to something we shouldn't be. That's all fine and dandy, but
has a government lab ever been so dull? Add in an extraterrestrial
virus/disease, and you would think we're talking instant classic,
but.....not quite. To get down to the lab, our intrepid team of doctors
must descend down five levels, going through extremely detailed
procedures to basically rid themselves of as many germs and contaminants
as possible. It's certainly different, but it's not exciting or
interesting to watch in the least bit. Unfortunately after a great
opening, this extended sequence kills all that momentum.
And that's the shame of it all. The bookends of the movie are
classic, rivaling some of the best Twilight Zone episodes in terms of
pure creepiness. Hill's Dr. Stone and Olson's Dr. Hall walking through
the dead ghost town of Piedmont is eerie and downright chilling, the
small population lying dead all around them, life gone in an instant
because of some unseen, unrecognizable attacker. Decked out in hazmat
suits, the doctors look other-worldly as they search for survivors and
answers. The same goes for the finale, a little cliched but exciting
nonetheless. The facility is equipped with a doomsday device, a nuclear
bomb ready to explode if a virus -- any virus -- escapes and threatens
the safety of the world. Set to blow up, Dr. Hall is given the task of
disarming it, a single, middle-aged man who would be able to rationally
look at the situation and perform his duty. Adrenaline-pumping with
tension to spare, it's an exciting finale. Too bad then there was so
much blah building up to it.
Because the focus is so much on the facility, the situation, and the
doomsday scenario, all that's required of the cast are workmanlike
performances. None really stand out as this small group of character
actors take center stage. It was a wise choice not choosing bigger, more
recognizable names because that would have taken away from some of the
tension. As Dr. Hall, Olson is a bright spot, a medical surgeon who
isn't wired the same way the others are, questioning where others don't.
Hill's Stone is the driven -- even obsessed -- leader, Reid's Leavitt
the cynical one, and Wayne's Dutton the logical thinker. No one else
stands out, the story focusing almost exclusively on these four main
characters. Not bad, but not great either, mostly because we're not
given much of a reason to root for these folks.
Jumping off that thought, 'Andromeda' is neither very good nor very
bad. The moments and scenes that work do so in grand fashion, but the
ones that flop? They flop in a big way. A mixed bag in the end, a movie
that's too long but has just enough potential and positive elements to
The Andromeda Strain <----trailer (1971): ** 1/2 /****