The Andromeda Strain (film)

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Not to be confused with The Andromeda Strain (miniseries).
The Andromeda Strain
AStrainposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Nelson Gidding
Based on The Andromeda Strain 
by Michael Crichton
Starring Arthur Hill
James Olson
Kate Reid
David Wayne
Paula Kelly
George Mitchell
Music by Gil Mellé
Cinematography Richard H. Kline
Edited by Stuart Gilmore
John W. Holmes
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) March 12, 1971 (1971-03-12TUnited States)
Running time 130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million[1][2]
Box office $12,376,563[3]

The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 American science-fiction film, based on the 1969 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. The film is about a team of scientists who investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin that causes rapid, fatal blood clotting. Directed by Robert Wise, the film starred Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid, and David Wayne. With a couple of exceptions, the film follows the book closely. The special effects were designed by Douglas Trumbull.

Plot summary[edit]

Main Control Lab at the Wildfire complex

Two crewmembers of the U.S. government's "Project Scoop" investigate the town of Piedmont, New Mexico to retrieve the Scoop 7 satellite. They find the townspeople dead in the streets, and die themselves while reporting back to Scoop Mission Control. Suspecting the satellite brought back an alien germ, Scoop Mission Control activates an elite scientific team it had previously recruited for just this type of emergency.

Nobel laureate Dr Jeremy Stone, the team leader, and Dr Mark Hall, the team surgeon, are dropped in Piedmont by helicopter, where they search the town for Scoop 7 in hazmat suits. They find the town's doctor, who died after opening the satellite out of curiosity. Hall cuts the doctor's corpse and finds that all his blood has clotted and turned to powder. Stone and Hall retrieve Scoop 7 and find two survivors — a 62-year-old man and a six-month-old infant.

The entire team of four core research scientists, including Dr Charles Dutton and Dr. Ruth Leavitt, are summoned from their academic and research appointments to arrive at a secret, high-tech underground laboratory in Nevada, named Wildfire, where they undergo a full day of decontamination procedures, descending through five disinfection levels of the lab. Before decon, Hall is informed that the facility's nuclear device has been armed, and will go off automatically within five minutes should there be a containment breach. He is entrusted with a key to disarm the bomb from designated substations within that window. The team enter the facility under the impression that Piedmont has already been sterilized by a nuclear bomb drop.

The team begins to experiment on the agent inside Scoop 7, and discovers that it is transmitted by air, kills lab animals instantly, and is too large to be a virus. After searching the satellite with a high-powered microscope, they discovers the agent responsible for the deaths: a greenish, throbbing mass stowed away on a micrometeorite. It receives the code name "Andromeda".

While most of the team studies the agent in an attempt to figure out how it works, Hall tries to find a cure by figuring out why the old man and the baby survived. Both Hall and his nurse assistant work in encapsulating suits while in the contaminated "hot room". By analyzing their patients' blood and conferring with the man, they discover that the old man has abnormally acid blood from drinking "Squeeze" (Sterno) to relieve his stomach ulcer. No anomalies are found in the baby.

Meanwhile, a fighter jet pilot, after a flyover at high altitude over the Wildfire area, notices his plastic mouthpiece disintegrating. He then loses consciousness and crashes. The military inspects the wreck and finds that the pilot's flesh has dissolved, leaving only bones. They conclude that something inside the plane consumes plastic, foreshadowing later developments at Wildfire. In another development, unknown to other members of the team, Leavitt's research is impaired by attacks of epilepsy, which is set off by flashing, red computer lights in the facility.

During chemical study of the agent, the team finds out that the meteorite is in fact made of plastic, and that the green mass is a life-form of similar chemical composition to Earth life. However, it lacks amino acids, enzymes and proteins. They then discover that Piedmont has in fact not yet been bombed due to an overly cautious U.S. president. They also hear about the crashed fighter. Working through tensions with federal officials, they again insist the bomb be dropped. Further study of Andromeda, however, reveals that it has a crystalline structure which allows it to convert energy to mass and vice-versa; consuming any available resource without waste. They deduce that a nuclear explosion would provide Andromeda with enough energy to produce a supercolony in a single day, reverse their opinion, and now insist the Piedmont bombing be stopped.

During analysis, the team comes across a germ warfare simulation, indicating that Scoop and Wildfire were designed to actively search for harmful biological agents for use in bio-warfare. Meanwhile, Andromeda mutates into a form which degrades synthetic rubber and plastics and thus escapes from the containment room adjacent to where Dutton is working. Hall rescues Leavitt from a seizure triggered by Wildfire's alarm system.

Hall continues his work on the survivors and finds out that Andromeda propagates only within a narrow pH range, and that the baby's rapid breathing kept its blood alkaline and therefore inhospitable for the organism. Over the intercom, he advises Dutton to breathe rapidly as well. Fortunately, Hall observes a rat in good health alongside an Andromeda colony, meaning that the organism has mutated into benignity.

Once all the lab's plastic seals start decaying due to Andromeda, the nuclear self-destruct activates and the team is sealed off on the fifth (lowest) level. Hall races against the clock to reach a substation with his key. With the doors sealed, he climbs ladders in a maintenance access core and endures an attack by automated lasers intended to stop escaped lab animals, until at last he finds a working third level substation, disables the bomb, and passes out.

The military then begins seeding the clouds over the desert with silver iodide, stimulating precipitation which washes the organism into the ocean, where they believe it will be destroyed by alkalinity. A federal board concludes that the crisis is over, and Stone somberly questions what may happen if such a situation were to recur.

Cast[edit]

Background[edit]

Film rights were bought by Universal for $250,000.[4]

The cast of characters in the novel was modified for the film, most notably by replacing the male Dr Peter Leavitt in the novel with the female Dr Ruth Leavitt. Screenwriter Nelson Gidding suggested the change to Wise, who at first was not enthusiastic, as he initially pictured the sex-changed Dr Leavitt as a largely decorative character reminiscent of Raquel Welch's character in the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. When Gidding explained his take on Leavitt, Wise resolved the question by asking the opinion of a number of scientists, who were unanimously enthusiastic about the idea. Eventually Wise came to be very happy with the decision to make Leavitt female, as Kate Reid's Dr Leavitt turned out to be, in his words, "the most interesting character" in the film.[5] Another minor change was the character of Burton in the novel, who became Charles Dutton in the film; no reason was given for this name change.

The Andromeda Strain was possibly the first to use advanced computerized (or optical) photographic visual effects for its time[dubious ], with work by Douglas Trumbull, who had pioneered effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with James Shourt and Albert Whitlock who have worked on The Birds.[1] $250,000 of the film's budget of $6.5 million was reportedly used to create the special effects.

The film contained possibly the first use of computer rendering (in the mapped view of the rotating 2-D structure of the massive, hi-tech, top secret 5-story, cylindrical underground laboratory in the Nevada desert named Project Wildfire). Biologist Dr Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) turned on the animated computer simulation of the "electronic diagram which rotates to afford an overall view, or it can be stopped at any section. Detailed plans of the various levels and labs are also stored in the system...."[1]

Michael Crichton makes a cameo appearance in a non-speaking role during the scene where Dr Hall is told to break scrub because he has to report to the Wildfire research facility.

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The opinion of critics is generally mixed, with some critics enjoying the film for its dedication to the original novel and with others disliking it for its drawn-out plot. Overall, the film has earned a 67% "Fresh" rating from the film review site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 24 reviews.[6]

Box office performance[edit]

The Andromeda Strain was a moderate box office success. Produced on a relatively high budget of $6.5 million,[1][7] the film grossed $12,376,563 in North America,[3] earning $8.2 million in US theatrical rentals.[8] It was the 16th highest grossing film of 1971.

Awards[edit]

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:[9]

American Film Institute Lists

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Greatest Visual and Special Effects - Milestones in Film. AMC's FilmSite. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  2. ^ Hollywood Today: Mike Crichton, a Skyscraper in Any Form Norma Lee Browning. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 30 Aug 1970: s2 says $6 million
  3. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Andromeda Strain. The Numbers. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  4. ^ Michael Crichton (rhymes with frighten): Michael Crichton By ISRAEL SHENKER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 08 June 1969: BR5
  5. ^ The Making of The Andromeda Strain, DVD documentary.
  6. ^ Movie Reviews for The Andromeda Strain. Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed May 17, 2014.
  7. ^ The Andromeda Strain, Overview. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  8. ^ Box Office Information for The Andromeda Strain. IMDb. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  9. ^ "NY Times: The Andromeda Strain". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  10. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
  11. ^ AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
  12. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot

External links[edit]