The Andromeda Strain (film)

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Not to be confused with The Andromeda Strain (miniseries).
The Andromeda Strain
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Nelson Gidding
Based on The Andromeda Strain
by Michael Crichton
Music by Gil Mellé
Cinematography Richard H. Kline
Edited by
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • March 12, 1971 (1971-03-12) (United States)
Running time
130 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million[2][3]
Box office $12.4 million[4]

The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 American science fiction film produced and directed by Robert Wise. Based on Michael Crichton's 1969 novel of the same name and adapted by Nelson Gidding, the film stars Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid, and David Wayne as a team of scientists who investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin. With a few exceptions, the film follows the book closely. The special effects were designed by Douglas Trumbull. The film is notable for its use of split screen in certain scenes.


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 townspeople dead in the streets while reporting back to Scoop Mission Control. Suspecting the satellite may have brought back an extraterrestrial pathogen, Scoop Mission Control activates an elite scientific team it had previously recruited for just this type of emergency.

Nobel laureate Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), the team leader, and Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson), 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 open the doctor's corpse and finds that all of his blood has clotted and turned to powder. Stone and Hall retrieve Scoop 7 and find two survivors — a 62-year-old man and an infant (who "can't be more than 6 months old").

The entire team of four core research scientists, including Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne) and Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid), are summoned from their academic and research appointments to arrive at a top secret, high-tech underground laboratory in Nevada, named Wildfire, where they undergo a full day of decontamination procedures, descending through five rigorous disinfection levels of the lab. Before decontamination, 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 enters the facility under the impression that Piedmont has already been sterilized by a nuclear bomb.

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 discover 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 Peter Jackson (the old man, played by George Mitchell), they discover that he has abnormally acidic blood from drinking "Squeeze" (Sterno) to relieve his stomach ulcer. No anomalies are found in the baby.

Meanwhile, a fighter jet pilot, flying over Piedmont at high altitude, notices his "rubber" 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. While discussing the pilot's claims that all the "rubber" was dissolving, they are told that there is no actual rubber aboard a Phantom F-4, instead the material is "Polycron," a synthetic substance with properties similar to human skin. Unknown to the others, Leavitt's research is impaired by attacks of absence epilepsy, which is set off by the flashing red "No Growth" indicator on the Petri dish analyzer. This causes her to report, erroneously, that Andromeda grows on every growth medium.

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 lifeform of similar chemical composition to Earth life. However, it lacks amino acids, enzymes, or proteins. They then discover that Piedmont has in fact not yet been bombed due to the caution of the President, and that a fighter flying over Piedmont crashed. 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. Reversing their opinion, they 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 that degrades synthetic rubber and plastics and thus escapes from the containment room adjacent to where Dutton is working, trapping him in an atmosphere laced with the agent. Hall rescues Leavitt from a photosensitive epilepsy 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. Jackson's blood, suffering from acidosis, was just the opposite: its low pH also made it inhospitable for the organism. He advises Dutton to breathe rapidly as well, but then observes a rat in good health alongside Dutton, meaning that the organism has mutated and become benign to terrestrial life.

Almost immediately after, Stone notes that problems with gasket deterioration at the lunar lab induced them to use Polycron for the gaskets in Wildfire. Andromeda has decayed the lab's seals and breached the containment field, the condition which activates the nuclear self-destruct countdown. Trapped with the team on the fifth and lowest level, and aware now of the effect that the nuclear explosion would have on Andromeda's massive growth, 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 with eight seconds left, and passes out. Dr. Leavitt's wry comment afterward is, "Eight seconds to spare. Hardly even exciting."

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 the alkalinity of salt water. A federal board concludes that the crisis is over, but Stone somberly asks what may happen if such a situation were to recur. The film ends with a replay of the computer simulation of the virus mutating again, showing that Andromeda remains unpredictable.



Film rights were bought by Universal for $250,000.[5]

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.[6] 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 one of the first films to use advanced computerized (or optical) photographic visual effects, with work by Douglas Trumbull, who had pioneered effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with James Shourt and Albert Whitlock who worked on The Birds.[2] Reportedly $250,000 of the film's budget of $6.5 million was used to create the special effects.

The film contained computer rendering, a mapped 3-D view of the rotating structure of the 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..."[2]

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.


Box office[edit]

The Andromeda Strain was a moderate box office success. Produced on a relatively high budget of $6.5 million,[2][7] the film grossed $12,376,563 in North America,[4] earning $8.2 million in US theatrical rentals.[8] It was the 16th highest-grossing film of 1971.[9]

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.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. March 12, 1971. Retrieved February 27, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Greatest Visual and Special Effects - Milestones in Film. AMC's FilmSite. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Andromeda Strain. The Numbers. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  5. ^ Michael Crichton (rhymes with frighten): Michael Crichton By ISRAEL SHENKER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 08 June 1969: BR5
  6. ^ The Making of The Andromeda Strain, DVD documentary.
  7. ^ The Andromeda Strain, Overview. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  8. ^ Box Office Information for The Andromeda Strain. IMDb. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  9. ^ Top Grossing Films of 1971.
  10. ^ Movie Reviews for The Andromeda Strain. Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed May 17, 2014.
  11. ^ "NY Times: The Andromeda Strain". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 

External links[edit]