The Andromeda Strain (1971)

andromeda strain poster 1971 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Some experimental photography, nice mystery

Slow pacing

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Andromeda Strain

Studio:  Robert Wise Productions

Genre(s):  Sci-FI/Fantasy/Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  March 12, 11971

MPAA Rating:  G

andromeda strain town arthur hill james olson

We’re gonna need to science the s*!# out of this!

A satellite has crashed into the small desert town of Piedmont, New Mexico.  A survey of the city by government officials and the military finds the population dead and leads to the callout of a government funded group called Wildfire which (in the case of emergencies) has been tasked to determine the origin of an infection or killer, the potential spread, and how to stop it.  With a team of scientists working around the clock, Wildfire must have answers quickly before it is too late…and the survival of an old man named Jackson (George Mitchell) and a baby leads to questions on what makes those two survivors different than the rest of the people.

Directed by Robert Wise, The Andromeda Strain is a science-fiction procedural thriller.  The film is based upon the Michael Crichton 1969 novel and received mostly positive reviews.  The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Film Editing.

andromeda strain james olson suvivors

What allows an old drunk and a baby to survive?

It has been years since I had watched The Andromeda Strain.  I originally had to watch it in school, and then I did follow it up with the novel.  While the movie does move at a crawl, the fascinating attention to detail and the procedure for determining an infection/virus/pathogen feels accurate…which in the age of COVID raises a new level of intrigue.  Due to aspects of the plot a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

The film is very much based on the mystery of what the “strain” is and how it kills people around it.  The film follows a scientific procedure of identifying the organism, determining how it lives, and determining how to stop it.  There is a little action mixed in involving the fail safes of Wildfire, but largely, the film is paced and steady.  The ending of the film almost comes off as a deus ex machina in that the organism randomly ends up mutating to a non-lethal form just as the scientists realize what it is…it’s kind of like War of the Worlds in that the Andromeda Strain isn’t defeated, but it just dies.

The cast is intentionally rather bland.  It is made up of a lot of character actors who do come off as science types.  If the movie had been loaded down with stars and celebrities (like something like The Towering Inferno), it would have felt disingenuous.  The core cast of Arthur Hill, James Olson, David Wayne, and Kate Reid are fine, but they also are playing coat wearing scientists.

andromea strain ending james olson lasers

Got to have an action sequence!

The movie did do a lot of visual experimentation that was ahead of its time (or at least at the fringe).  There is a lot of work with computers and the movie works to realistically “fake” a lot of scientific mechanics.  This is combined with a shooting style that involves split screens (not very common at the time) and other techniques to demonstrate the time crunch of the project to get the answers quickly.

The Andromeda Strain is an odd movie.  It is science-fiction in almost its purest form and it isn’t a movie that could probably be made today.  A good equivalent to a modern Andromeda Strain would be something like The Martian which dives deep into science, but in today’s cinema has to be faster, led by a big named celebrity, dangerous, and more entertaining throughout.  The Andromeda Strain feels a bit quaint and almost like an odd extended TV movie in that sense.  The book was remade into a TV two-part mini-series in 2008 for A&E.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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