Sunday, 20 January 2013

Review/Synopsis - The Andromeda Strain (1971)

"The Andromeda Strain" is a 1971 film adaptation of Michael Crichton's 1969 "sci-fi techno thriller" novel of the same name.

The film itself tells the story of the events over four days following the outbreak of an extra terrestrial infection, centring around a team of scientists who work feverishly to find a way of combating the organism before it manages to reach the population at large.
In a similar way to the original book, sections of the film are presented as though they are a report on past events being analysed by government agencies at a board of enquiry, with some of the characters concerned with the main plot line giving evidence.

The film itself asks many questions about the nature of secret government projects, specifically efforts to use space exploration as a means to gather or develop potent weapons of mass destruction, and what the consequences of this unprepared meddling in matters that mankind knows very little about could have if these weapons were, by accident or by design, released on the general populace.
All in all, the film is an enjoyable, although in some places very dry, piece of sci fi cinema, it certainly doesn't go down the route of having massive explosions and alien invasions etc, but instead presents a storyline filled with intelligent questions and plot developments, as well as having some very interesting character interactions and developments.

The film begins with two soldiers operating out of Vandenberg air force base searching for the landing point of a secret military satellite code named "Scoop 7", which was believed to have crash landed somewhere in the vicinity of the small town of Peidmont, New Mexico.
When they find the crash zone however, it turns out that the satellite had been found by some of the locals and taken back to the town. As the soldiers reach the town itself, they quickly succumb to the same horrible infection that has killed nearly everyone there, and both die horrible deaths.

Sensing that something has gone disasterously wrong, and wanting to preserve the secret nature of scoop , the projects commanding officer, Major Manchek activates the "wildfire" protocol by using a secret telephone hidden in in a room marked "emergency only".
"Wildfire" is a two pronged approach to solving the problem, consisting of a team of scientists who specialise in disease control, and a secret underground laboratory complex, hidden in the Nevada desert beneath a fully functioning Department of agriculture research station. No one other than the wildfire team and a few members of staff at the above ground complex are actually aware of its existence, allowing the government to keep the disease outbreak under strict secrecy.

The Wildfire team itself, which is quickly rounded up (by government agents approaching them and simply stating that "there's a fire"), consists of :-

Dr. Jeremy Stone - Lead scientist on the project who was instrumental in its creation. Also acts as a scientific advisor to the President of the United States.
Dr. Charles Dutton - Pathologist and germ warfare expert.
Dr. Mark Hall - A skilled doctor and surgeon whose only real role within wildfire is to fulfill the requirement for an "Odd-man".
Dr. Ruth Leavitt - A cantankerous and dry witted microbiology expert.
Dr. Alexander Kirke - Fifth member of the wildfire team who was unable to attend as he had appendicitis.

Drs Stone and Hall are taken directly to Piedmont by helicopter, where they explore the town while wearing hazmat suits. They discover that most of the towns population simply died where they stood, with a look of agony on their faces, although they later make a series of grisly discoveries when they come across a few people who seemingly survived the initial infection and committed suicide in a variety of bizarre ways after going seemingly insane. They finally find the satellite in the local GPs office, where Stone notes that the casing has been opened. As he reseals it and prepares to take the satellite away, Hall examines the GPs body, noting the unusual feature that none of the mans blood coagulated in the lowest part of the body after death (and delivering one of the films most unintentionally funny lines in the form of "Do you see any purple marks on his butt?"). Trying to find out why the body doesn't have the usual blood coagulation, Hall cuts open one of the GPs wrists, and both he and Stone are astounded to find that all the mans blood has clotted into a fine red powder.
As Stone and Hall prepare to leave they find two survivors, a crying baby boy, and a seemingly insane old man, both of whom they take with them.
After they leave, the President orders that the decision to sterilize the area with a nuclear explosion be postponed for 48 hours until the wildfire team can determine if there is still any danger, instead opting for a strict quarantine to be enforced on the area by the national guard.
Meanwhile, doctors Leavitt and Dutton make their way by car to the wildfire complex, where Dutton explains that great lengths have been gone to to conceal the nature of the facility. The base itself looks like a large open plan farm with a single farm house.

After the team finally meets up, Stone explains that the facility is equipped with a nuclear device which will be used to sterilize the area should a containment breach occur and the risk of infection to the outside world becomes likely. Hall, as the "Odd-man" of the team has been selected to be entrusted with the only key which can disarm the bomb, as the odd man hypothesis states that as a single man, he would be in the best position to make a rational judgement as to whether the self destruct sequence should be aborted. Hall misinterprets this as meaning he has the power to choose whether to activate the bomb or not, but Stone quickly points out that the bomb was armed the minute they entered the first level and Stone inserted his key into the master terminal to activate the base, all Hall can do is decide whether the bomb is turned off once the destruct countdown begins.
As the team descends the five levels of the facility, they are subjected to numerous invasive decontamination proceedures, so as to ensure that there is no possibility that the laboratory can become contaminated by any foreign disease or bacteria they may be carrying in order to maintain a fully sterile environment.
When they finally reach the lowest level, work quickly begins on identifying what caused the sudden plague.

After reopening the satellites sample container and exposing several lab animals to it, it is found that the infection kills whoever is exposed to it within 10 seconds via fatal blood clotting. Further analysis reveals that the organism is larger than a virus and enters the body through the lungs, meaning it is an airborne infection.

Dr. Hall examines the two survivors with assistance from Nurse Anson. The old man gives his name as Mr. Jackson, and the babies name as Manuel. Through questioning Jackson, Hall learns that he has a stomach ulcer, and to manage the pain he regularly takes asprin and drinks raw alcohol, and Manuel suffers from colic, leading to him crying all the time. From these observations, he deduces that the disease cannot propogate in the blood if it is too acid or too alkaline.
In the meantime, Stone and Leavitt find the cause of the disease inside the satellite, a small grain of sand which contains a glowing green substance. To their astonishment, as they observe the substance through a powerful microscope, it begins growing.
Soon after this, the disease, now code named "Andromeda" begins to mutate, and as an observation plane passes over Piedmont, the new form of the disease consumes all of the plastic on the plane, causing it to crash, confirming the wildfire teams observations that the disease begins to mutate rapidly when exposed to a suitable growth medium.
Dutton and Stone manage  to isolate a single cell of Andromeda, and discover that it is unlike any form of life found on earth, as it exists as a perfect crystalline life form, capable of converting all energy it is exposed to into matter in order to reproduce itself. From this, they deduce that Andromeda is an extra terrestrial life form.
They quickly contact General Sparks, who is overseeing the nuclear sterilization of Piedmont and stop him from going through with it, as to expose the Andromeda to that much radiation would cause it to mutate into an almost infinite number of forms and allow it to reproduce on a geometric scale.
Dr. Leavitt conducts a series of tests to see if they can in any way come up with an effective chemical inhibitor or agent to kill off the organism, however just as she discovers a possible cure, the red warning light on her computer terminal causes her to have an epileptic seizure, something which she had not declared during her medical tests and thus causes her to black out and forget that she has in essence, found a cure.

Later, as Dr Dutton examines some of the Andromeda samples in the pathology lab, the mutated form which eats plastic manages to break free from its sample container, and the contamination alert sounds, causing the level to enter full lock down.
Leavitt accompanies Hall to try and help Dutton by telling him of their discovery, but the red warning light once again causes Leavitt to have a seizure, which leads the assembled staff to believe that she has "got the germ" and flee in terror. As Hall manages to bring her out of it, Andromeda escapes the containment by eating though the rubber gaskets sealing their air conditioning system, and thus the base enters the self destruct phase of operation, beginning its five minute countdown immediately.
Hall has to run a gauntlet of poison gas jets and lasers (intended to prevent the escape of diseased lab animals) in order to reach the 3rd level, as the section he found himself trapped in when the final alert sounded did not have a bomb control substation, forcing him to have to enter the facilities main air shaft and climb up, getting injured as he climbs when he is hit by a laser blast.
He manages to get to a sub station on level three and deactivate the bomb, by which time the Andromeda contaminating the base has mutated itself into a harmless form which escapes wildfire and drifts into the upper atmosphere.

The board of enquiries final conclusion is that the wildfire facility experiment was a complete success, but the films closing image is of a single Andromeda cell rapidly reproducing and mutating.


  1. I didnt like the remake, but then most remakes are bad, but this was just a step further along the WTH?

  2. I was going to do the remake next. i quite liked how they explored the idea of a government cover up, but i didn't like the time travel element they tacked on.