Blog Directory CineVerse: The apocalypse under a microscope

The apocalypse under a microscope

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Disaster films and paranoia thrillers were all the rage in the 1970s. An early example of this trend was Robert Wise's "The Andromeda Strain," based on Michael Crichton's novel and released in 1971--a movie that puts more of an emphasis on "science" than "fiction." Here's a summary of our CineVerse group discussion last night about the film.

What did you find notable, curious, unanticipated, or surprising about The Andromeda Strain? 

  • Amazingly, this was and is rated G, despite the frightening plot and subject matter, a brief bit of nudity, and dark, pessimistic sci-fi/horror elements.
  • Unlike other sci-fi horror movies, the enemy or threat isn’t a monster, beast, or tangible force; it’s a practically invisible organism that infects. That means that much of the story and action involves human beings talking, planning, and reacting.
    • reviewer Michael Reuben wrote: “What distinguishes Andromeda from so many science fiction films is that, until the last ten minutes or so…the film is almost entirely exposition. The adversary in Andromeda is microscopic, and the film consists of scientists and doctors talking, debating, arguing, running tests and experiments, working giant remote arms behind hermetically sealed glass panels, studying readouts on antique monitors and printouts from teletypes.”
  • Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the picture features no major movie stars, the actors aren’t very emotive or expressive, and the film has a documentary-like feel to it thanks to its focus on real science and accurate scientific details. In fact, the story seems more focused on and reverent to science and technology than human beings.
    • As Rueben put it, “it’s a serious attempt at intelligent science fiction.”
  • It’s an early example of a movie to employ sophisticated-for-its-time computerized photographic visual effects, thanks in large part to the work of effects master Douglas Trumbull.
  • Interestingly, the filmmakers use split screen, also called a split diopter, to visually tell the story.
  • The Andromeda Strain provided a rare example of a female scientist who isn’t featured for mere sex appeal. Dr. Ruth Leavitt, played by Kate Reid, plays a role that normally went to a man in films before this one.
  • Despite growing mistrust at this time in government and the military, we see the scientific community work in successful tandem with the military in this film.

Themes woven into The Andromeda Strain

  • There are two dichotomous and divergent messages here: the dangers of technology run amok, and the need for humans to turn to technology for solutions to serious problems.
  • Dehumanization as a consequence of scientific advancement
  • Technological breakdown and human error
  • The random, entropic, and unpredictable nature of the universe

Other movies that this one reminds us of

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • THX 1138
  • Silent Running
  • Zardoz
  • Outbreak
  • 1950s and 1960s horror and sci-fi films like Them!, Kronos, GOG, Invaders From Mars, The Quatermass Xperminent, Quatermass 2, and Quatermass and the Pit, and Planet of the Apes

Other films directed by Robert Wise

  • Curse of the Cat People
  • The Body Snatcher
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • The Haunting
  • West Side Story
  • The Sound of Music
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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