The Movie Waffler 1001 Overlooked Movies - The Andromeda Strain (1971) | The Movie Waffler

1001 Overlooked Movies - The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Earth has made first contact with an extraterrestrial life form and the results are not at all what you would expect.

Directed by: Robert Wise
Starring: Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olsen, Kate Reid, Paula Kelly, George Mitchell, Ramon Bieri, Peter Hobbs, Kermit Murdock

'The Andromeda Strain' opens with a couple of statements that the events portrayed in the film are actual incidents that occurred surrounding a top secret military program called Project Scoop.  This “faux documentary” opening has the subtle effect of setting up the hard science fiction tone of this film.  A military satellite has crashed in the small town of Piedmont, New Mexico.  The satellite recovery team enters the town to discover that all of the inhabitants appear to be dead before quickly succumbing themselves to whatever got everyone else.  This triggers the formation of a Wildfire incident team led by Dr. Jeremy Stone (Hill) who created project Wildfire to deal with just such a contingency. The key seems to rest with the only two survivors of Peidmont, an old alcoholic and a young baby.  It’s up to the newest team member Dr. Mark Hall (Olsen) to determine the common link that kept both of them alive in order to prevent whatever killed the rest of Piedmont’s population from becoming a planet wide catastrophe.
The most amazing feature of this film is the pacing.  Wise manages to take the topics of incident response and science, things that would normally bore most people to death, and makes them entertaining.  He cleverly does this by including speculations amongst the Wildfire team about the new life form during the numerous decontamination steps they must proceed through to get to the super sterile environment of the Wildfire facility to ultimately study the life form that will later be given the code name Andromeda.  During this time we also see incident scenes of what is happening in the outside world from military and political perspectives. Once the team is in the lab, they begin to put their previous speculations to the test, cleverly sneaking the audience along for a ride through the scientific process.  Things steadily go from bad to worse resulting in a similar rise in the tension level of the film which is only released at the conclusion except for an after word to the story which gives the audience a little bit to take home as a creepy souvenir.
Some critics have complained that the film’s pacing is slow.  I have shown the film to three of my children who varied in age from teenager to early twenties at the various times that I showed it to them and every one of them loved it.  If the modern generation, with its much faster paced movie and television content, can find 'The Andromeda Strain' enjoyable, I find criticisms of the movie’s pacing to be largely without merit or perhaps made by people who were not actually paying attention to the film.  The film’s action is largely intellectual with a few token moments of the physical as well but this balance is closer to what we see in real life and further lends to the believability of the events in the story.
Ultimately, the focus on the realistic over the fantastic is what makes The Andromeda Strain such an effective film.  It’s a science fiction movie that focuses on the harder science end of the SF scale and, in the process, elevates it to one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.

The official '1001 Movies' list includes the following movies from 1971 - Wanda, W.R: Mysteries of the Organism, A Clockwork Orange, The Sorrow & the Pity, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, McCabe & Mrs Miller, Walkabout, Klute, Harold & Maude, Red Psalm, Get Carter, The French Connection, Shaft, Dirty Harry, Murmur of the Heart, Sweet Sweetback's Badassss Song, The Last Picture Show, Straw Dogs, Two-Lane Blacktop

Nick Sauer
For more from Nick, visit his site 'Fantastic Television'