Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Andromeda Strain

Before we look at this week’s film, I would like to announce that the novel, Out of the Picture, the mystery for movie lovers that I mentioned in last week’s post, is now available also as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Again, all author earnings will be donated to Kitty Cottage, an animal shelter. You can find out about this organization at

The link for Kindle is:

The link for Nook is:

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

Director Robert Wise, who made West Side Story and The Sound of Music, was no slouch when it came to doing sci-fi. His The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the most accomplished films of the genre and, although too long for my taste (the surveying of the alien ship goes on forever), Star Trek – The Motion Picture, is an intelligent film based on the TV series. The Andromeda Strain, based on the Michael Crichton novel, released in 1971, is, in my opinion, an excellent science fiction movie.

The basic plot involves scientists at a secret underground facility trying to deal with an extremely deadly space germ which was brought to earth by an exploratory satellite.  However, the story, which on the surface awes us with technology, is actually showing the dangers of scientific exploration and its dehumanizing effects. Dr. Stone, played by Arthur Hill, is the Nobel Prize winner who had Project Wildfire built to deal with extraterrestrial infection. His name alone conveys the lack of emotion in this scientist.  When the surgeon, Dr, Mark Hall (James Olson), says he has two patients (the only survivors of the infected town in New Mexico where the capsule lands), Stone corrects him by saying "the team has two subjects." Hall becomes angry, because Stone's attitude is that they are guinea pigs to be tested upon. Although later, even Hall, given the circumstances, says that he may have to experiment on the survivor who is a baby by denying the child food to find out more about the germ. When Andromeda breaks out later, Hall can't type into the computer under the pressure. He lets the ice-in-his-blood Stone do the data entry.

The setting is maybe more important than the characters in this tale. Wildfire is a subsurface cylindrical building with each level more biologically pure than the one above.  As the capsule, patients (the other is a Sterno drinker, who tellingly says to the spacesuit wearing Hall, "You did this. You're not human" - an indictment of scientists), and Stone and the others descend to the lowest level, they are cleansed of all contaminants. They no longer eat food, but rely on pre-fabricated supplements. In essence, they have their humanity stripped away as they are lowered (de-evolution in the face of technological advancement?) to the bottom where rests a nuclear device made to cleanse the facility in the event of an outbreak. Is it coincidental that they are heading for the spot where the symbol of ultimate human annihilation sits?  Science has created weapons of mass destruction already, and now they have brought back from space something that could wipe out life on the planet. David Wayne's character, Dr. Charles Dutton, recognizes that the maps used to chart Andromeda's path are for biological warfare. He and Dr. Ruth Leavett (Kate Reid) are outraged, accusing the military of having deliberately searched for a biological weapon.

The cylindrical nature of the site reminds one of Dante's Inferno. When they enter Wildfire, the door closes behind them with the statement written on it, "No return ... through this access." It recalls the Dante reference to abandon all hope, he who enters here. In the end, Hall, aided by Stone, has to fight the "safeguards" in the building, which are based on ignorant assumptions, and which will bury them by exploding the bomb that will feed Andromeda instead of killing it.

Scientists and their inventions are, therefore, satirized in this film. The poor people of Piedmont New Mexico bring the satellite to the one man of science in the town – the doctor. He proceeds to open it, unleashing death from the high tech Pandora's Box.  Despite their renowned intelligence, these scientists can't deal with simple concepts or problems. Dr. Hall is the safeguard person to prevent the bomb from going off in error. His designation is based on some weird odd-man theory about single males being the right persons to make the decision. Any women out there want to cast their votes on that one? But, Hall can't seem to understand that he has to insert his key and turn it only when the countdown has already started. A couple of times he acts like he can do it before the countdown is activated. The scientists also think automatically that they can sterilize Piedmont by dropping a nuclear bomb on it. It is only at the last moment that they realize that action will actually feed Andromeda's capability to convert energy into matter. They are at a loss as to why they haven't received a communication about the bomb being dropped. It is later discovered that a sliver of paper fell between the bell and hammer which prevented notification of a message. Here, advanced technology is thwarted by the simplest of things. The scientists are also shown as cold-blooded as they sacrifice one animal after another as they try to determine the size and means of transmission of the germ. This film is a reversal of the end of War of the Worlds. In that film, earth germs kill aliens. In this one, an alien germ kills humans. Despite all our scientific advancement, Stone, at the end of the film, at a government inquest, when asked what do we do in the event of another attack, can only repeat, "Yes, what do we do?"

The film next week is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

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