A new restoration of Michael Crichton’s viral thriller
Michael Crichton has made a long career out of the clash between man and nature, of man’s reach exceeding his grasp, thrillers woven around science and technology. Think Jurassic Park, Westworld, Congo, Sphere, Disclosure, and perhaps the finest cumulation of his ideals, Looker. Arrow Video takes us back to the earliest cinematic adaption of his works, a film that remains as potent and well crafted today as it did back in 1971, The Andromeda Strain.
Before he created Westworld and Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton first blurred the line between science fiction and science fact with his breakout success The Andromeda Strain. Two years after the novel’s publication, Robert Wise (The Haunting) directed the film adaptation, a nail-biting blend of clinically-realised docudrama and astonishing sci-fi visuals that ushered in a new subgenre: the “killer virus” biological thriller. A government satellite crashes outside a small town in New Mexico — and within minutes, every inhabitant of the town is dead, except for a crying baby and an elderly derelict. The satellite and the two survivors are sent to Wildfire, a top-secret underground laboratory equipped with a nuclear self-destruct mechanism to prevent the spread of infection in case of an outbreak. Realizing that the satellite brought back a lethal organism from another world, a team of government scientists race against the clock to understand the extraterrestrial virus — codenamed “Andromeda” — before it can wipe out all life on the planet.
In a day and age where Ebola outbreaks, the resurgence of diseases such as measles (vaccinate your kids you fools) seems to (rightly) further extend our concerns over biological agents, The Andromeda Strain still feels both relevant and effective. A satellite designed to harvest microbes from space comes crashing to Earth. Obviously we are not physically prepared for these foreign invaders and so begins a biological fallout, as a virus spreads, wiping out communities, and threatening all human life on Earth. Thus begins a race against time to contain the outbreak and hopefully find a cure. A science driven thriller, with dark undertones, hints of political machinations, all while time is running out, for individuals, scientists in the midst of this crisis, and humanity itself.
The film is helmed by Hollywood royalty with Robert Wise, director of The Sound of Music, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which is perhaps the most pertinent feature to associate here. Like that, Andromeda has period of inertia, basking in the advent of new special effects and the cultural impact of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 a Space Odyssey released just a few years earlier. It may throw off some, but to others it works well at cultivating tension. As is Crichton’s wont, the film is rooted in science and procedural aspects of CDC containment, which play off well against the overall thriller angle. The tone is one thing to appreciate, another is overall production values which are stunning, attention to detail, authenticity (see the extra features for more), as well as some stark beautiful design on show, as well as impressive visual effects by Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running). Another contributor to this memorable work is a electronic score by Gil Melle that feeds into the distinct ambiance perfectly. While Andromeda does veer something a little more predictable/blockbustery towards the end, it remains impactful. The horrors of such a biological contagion don’t need overly stylizing and while the film looks great, it still manages to come across as more of a warning more than just entertainment.
Arrow’s release presents a brand new transfer, stemming from a 4K scan and restoration from a 35mm original film stock. Overall the quality is impressive, with fine detail and vibrant, natural colors throughout. There is an inconsistency in the image though with a few scenes showing a noticeable dip in quality, more specifically in terms of grain levels. It’s nothing that truly detracts from the film but is there. Extra features are impressive in their quantity and quality:
- Audio commentary by critic Bryan Reesman: Interesting with plenty of tidbits about the film and its production from someone who has obviously done their research
- A New Strain of Science Fiction, a newly-filmed appreciation by critic Kim Newman: A rather enthusiastic endorsement of the film and its place in sci-fi history
- The Andromeda Strain: Making The Film, an archive featurette from 2001 directed by Laurent Bouzereau and featuring interviews with director Robert Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding
- A Portrait of Michael Crichton, an archive featurette from 2001 directed by Laurent Bouzereau and featuring an interview with author Michael Crichton:
- Cinescript Gallery, highlights from the annotated and illustrated shooting script by Nelson Gidding: Original script and concept art for the film
- Theatrical trailer, TV spots and radio spots, Image gallery
- BD-ROM: PDF of the 192-page “cinescript” with diagrams and production designs
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley:
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Peter Tonguette and archive publicity materials:
The Bottom Line
The Andromeda Strain is a fascinating watch, laying down many of the themes Crichton will explore in his more popular later works. An absorbing thriller, woven with cultural and political commentary, delivered with impeccable production values. Arrow video have done a bang up job here, pairing a solid visual presentation with a plethora of fine extras.
The Andromeda Strain is available via Arrow video now.