Andromeda Strain

"THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN is more science fact than science fiction....I liked the today-ness of the story, the fact that it dealt with technology and space, but the bottom line of what interested me in it was that I could make a film that was anti-biological warfare."*

Outer Space

James Olson and George Mitchell

After recreating other eras in his three previous films—THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE SAND PEBBLES AND STAR!—Wise was eager to deal with potential modern problems in a modern setting. Universal had the galleys of the book by Michael Crichton and showed them to Wise, who became very interested in the project.

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN centers around a research team that tries to destroy a deadly micro-organism brought to Earth by a falling satellite. Wise didn't want to have any stars in the film, thinking that their presence would distract from the true-to-life feel of the picture. He also had Boris Leven create a set which included a realistic underground laboratory. To construct this lab, builders dug seventeen feet under Universal's biggest stage.

The result is a gripping science "fact" film, which was praised by critics, including Judith Crist, who in New York magazine wrote: "That clinical microbiology, epidemiology, pathology and electrolyte chemistry are made the stuff of breath-stifling suspense while the film sustains its quasi-documentary stature is the major tribute to all involved."*

Synopsis When a small space probe satellite falls to earth in a remote village of New Mexico, all but two of the town's inhabitants—a squalling infant and an old wino suffering from acidosis—meet death as their blood turns to powder. After two reconnaisance pilots have also perished, mission control declares a national emergency ("Wildfire Alert") and requests that a thermo-nuclear explosion be set off to Posterneutralize the infected town. But due to a breakdown in communication equipment, the message never gets through to the White House. As the two survivors and the recovered space capsule are transported to a mammoth five-story underground laboratory in Nevada, a team of scientists, biologist Jeremy Stone, microbiologist Ruth Leavitt, blood chemistry authority Mark Hall, and pathologist Charles Dutton, set out to discover the nature of the deadly organism brought by the space probe. While the team is being subjected to grueling hours of precautionary decontamination measures, they are informed that the laboratory complex is equipped with an automatic self-destruct device that will be triggered should the infection spread; only the red key, which is entrusted to Hall, can disarm the mechanism once it is activated. Through exhaustive tests, the team learns that the minute organism, dubbed the Andromeda Strain, is transmitted by air, that it is crystalline in structure, and that it reproduces at an accelerated rate in an oxygen-free atmosphere—it functions like an atomic reactor. Because of this characteristic, the team correctly deduces that the child and the wino escaped death by breathing so rapidly that very little oxygen entered their lungs. Consequently, when Dr. Dutton is exposed to contamination, he saves himself by increasing his breathing pace until he creates a respiratory alkalosis in his blood chemistry. But the Andromeda Strain has by now caused a degeneration in the lab's gasket seals, and the atomic self-destruct device is triggered. With only five minutes to detonation, Hall discovers that he is sealed off from a disconnect substation. Aware that if the bomb goes off the blast could cause a chain reaction in Andromeda mutations that would be impossible to stop, Hall forces his way into a prohibited area, fights off toxic fumes, dodges lethal darts from a radar-controlled laser gun, climbs a ladder to the top level of the laboratory complex, and, with seconds to spare, inserts his red key in a disconnect lock. Later, from an infirmary bed, he learns that the Andromeda Strain has mutated into a benign form, and that mission control is using cloud-seeding procedures to carry the organism out to sea, where it will be destroyed by alkaline reaction. Although the crisis is averted, Dr. Stone is left to conjecture on all the other countless forms of unknown life that still exist in the universe.

From Film Facts,1971

Wise Facts
  • At the time, there was a real fear that Moon astronauts would bring back a deadly virus.
  • Special effects were done by Douglas Trumbull, who also did the effects for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
  • Credits: 130 min. Universal; Distributed by: Universal;  Directed by: Robert Wise;  Produced by: Robert Wise;  Screenplay by: Nelson Gidding;  Edited by: Stuart Gilmore, John W. Holmes;  Director of Photography: Richard H. Kline;  Music by: Gil Melle;  Production Design by: Boris Leven;  Sound by: Waldon O. Watson;  Costumes by: Helen Colvig;  Make-up by: Bud Westmore;  Hair by: Carry Germain; 
    David Wayne Cast  Arthur Hill (Dr. Jeremy Stone), David Wayne (Dr.Charles Dutton), James Olson (Dr. Mark Hall), Kate Reid (Dr. Ruth Leavitt), Paula Kelly (Karen Anson), George Mitchell (Jackson), Ramon Bieri (Major Mancheck), Kermit Murdoch (Dr. Robertson), Richard O'Brien (Grimes), Peter Hobbs (General Sparks), Eric Christmas (Senator from Vermont), Susan Stone (Girl).

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    1.Robert Wise On His Films, p.200
    2. The Great Science Fiction Pictures

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