Super 70s Sunday - Silicon Revolution

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971)

If there was ever a film to make me feel badly in need of a shower, this is it. Full of sterilisation procedures, mystery disease fatalities and the constant threat of nuclear fail-safes, it's an engrossing piece of work that stands alongside other Michael Crichton techno-fear thrillers such as Jurassic Park and Westworld. A story of government space probes bringing home microscopic alien life is an itchy, sweaty ordeal, it's full of memorable moments and also includes a few interesting set pieces despite the clinical laboratory setting. It's also a good character piece, with plenty of clashing egos and moral quandaries. But do these ingredients work together within the constrains of the plot as it rushes into the final countdown?


As a drama the material gives the lead characters some good elements to play with. They're nothing out of the ordinary, but the archetypes all work well enough in terms of assembling a team to battle against an incoming crisis. Dr. Hall (James Olson) is our entry into the situation as a surgeon being placed out of his depth in a high tech lab. This of course means a lot of expository dialogue for both him and the audience, but luckily his journey through its many under ground layers means plenty of visual information is conveyed without it ever becoming too dry. It also allows for some great period set designs and a few neat examples of early computer effects.

Playing off him are a methodical team leader (the facility's designer) who's more interested in his methods rather than the human cost, and two academics; one older and wiser, the other brusque and outspoken. This last one is probably my favourite who instead of being a typical '70s female inclusion is instead a rude opinionated chain-smoker. This all allows for a good dynamic as they race to find a solution to 'Code: Andromeda' and shows how all the best laboratory planning can't account for the unpredictable human element.

It's also interesting to see what lengths the team goes to in disinfecting themselves on arrival at the research base, and it's absorbing as they try various tests on an unknown form of life. As a thriller there are many atmospheric moments included, from the early discovery of a town wiped out by the returning probe, to the investigation of its deadly contents under the microscope. The final race against time as events spiral out of control is also edge if your seat stuff for the most part as sealed doors and laser devices are activated. Strangely the many procedural sequences maintain a sense of urgency even when things are really drawn out and all the lab trials go on and on. The sense of claustrophobia is very intense because of both the location and the premise, it's bleak and engrossing.


This kind of thing does outstay it's welcome at times but in a way it provides a realistically clinical feeling to it all. A few stylish flourishes help too, beyond the sets and production design there are a lot of great ticker tape style screen text moments. It's a shame certain DVD releases completely ruin this by adding standard disc subtitles instead of the intended film ones, which don't fit the style or sit on the screen correctly. Elsewhere there are also some great visual choices in the scenes which show the results of the initial outbreak, which include lots of dramatic reveals and cut outs with different angles of character's perspectives. 

There are a handful of problems with the structure as things come to a head, and after things go badly wrong the solution in the finale feels a little anticlimactic even if it fits with the idea that the problem is a living, evolving organism. The rush to a finish feels like a light touch following such a heavy weight investigation and so many intense sequences. Some of the outcomes feel way too convenient in their timing which kind of saps the tension just a little. But while it lasts this is a fine example of a serious take on a hokey subject matter, done with a lot of tense pacing and suspense. Weird space germs have never been scarier.

4/5