Review Roundup - 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 an overhanging threat of nuclear fail-safes, it stands alongside other Michael Crichton techno-fear thrillers such as Jurassic Park and Westworld. This story of government space probes bringing home 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, but do these elements 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 work well enough. Having a surgeon being out of his league in a high tech lab means a lot of expository dialogue, 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) and two academics; one older and wiser, the other brusque, chain smoking and outspoken. It's great to see this last one is a female character too, they don't fall foul of any typical 70s stereotypes after being swapped from a male counterpart in the original novel. This all allows for a good dynamic as they race to find a solution to "Code: Andromeda".

As a thriller there are many atmospheric moments, from the early discovery of a town wiped out by the probe's return to Earth, to the investigation of it's deadly contents under the microscope - and lastly the race against time as events spiral out of control. Strangely the many procedural sequences maintain a sense of urgency even when things are so drawn out. The sense of claustrophobia is very intense. It's interesting to see what lengths they go to in disinfecting themselves on arrival, and it's absorbing as they try various tests on an unknown form of life. This kind of thing does outstay it's welcome at times but in a way it provides a realistic feel. A few stylish visual flourishes help too, there are a lot of ticker tape screen text moments (even if the DVD release ruins this by adding standard disc subtitles instead of film ones) and the scenes which show the results of the initial outbreak are very dramatic with cut outs different angles of character point of view shots.

There are problems with the structure as things come to a head - after things go badly wrong the solution 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 though. Some of the outcomes seem to arrive with convenient timing which saps the tension a little. But while it lasts this is a fine example of a serious take on a hokey subject matter, space germs have never been scarier.

4/5