Apocalypse Then

A foreign bacteria that could possibly destroy the world in a matter of months?  Pshaw, those crazy sci-fi movie mavens, always trying to scare us.  They did a helluva good job in 1971 with THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, based on the 1969 Michael Crichton novel, and now available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video/MVDvisual/Universal Home Entertainment.

But that was then, and this is…

Okay, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN isn’t exactly the mirror image of what’s currently going on globally, but what few similarities exist are kinda striking.

A downed satellite, landing in Piedmont, NM, mushrooms into a major crisis when the recovery goes disastrously awry.  Seemingly, everyone in the town is dead, infected by an unidentifiable contagion.  Worse, the military team assigned to bring back the capsule, too, develops symptoms and perish quickly.

Unlike some present-day factions who shall remain nameless, the 1971 government acts quickly and recruits a quartet of revered scientists and doctors to investigate this nightmare.  Wearing the proper protective clothing, they descend upon Piedmont and make an astounding discovery.  A local physician (immediately deceased) unleashed this germ by handling the craft, BUT two Piedmont citizens are still miraculously alive:  a drunken, ailing senior and a newborn.  How and why did they survive?  Is there something in their specific biological systems that can provide immunity?  The docs and the patients are swiftly transported to a super underground laboratory testing facility under the Southwestern desert, with a mere few days (the movie takes place over a 96 hour period) to identify the killer and work toward a cure.  The alternatives are too frightening to contemplate, particularly if this invader is airborne.

Yep, this isn’t some bug-eyed alien from outer space, but a pinprick-sized germ – at first incorrectly tagged a new virus before its mutating evolution is revealed to be a microbe.  It attacks humans and non-humans, crystallizing their blood supply (turning hemoglobin into powder).  The suspense ratchets up as time runs out, and the last twenty minutes of this nail-biter will give viewers non-microbe golf ball-sized goosebumps.

Superbly directed by Robert Wise, no stranger to science-fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still), and with a first-rate screenplay by Nelson Gidding (who authored many fine scripts for Wise, including the terrifying 1963 horror classic The Haunting), THE ANDROMED STRAIN certainly sends a somber message/warning to contemporary Earthlings nearly a half century after its release.  Improving upon the Crichton book, Wise and Gidding changed the all-male science crew to include a woman (the Dr. Leavitt character, snarkily enacted by Kate Reid), making the narrative more believable and modern (the ubiquitous use throughout of desktop computers and lasers, both then ultra-futuristic, add to the realism).  The remaining members of the team are excellent as well, and include Arthur Hill, David Wayne and James Olson.  Dr. Jeremy Stone, the Hill character is the most interesting as he’s the one moderate conservative in the bunch (the rest are liberals and progressive liberals).  Stone has had the most virulent battles with Congress and the President, having been humiliated and rebuffed when, after the 1969 moon landing, he proposed a program to examine all returning planetary/star spacecraft for viral germs and minute organisms that could potentially cause a worldwide pandemic.  The Congress and the White House are depicted as money-grubbing boobs – pooh-poohing his ideas as a waste of time and cash.  As in 2020 D.C., the 1971 versions (when Nixon was in office) stop laughing awful fast (some fine sneering turns by Eric Christmas, Walter Brooke, Glenn Langan and David McLean).

The Arrow Blu-Ray of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN looks and sounds great, due to a new 4K transfer from the original 35MM Panavision elements (the flick was beautifully photographed in widescreen by Richard H. Kline, and contains a sparse but tingling score by jazz musician/composer Gil Melle).  The remaining supporting cast, too, is worth mentioning, especially Paula Kelley as Olson’s medical assistant, and also George Mitchell, Ramon Bieri, Richard O’Brien, Quinn Redeker, Peter Hobbs, Joe DiReda, and Susan Brown).  There are some fascinating extras, including a BD-ROM PDF of the 192-page collection of production diagrams, an image gallery, highlights from Giddings copy of the shooting script, two vintage 1971 mini-documentaries on Michael Crichton and the making of the pic, audio commentary by critic Bryan Reesman and a newly filmed featurette with critic Kim Newman.

I saw THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN with a buddy in its original release, at the (then) recently constructed, cavernous National Theater, located on Broadway in midtown Manhattan.  We both really liked the movie, but he, a genius student, eager to start pre-med in the fall, was sort of miffed by the “believability factor” of one specific scene.  In words I remember to this day, he shook his head and griped “What bonehead bunch of assholes would ignore a leading scientist’s request to not only continue funding a pandemic unit, but to deny a request to expand it?”  Like I said, golf ball goosebumps.

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition] LPCM mono audio; Arrow Video/MVDvisual/Universal Home Entertainment. CAT# AV203. SRP: $39.95.



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