Film: The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 disaster movie based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. Directed by Robert Wise, it stars Arthur Hill (Stone), James Olson (Hall), Kate Reid (Dutton), and David Wayne (Burton) and follows the book closely.

The Andromeda Strain follows a team of scientists who investigate a deadly disease of extraterrestrial origin, which has already wiped out an entire town, save two survivors.

For its time, the film showed impressive special effects. Computers had advanced pen inputs that didn't behave out of character for the era.


Tropes:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The twist near the end that the SCOOP Project was searching for materials that could be turned into biochemical warfare agents in space (and sets off Leavitt and Burton, who are both somewhat anti-establishment) is given in a backstory Info Dump on the second chapter of the novel, and none of the characters in it are concerned about that detail so much as the horror of the SCOOP-7 mission having Gone Horribly Right.
  • Adapted Out: While it adapts rather reliably the source material, there are a number of removed minor Info Dump talks (including a detail regarding the Title Drop-Wildfire's request for a codename for the organism to Central Codes specifies it was diagnosed as an infectious strain in the book (hence "Andromeda Strain"), while on the movie it is simply given by Central Codes), one additional patient that is discovered later (a cop that was passing through Piedmont when Andromeda started to spread, was spared immediate death because of his diabetes, and went psychotic on a diner later, shooting everybody and himself-this finally cements the theory that acidosis is harmful to Andromeda), and the detail that the nuclear detonation protocol would have eliminated all air from Level Five several seconds before going off.
  • ASCII Art: The computer graphics - hot stuff at the time.
  • Avengers Assemble: When Code Wildfire is declared the movie cuts to scenes showing the military coming to collect the four scientists, often interrupting them in mid-work.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Dr. Hall is repeatedly told about Wildfire's nuclear bomb Self-Destruct Mechanism (which will go off if a disease escapes containment), how he's the only one who can stop it from detonating and how important it is that he be able to get to one of the deactivation terminals quickly. You can guess what he has to do at the ending of both the movie and novel!
    • A fighter jet experiences a severe malfunction when it flew past Andromeda — all of its plastics dissolved, leaving him helpless as the jet crashes. Andromeda quickly adapts the same form in Level Five and destroys the gaskets keeping the levels uncontaminated, quickly causing a self-destruct mechanism to activate.
  • Circling Vultures: When the SCOOP team approaches the town of Piedmont they see buzzards circling over the town - a Foreshadowing of the dead bodies they will find there.
  • Content Warnings: As it says on the original poster (shown above), "Rated G but may be too intense for younger children."
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: The Department of Defense's Wildfire laboratory, a five-story underground facility, is located in the (fictional) town of Flatrock, Nevada, below a U.S.Department of Agriculture research station.
  • Convulsive Seizures
    • After the self-destruct alarm sounds—and professional decorum deteriorates—incidental characters flee, having observing Leavitt's grand mal seizure. One assumes, "She's got the germ!" Less dramatically (but of more significance to the plot) she'd had an absence seizure while monitoring lab results. When a substance is found to inhibit Andromeda's growth, red text flashes on a screen: causing Leavitt to "blank out" for a few seconds. She reports to her colleagues that no cultures were affected.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    Leavitt: (Looking at bleak dusty road, turns to Burton who's driving) You're lost! No one's been down this goat path for years!
    Burton: That's how it's supposed to look. We spent $50,000 on this road.
    Leavitt: (astonished) Putting in the potholes?
    Burton: Covering up the equipment tracks. Heavy equipment leaves a big trail.
  • Creator Cameo: When Mark Hall is ordered to stop a surgery he's about to start, one of the doctors in the back of the operating room is Michael Crichton.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Dr Leavitt often doesn't take a lot of things happening in the Wildfire complex or what is expected seriously. On noticing the crops at the isolated U.S. Departmemt of Agriculture research station which conceals wildfire, she says "Great place to grow pot."
    • Later, Leavitt ducks looking at a flashing hazard light on a construction sawhorse, and to hide the real reason for not looking (she has epilepsy) she says, "I never did like red lights. Reminds me of my years in a bordello."
    • The old man, Peter Jackson, when the doctors are having a problem with gasket failures and alarms are going off, looks at the video and says to Hall and Stone, "hell of a way to run a hospital!"
  • Decontamination Chamber: There is a long sequence in one of these while the scientists are entering Wildfire, done to prevent any outside contaminants from getting inside. (There is a similar long sequence in the book.)
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: When Dr. Hall is first given the key to prevent the nuclear device from detonating if the computer controlled auto countdown starts, he thinks it would be his job to initiate it.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The Wildfire compound-composed of five levels, each level more sterilized than the last, with top-of-the-line (for its time) bio-warfare research and computer equipment and a nuclear self-destruct.
  • For Want of a Nail
    • A simple piece of paper prevented the notification bell from ringing.
    • They only installed 3 self-destruct cancellation stations per level, but they need 5, of which the last two aren't yet finished. Guess where the only person with the key to prevent self destruct is locked into when the self destruct mechanism activates.
    • As mentioned before on Convulsive Seizures, the Wildfire team would have found a potential cure for Andromeda earlier in the story if Leavitt hadn't been alone in the lab and the computer wasn't set to show the results with massive, blinking red letters.
  • Gender Flip: Leavitt was a male in the book, but was changed to a female in the film.
  • Goshdang It To Heck: When Hall asks the old man the baby's name, the following exchange ensues:
    Old Man: Give us a butt first.
    Hall: We don't allow smoking here.
    Old Man: Then go fish.
  • Hot Scientist: Noticeably averted. The lone female is in her fifties and overweight. And, it must be said, one of the most memorable characters in the movie, snarking delightfully with all her might.
  • Just in Time: The coutdown is stopped with time to spare.
    Ruth: There were eight seconds left. Hardly exciting.
  • Pixellation: In the men's ultraviolet scan, their privates are blurred.
  • Shown Their Work: An interesting example. When Leavitt has a seizure that's induced by a flashing light, the pattern is actually extremely unlikely to cause a seizure. This wasn't an accident but rather intentionally chosen to prevent triggering them in audiences.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: An early vector map of North America (think Atari's Battle Zone) calculates the projected spread of the fatal contagion.
  • Spy Speak: Dr. Charles Dutton uses Type 3 to enter Project Wildfire.
    Guard: Howdy.
    Dutton: Howdy Doody.
    Guard: You got the time?
    Dutton: My watch stopped at 11:46.
    Guard: Darn shame.
    Dutton: Must be the heat.
  • This Is No Time for Knitting: In the opening, the pair in biohazard suits are investigating the corpses littering the town:
    Dr. Mark Hall: [Removing the pants of the dead doctor] Have a look at his buttocks.
    Dr. Jeremy Stone: That's NOT funny.
    Dr. Mark Hall: Not meant to be! Normally, blood in a dead person goes to the lowest points. There should be marks of lividity, right? Do you see any purplish marks on his butt?
    Dr. Jeremy Stone: No...
  • Tracking Device: Didn't exist in 1971 when the movie was made, but the four scientists can be tracked by the electronic diagram, anywhere in the Wildfire complex. Today, you could do it with an RFID chip embedded in their clothing.
  • You Can See That, Right?: Ruth to Dr. Stone while they're examining the green stain on the meteorite.

Alternative Title(s):

Andromeda Strain