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Film / The Andromeda Strain

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The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 American sci-fi thriller film, based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. Directed by Robert Wise, it stars Arthur Hill (Dr. Jeremy Stone), James Olson (Dr. Mark Hall), Kate Reid (Dr. Ruth Leavitt), and David Wayne (Dr. Charles Dutton) and follows the book closely (except for the names of the characters Leavitt and Dutton).

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.

Since the movie is based on the book, tropes used in the book only appear here, or in some cases, the same trope is used differently in the book than in the movie, in which case it is lampshaded here.


  • 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 Dutton, 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 rather reliably adapts 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.
    • In the film, the diabetic is still mentioned; it's just that the cop is downgraded to an old war vet with diabetes (referred to as "sugar" by Mr. Jackson, the sterno-drinker) who still had time to put on his old uniform before succumbing to the plague.
  • 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.
  • Bath Suicide: While investigating the town of Piedmont, Stone discovers a man who, quite calmly, leaned over a bathtub and held his own head underwater. Stone looks at this, and says, incredulously, "I wouldn't believe someone could commit suicide like that."
  • Cassette Futurism: The Wildfire compound is fitted with the most advanced technology available at the time the film was made (The '70s), and the novel even showcases some stuff like linked databases and early examples of bar codes.
  • 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 its pilot helpless as the jet crashes. Andromeda quickly adapts the same form in Level Five and destroys the gaskets keeping the levels from being contaminated, quickly causing a self-destruct mechanism to activate.
      • It is, however, completely unscientific for the organism to mutate in the wild to eat plastic and, simultaneously, in the bio-lab, to also eat plastic - in a lab which is hermetically sealed from the outside environment.
      • But, Andromeda is a completely different organism than any on earth. As was noted in the film, it is a single substance: "Andromeda isn't composed of different materials like a normal lifeform," therefore it is plausible that the mutation it makes is the only way it can mutate.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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. In the novel, Hall, as the Audience Surrogate, is told that the research facility is a real station and is developing a strain of corn that would grow well in desert-like conditions (a crop of barley in the film). Anyone who visits will even get a tour of the station if they want to allay suspicion. The same goes for the seeming lack of security; none is visible besides a chainlink fence, a guy opening and closing the gate and another older man at the main desk. While it looks lacking on the surface, it is there in the form of hidden sensors, radar and silent attack dogs preventing a covert approach or an overt intrusion.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    Leavitt: (Looking at bleak dusty road, turns to Dutton who's driving) You're lost! No one's been down this goat path for years!
    Dutton: That's how it's supposed to look. They spent $50,000 on it. ($5,000 in the book)
    Leavitt: (astonished) Putting in the potholes?
    Dutton: Getting rid of the tread marks. Those big tractors leave a lasting impression. A lot of heavy equipment has passed this way.
  • 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 camera 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.)
  • Deus ex Machina: Andromeda simply mutates to become non-lethal. This frees up the cast to worry about other pressing matters.
  • Died Standing Up: A woman is found in her home in this state.
  • 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.
  • Fanservice Extra: The topless hippie girl who is amongst the Piedmont casualties, and we get a long shot of her upper body on the montage of said casualties being checked by the Wildfire team. Considering that she's dead, it's more Fan Disservice.
  • 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.
  • Freaky Electronic Music: The film's score is truly unsettling.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The opening credits showcase close-ups of a variety of government documents and forms that make sense as the plot goes on, including requisition forms for the construction of the Wildfire compound,projection schematics of the spread of Andromeda made by bio-warfare researchers, Karen Anson's (the nurse and lab assistant Hall works with) authorization for a secret-level security clearance, and the Odd Man Hypothesis research documents, showing how Hall fits in it.
  • Futuristic Jet Injector: When the members of the Wildfire team are undergoing decontamination procedures to enter the facility, they receive an automatic injection by a futuristic pistol-like jet injector device.
  • Gender Flip: Leavitt was a male (Peter Leavitt) 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.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: Several scenes of the film are intercut with Dr. Stone speaking to a Senate task force after the crisis and explaining how the whole situation went to hell to their utter disbelief, including Andromeda adapting to a form that ate through the state-of-the-art plastic the quarantine gaskets were made of and the compound being incommunicado from events outside of it because of a sliver of paper getting in the way of the striker and bell of the compound's main telex.
  • Just in Time: The countdown is stopped with time to spare.
    Ruth: Eight seconds to spare. Hardly even exciting.
  • Infection Scene: Dr. Stone shows what happens to a monkey as it's exposed to Andromeda: the doctors and the viewers are shown the exposure and death as all the money's blood coagulates in seconds.
  • It Can Think: Seems to be Dutton's reservation about the Wildfire Project. In a flashback he's shown giving a lecture positing that intelligent life in space may actually exist on the microscopic scale, and warns the others that in curing Andromeda they may be destroying "a highly intelligent form of life." It all becomes moot when they determine that, whether Andromeda can consciously think or not, its presence will ultimately wipe out humanity.
  • Mistaken for Undead: Hall makes it past the knockout guns but is on the verge of losing consciousness. He pleads for help from the staff on that floor, but they're convinced from the way he's staggering he has the virus and flee instead.
  • Mockumentary: It was marketed as a drama, but the film presents itself as being a dramatization of real events — see This Is a Work of Fiction, below.
  • Overflow Error: The pathologists analyzing the disease run a computer simulation of the casualties that would result if the contagion ever Escaped from the Lab. After blossoming from population hubs in the United States and Canada, the screen blanked to a single number: 601. The technician informs them that 601 means the computer can't calculate contamination levels that huge.
  • Pixellation: In the men's ultraviolet scan, their privates are blurred.
  • Plot-Demanded Manual Mode: Dr. Mark Hall has to run the gauntlet of the central core's self-defense safeguards to reach a point where the self-destruct mechanism can be deactivated.
  • 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:
    • Also "There's a fire" during the Avengers Assemble scene.
    • 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.
  • The Plague (or the threat of it spreading worldwide) sets the whole plot in motion.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: Inverted — The film starts with this message (interestingly enough, this is one of Crichton's Creator Thumbprints):
    This film concerns the four-day history of a major American scientific crisis.
    We received the generous help of many people attached to Project Scoop at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Wildfire Laboratory in Flatrock, Nevada. They encouraged us to tell the story accurately and in detail.
    The documents presented here are soon to be made public. They do not in any way jeopardize the national security.
  • 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.
  • Typeset in the Future: The Eurostyle Bold Extended font (or near equivalent) is used for a lot of wall signage in the Wildfire labs.
  • You Can See That, Right?: Ruth to Dr. Stone while they're examining the green stain on the meteorite when it suddenly becomes purple for a split second and grows (minutely, but it does) as they watch.

Alternative Title(s): Andromeda Strain