Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Nuclear Threat
- Robert Wise Films
- Science Fiction
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “Robert Wise directed this deliberately paced adaptation of Michael Crichton’s best-seller” about a “U.S. spaceship bring[ing] back deadly unknown bacteria from outer space, which quickly wipes out an entire town but for a [constantly crying] baby and an alcoholic” (George Mitchell).
He writes that, “Like Crichton, Wise emphasizes the scientific process that occurs when a problem must be solved,” with “Crichton’s theme [being that] no process is foolproof:
So, while the scientists make discoveries, there are also major mistakes made by man and machine.”
He argues — though I disagree — that “the most intriguing aspect of [the] book and [the] film is that with all the scientific dialogue and experimentation taking place, and the exciting finale in which Olsen desperately races to stop the bomb from exploding, we almost overlook the fact that the scientists need not have been brought together in the first place,” given that “in regard to the bacteria, the same result would have happened without their presence, and their presence almost caused world destruction.” He closes his review by asserting, “This is a story about helplessness.”
I’m hard pressed to see how this interpretation holds up, given that it’s unthinkable not to bring in a “team of brainy scientists” to help figure out what’s going on in a situation like this — and they do an incredible analytical job.
Peary writes that “Crichton’s point is that it was thoughtless to have brought back such bacteria from space in the first place (possibly to be used militarily),” given that “once that happened, every attempt to correct the initial mistake caused new errors and cascading ramifications.” However, that choice was made — along with a careful plan to immediately bring in expertise as needed, as we see playing out here.
Personally, I find the film’s “deliberate” pacing appropriate and provocative. The futuristic sets of the Wildfire Laboratory (what a name!) seem to intentionally evoke thoughts of Kubrick’s 2001 (1968):
Meanwhile, given the COVID-19 reality we’ve lived through over the past year-plus, seeing the extensive precautions taken by the team in order to be as contaminant-free as possible is fascinating:
Most distressing are both the (infamous) scenes of animal cruelty (albeit supervised by the ASPCA!):
and seeing the surviving baby left to cry on his own most of the time, without being held or comforted.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine cinematography by Richard H. Kline
- Douglas Trumbull’s special effects
- Many powerful moments
Yes, as a sci-fi classic.