Andromeda Strain, The (1971)

Andromeda Strain, The (1971)

“Clotted blood… Powder!”

After nearly an entire town is wiped out by an extraterrestrial organism, four scientists — Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson), Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid), and Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne) — are called in to investigate and stop the deadly substance from spreading.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aliens
  • Nuclear Threat
  • Race-Against-Time
  • Robert Wise Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Scientists

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

Must See?
Yes, as a sci-fi classic.


  • Genuine Classic


7 thoughts on “Andromeda Strain, The (1971)

  1. Agreed; a must-see sci-fi classic. As per my 1/21/15 post in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb):

    “Whatever it is, it’s larger than a virus.”

    ‘The Andromeda Strain’: Apparently this film was re-made not that long ago as a tv movie which was not very successful (gee, what a surprise). I hadn’t seen this since its release… so that’s been some time. But overall it has held up as quite a nifty flick. A quartet of elite scientists is rushed into a scientific lab fortress to identify an organism from space which has just wiped out a town with a small population. A script comprised of about 80% science slang ensues. But even a know-nothing-of-such-things such as myself had no difficulty following the drama. And it *is* drama. Investigative science hasn’t a chance of being dull here. Director Robert Wise builds the tension subtly and wonderfully – to a crackerjack conclusion. Arthur Hill, David Wayne and James Olson play the rather sedate, pragmatic experts; Kate Reid plays the resident bitch expert (beautifully). Paula Kelly is seen in a rare break from song-and-dance as resident nurse. I very much enjoyed this revisit. I suspect it’s among Wise’s best films.

  2. I wasn’t bored – or confused – once. That’s saying something for a film that is, as you point out, about 80% scientist-ese.

    Agreed, this is expertly directed and among Wise’s best.

  3. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Agreed a classic and the first (I think) outbreak film. Together with The Day the Earth Stool Still (1951) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) a superb Robert Wise sci-fi trilogy; all being intelligent, thought-provoking and must see for FFs.

  4. Admin: I imagine you watched it with Ross. This seems very much a Ross-kind-of flick.

  5. I watched it years ago with Ross, when we were first dating (I think he had it in his DVD collection). When I was re-watching it this time, he looked over and recognized it from the visuals alone.

    “Andromeda Strain”? He asked.

    I gave him a high five. 🙂

  6. Definite must watch. I’ll just add one thing – this film was originally rated G. So many early G rated films were more adult with some profanity, violence, and even nudity. Not a prude – just surprised how the rating system evolved.

Leave a Reply