Science Fiction Filmsite
Home Films The Promise of Science Credits References

Andromeda Strain

<< previous film | next film >>

General Information:
Year Released: 1971
Country: US
Director: Robert Wise
Literary Source: Michael Crichton, Andromeda Strain

Andromeda Strain is unique in that hard science is at the center of the development of its plot, and not just thrown in for good measure. Many scenes are reenactments of scientific procedures, such as the scientific team's manipulation of Andromeda samples underneath a high-powered microscope.

Like 2001, technology does not hold importance as technology. Rather, it is the source (and the solution) to the problem at hand.

Andromeda Strain presents a very sterile version of science and technology. Everything in the Wildfire facility is squeaky clean and perfectly manufactured. Technology fails humans in this film on several levels -- it is classified research technology that brought the andromeda strain to our planet, yet both medical and scientific procedures prove useless when trying to combat it.

The Promise of Science: Alien Life

It is hard to tell whether the extraterrestrial in Andromeda Strain is intentionally hostile or friendly. It's also hard to classify it as a visitor or as something humans encountered in outer space. It arrives on our planet via a crashed space probe -- it was human explorations that found it, but it is encountered on Earth rather than in space. It instantly kills the population of the small town in Nevada where it landed, and then is isolated by a team of government scientists. While under observation at a top-secret research facility, the organism mutates into a form that is not deadly to humans, but does destroy rubber. This allows it to escape captivity, and grow into a large airborne mass. The question of its intelligence is brought up in the film -- did it intentionally catch a ride to our planet on the space probe? Did it mutate into a non-lethal form because it did not want to kill more people? Or is it unintelligent, closer in being to viruses of this planet? The organism's intelligence is not confirmed (or denied) by the film's scientists. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we never know if it is successfully destroyed -- or successfully inhabits the Earth.

An electron microscope view of the virus, magnified 1000 times.

The Promise of Science: Computers

A computer-generated diagram of Wildfire, showing its five subterranean levels. It is shown to the scientists as they descend through decontamination.

A second movie computer that simply exists to serve is the machine in Andromeda Strain that runs Wildfire. Wildfire is a top-secret high-tech underground government research facility that is the embodiment of sterile and inhuman.

When the scientists enter the complex, they are sent through a five-level computer-controlled decontamination sequence. This involves a series of physical examinations, automatic showers and powderings, and question and answer sessions. The hostility of these events is heightened by the pervasive lack of humanity -- all discussions are held with the computer's disembodied female voice, and the environment is cold and unforgiving.

This computer, like all others in science fiction film, is not perfect. Towards the end of the film, a false contamination signal is sent to Wildfire's self-destruct mechanism, and the facility is set to explode in five minutes. These five minutes show more mechanical, inhuman behavior. Wildfire shuts its doors one by one and releases gasses into the atmosphere to make death easier on the humans who are trapped inside.

<< previous film | next film >>

. erika . .
. last modified: Jul 20, 2000 .