Andromeda Strain, The (1971) (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1971 (June 4, 2019)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
Michael Crichton’s career as an adapted novelist began in 1971 with the release of The Andromeda Strain, a science fiction thriller based upon the first of his “science” novels.
In the small town of Piedmont, New Mexico, an outbreak has occurred, killing 99.9% percent of the town’s residents – all but an old man and a baby. Brought in to isolate, study, and possibly terminate the unknown organism that caused the outbreak is a group of scientists who are placed in a five story research facility, sealing them off from the outside world to prevent contamination. Once their work begins, they slowly discover the lethal agent to be a crystalline alien lifeform, unlike anything previously seen. As it continues to grow under their watchful eye, it’s vital that they discover how to deal with it before they and the rest of the world are exposed to it.
Despite a more recent miniseries in 2008, many consider the original film of The Andromeda Strain to be the final word on the original novel’s adaptation; not because it’s 100% faithful to the source material, but because how well translated and effective it is. Rather than a fast-paced race against time (not unlike the previous film The Satan Bug with similar subject matter), it’s instead a cold and detached story that builds the drama of the situation over time. It’s about the science of solving the problem, which in turn, leads to suspense once it’s better understood.
Robert Wise effectively uses many tricks to tell the story a bit differently than one might expect, including split diopter shots, split-screens, and a score made up of mostly machine-like sounds. The pace is kept to a crawl at first as we begin to get to the know each scientist and understand their dynamics together, eventually speeding up when the pressure is on. The performances are fine from all involved, but it’s Kate Reid as Dr. Ruth Leavitt, a derisive and brazen woman in the midst of all of these men, who shines the brightest. The sets and equipment may be dated, but there’s something trendy and retro about the film’s design that makes it feel somewhat timeless.
The Andromeda Strain may seem impassive on the surface, but thanks to a rock solid foundation and an unorthodox approach to the material, it’s a thoroughly satisfying piece of science fiction that’s only a few microscopic molecules away from science fact.
Arrow Video brings The Andromeda Strain to Blu-ray with a transfer taken from a new 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative, presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The level of texture and detail in this presentation is often stunning. The interiors of the research facility, computer consoles, hazmat suits, and the facial features of all of the actors are crisp and precise. Grain management is thoroughly even from scene to scene, never distracting but still film-like. Colors, including the bright reds and grays of the facility’s walls, as well as the neon glow of the microscopic view of the alien lifeform, are all lush and accurate. Blacks are deep, contrast levels are perfect, and everything appears clean and stable with no leftover imperfections. The only flaws are inherent in the source, which include mild softness during processed shots, or in the occasional use of matte paintings.
The audio is presented in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. Despite a single channel source, this is an active and affecting aural experience. The film’s score is its strongest quality, which is obvious right from the outset during the opening credit sequence. Dialogue is always clear and intelligible while sound effects, including the resonance of the facility and the outdoor ambience of Piedmont, are oddly enveloping. It’s also clean with no leftover instances of hiss, crackle, distortion, or dropouts. For a mono track, it packs a punch.
Extras for this release include a lively audio commentary by author Bryan Reesman about the film; A New Strain of Science Fiction, a 28-minute video appreciation of the film and the genre itself by film critic Kim Newman; The Andromeda Strain: Making the Film, a 30-minute featurette by Laurent Bouzereau which features interviews with director Robert Wise, screenwriter Nelson Gidding, Michael Crichton, and special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull; A Portrait of Michael Crichton, a 13-minute featurette focusing on Crichton himself; a Cinescript Gallery, which features the film’s shooting script, illustrated with diagrams and production designs; the original theatrical trailer; 3 TV spots; 2 radio spots; 2 image galleries, one containing 115 production stills, behind-the-scenes stills, and lobby cards, and the other containing 53 images of posters, newspaper clippings, publicity materials, and home video art; a PDF file of the film’s full 192-page shooting script (available via BD-ROM); and a 32-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, Secret Spine-Chiller: The Other Side of Robert Wise by Peter Tonguette, A Discussion Guide for Teachers and Students by Tom Andrews, and restoration details.
While many will point to Jurassic Park as their first leap into the work of Michael Crichton, making it his most accessible work, The Andromeda Strain is just as important – and is certainly more attuned to what’s going on in the world, even all these years after its release. Arrow Video’s restoration of the film is superlative and worthy of any genre fan’s time. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons