APUSH Christopher Robert Schmidt

Movie Project 5/31/01

Andromeda Strain is a book written by Michael Crichton in the late 1960’s. Because of its popularity in novel form, director Robert Wise turned it into a movie in 1971. It is 2 hours and 10 minutes long, and rated G. According to the Internet Movie Database, Andromeda Strain is "A group of scientists investigate a deadly new alien virus before it can spread." It features actors such as Kate Reid and Arthur Hill.

Andromeda Strain was made in 1971 and was directed by Robert Wise. It was based on the book of the same title by Michael Crichton, and is based on a real life situation that occurred around the same time as the movie was made. It was nominated for two Oscars in 1972, for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and for Best Film Editing. In addition, it was nominated for a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation. It stars four doctors: Dr. Jeremy Stone, played by Arthur Hill, Dr. Charles Dutton, played by David Wayne, Dr. Mark Hill, played by James Olson, and Dr. Ruth Leavitt, played by Kate Reid.

This movie was set in 1971, the year it was created. It begins with a search for a satellite that has fallen out of the sky into a small town in the rural southwest: Piedmont, New Mexico. When the recovery team arrives, it discovers that the satellite (Scoop VII) has been brought to the town doctor. They also discover that it has been opened, and that a mysterious, otherworldly disease has killed almost everyone in the town. The capsule and two survivors of the virus are transported to an underground facility, the most advanced of its type in the world. Also transported are the four scientists who must attempt to isolate and classify this new organism. The crack team works for five days to isolate and develop an antidote to the organism. During this time, they discover that the new space-bug is like a nuclear reactor: it absorbs all matter and energy and uses it to grow and mutate. At the end of the movie, the organism has mutated into a non-infectious form. However, a super-colony of it continues to exist over the Pacific Ocean, and the last scene shows that there is still a possibility for it to mutate into more forms.

The main theme in this movie is the identification and isolation of a totally unknown organism from space. This is shown time and time again. The scientists work at finding the size of the organism by passing it through a filter, adjusting the size bigger each time. They also work to identify it by searching at magnifications up to 1000 times normal on the satellite that is thought to have brought it from space. Another way they work to identify it is by doing autopsies on different lab animals that have been exposed to it. They also use electron microscopes as well as spectroscopy to identify what the organism is composed of, and its structure. By putting it into different solutions, they attempt to discover what kind of fluid or situation would inhibit its growth, to develop an antidote. All these things and more explain the different tactics used to identify the organism’s structure and properties.

There are several points in the movie that show that it was made during the cold war. After the town has been searched for any clues relating to what caused the deaths of all the people in it, a "Directive 7-12" is ordered. Directive 7-12 is destruction by nuclear detonation of an area totally contaminated by an organism or other incurable disaster. It requires presidential approval, and at one point, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is discussing with the Science Advisor to the President. During that conversation, a comment is made on what would be required before a nuclear device could be detonated: "We’d have to let the Soviets know of course." This is necessary because of the 1963 Treaty of Moscow, which bans all above ground firing of nuclear weapons. The Soviets had to be informed and told about how the situation came about, including details about the Scoop project that the US government would prefer not to reveal. There are some misgivings about this course of action, and this is an example of how instead of just doing what is right in the situation, the President must consider what another country would think of it. It also shows the fear that Americans had of the Soviet Union at the time: the President was willing to risk millions of lives because of fear that the Soviets would retaliate at the firing of a nuclear device. Later, a commentary on the Iron Curtain is shown. When the scientists are discussing who could have taken their place, a doctor is mentioned. When Dr. Hall asks where she is, Dr. Leavitt replies "Behind the Iron Curtain, she couldn’t get a research grant here." This example shows how although the Soviets were willing to accept people from the west, especially talented people, they usually were not allowed to return. Another major issue facing the country at this time was the feasibility of space exploration, including the possible uses and dangers of it. This film explores the possible dangers of space exploration by showing what can happen when a totally unknown organism is brought down into an unsuspecting environment. All these things and more show the opinions of the people at the time of the filming of this movie.

I had already read this book when I watched the movie, so I had a general idea of what it would be like. However, the movie emphasized how advanced the "Wildfire" facility for isolating the organism was. Even by today’s standards, it looked fairly high tech, and very clean for treating and containing a deadly organism. The video also reinforced the time period with the technology actually used: monochrome screens for computer output, highly pixilated displays, and other such reminders that although the facility looked high tech, underneath the skin it was still developed using 1971 computers. It was a good movie, and it was interesting to see how a popular book of the time was portrayed in movie form. Unlike current novel to movie translations, Andromeda Strain actually held true to the novel in all critical points, which made it a much better movie than some similar translations. Overall, this was a good movie, in my opinion, despite its obvious age.