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There’s a moment late in Andromeda Strain when scientists realize the extent of a deadly virus they spent the movie researching. It’s a Manhattan Project allegory. The regret, the fear; humanity screwed up again.

Andromeda Strain groups itself into the virus movie sub-genre. In a more contemporary setting, think Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, but Andromeda Strain finds a unique venue. Released in 1972, it’s an evolution, taking something that in the ‘50s might regress to a monster movie but playing this material straight. That’s the Michael Crichton difference, as Andromeda Strain is based his novel of the same name.

Packing up those fears of rogue government bases, hidden by a seemingly normal exterior, Andromeda Strain plays to classic conspiracy theorist literature, if instead of UFOs, hard, plausible science. So much science. Andromeda Strain loves science. It’s quaint now. Inside a five-level quarantine facility, a team of doctors unravel a space-born mystery found on a crashed satellite. They do so with low-res computers and mechanical arms, scintillating tech in 1972. Not as much in 2019.

Slow and plodding as Andromeda Strain tends to move, that deliberate, reluctant storytelling style fits

That’s cause for a languishing middle act. Andromeda Strain lavishes attention on the “advanced” electronics. There’s a subtle theme of distrust, where some scientists believe in digital computation, others their own minds. Some of that seeps in from 2001 no doubt, but the focus is on how government advances can detect and prevent germ/viral disasters. Cold War tension lingers on the underside. It’s a reassuring movie, in a way, showing quick action and decisive solutions in case of such an event. A narrative undercurrent of nuclear fears adds to the drama.

The final 40-minutes or so, Andromeda Strain catches fire. Stress levels peak, testing characters like Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid) whose dry cynicism stands out from the typically pale disposition of movie doctors. Scenes of heroism jump forward, bettering a routine countdown clock finish.

Through it all, Crichton’s intense realism is preserved on-screen (at times too real with short scenes of animals suffocating). Slow and plodding as Andromeda Strain tends to move, that deliberate, reluctant storytelling style fits. Outside, the space virus risks escaping through the air. Inside, everything is done in desperation, waiting for tests to finish, details to emerge, and processes to complete.

Director Robert Wise also led 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, an undeniable classic warning of human aggression. With Andromeda Strain, he ends this work similarly. Each closes on ominous words, suggestive of real world likelihood. The best sci-fi can make such a connection. Andromeda Strain isn’t far off.

Video

Arrow’s Blu-ray release transplants the film stock to a pleasingly encoded digital medium. Heavy grain is a hallmark, adding grit to the images, thick and hearty. Arrow’s compression proves capable in preserving the aesthetic without falling to digital pitfalls.

Resolution sustains too. Tense close-ups look as such, and the litany of split diopter profile shots haul in definition. Facial texture shines throughout. Sharpness holds at distance too. Set design is purposefully plain, although does feature all manner of switches and light boards. Those look great.

The base works on a color-coded system. The first floor is deep red, a challenge for the encode, which escapes without problems. Plus, it’s bright and saturated. Flesh tones stand out with an organic purity. Other primaries factor in as needed, rendered well.

If there’s an issue, it falls to black levels. Rarely do they reach appreciable density. That’s likely more on the film stock (and intent), even as some of the grain becomes pronounced in darker areas. Andromeda Strain shows no signs of being brightened, and depth still works as needed.

Audio

A PCM 2.0 mono affair works for what Andromeda Strain needs. Dialog keeps clarity in tow, dated only by way of natural age. A plethora of warning sirens test treble. Audio holds together without audible strain.

This is a quiet movie, often pushed along by computer-y sounds and other light ambiance. That’s enough for this PCM offering to handle.

Extras

Pop culture writer Bryan Reeseman heads into the booth for a pleasing commentary track. Critic Kim Newman speaks for almost a half hour in a video essay discussing Andromeda Strain and other killer virus cinema. Two DVD features dating back to 2001 include a retrospective making-of (30-minutes) and a Michael Crichton interview (12:33). You can snag the shooting script in PDF form from this disc, and read it alongside the various trailers and an image gallery.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Andromeda Strain
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Adapted from Micheal Crichton’s novel, The Andromeda Strain focuses on realism, at times to a fault in terms of entertainment value.

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