The Andromeda Strain
Before he created Westworld and Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton first blurred the line between science fiction and science fact with his breakout success The Andromeda Strain. Two years after the novel s publication, Robert Wise (The Haunting) directed the film adaptation, a nail-biting blend of clinically-realised docudrama and astonishing sci-fi visuals that ushered in a new subgenre: the killer virus biological thriller.
A government satellite crashes outside a small town in New Mexico and within minutes, every inhabitant of the town is dead, except for a crying baby and an elderly derelict. The satellite and the two survivors are sent to Wildfire, a top-secret underground laboratory equipped with a nuclear self-destruct mechanism to prevent the spread of infection in case of an outbreak. Realizing that the satellite brought back a lethal organism from another world, a team of government scientists race against the clock to understand the extraterrestrial virus codenamed Andromeda before it can wipe out all life on the planet.
Aided by innovative visual effects by Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running) and an unforgettable avant-garde electronic music score by Gil Melle (The Sentinel), Wise s suspense classic still haunts to this day, and is presented here in a stunning, exclusive new restoration from the original negative.
Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain gets an all-new Blu-ray edition from Arrow Video (after Universal released their own lackluster one), and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Arrow has conducted their own brand new 4K restoration of the film, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. It is encoded here at 1080p/24hz.
Arrow has done a remarkable job with this title, delivering a stunner of an image despite the film’s fairly drab look. Colours can be a bit drab overall, but they are saturated well and there are some moments that pop a bit more to life thanks to the colour coded levels of the film’s central research facility. Blacks are pretty good if not perfect, but they’re deep and details aren’t crushed out.
The film is grainy but, for the most part, it’s fine. Moments where a split screen of sorts are applied or the “news alert” style marquee notices pop up take on a dupier look with grittier, heavy grain, but much of the film looks far more natural and cleaner, and the grain is rendered so cleanly and naturally. This then all leads to incredibly sharp and distinct details, right down to where you can make out the stones and pebbles on the dirt road of the town where everything starts.
Restoration work has cleaned up just about every bit of dirt and damage, the only things remaining being what looks like small bits of dirt that appear when those optical effects (the split screens and titles) occur. Outside of that the image is pretty spotless and if it wasn’t for the heavily dated aspects of the film you’d swear it was made recently.
The film comes with a simple lossless PCM 1.0 mono presentation but it’s effective and clean. Dialogue is clean and easy to hear, with great depth and fidelity behind it, same with the sound effects. The film’s “score” is made up of electronic noises and is “music” under the loosest definition of the word but it does sound clean and isn’t edgy.
Arrow’s special edition brings Universal’s previous features over and then adds a few of their own. The big new addition is an audio commentary featuring Bryan Reesman, who is clearly fond of the film. He gives some backstory to author Michael Crichton’s “first” book (he had written stories and novels previously under pseudonyms) and this film version, before placing the film in the context of other disaster/contagion films. Throughout he addresses various criticisms that have been lobbed at the film (even calling out Vincent Canby’s original review, which he found just before doing this track) and offers his own defenses, explains how he finds the editing and look pleasing, along with other technical topics. Impressively Reesman never lets up and he keeps the track entertaining and lively, even when he goes off on a few side tangents (a trivia night he went to, his own experience with a thrombosis—which I agree are not fun—and how he doesn’t understand why people would watch movies on their computer or phone). I found the track quite entertaining and it did get me looking at the film from another perspective.
Kim Newman next provides a 28-minute discussion that’s more specific to that disaster/contagion sub-genre (which includes zombie movies), giving an oral history, going over a number of films (which he feels includes films about real life events, like And the Band Played On), and pointing out the impact The Andromeda Strain has had. As usual he’s absolutely passionate about the subject so it makes for a fun and breezy viewing.
Outside of the Cinescript feature, which is a picture gallery presenting the full script (including the title page, preface, and appendix), the remaining features are all form the previous Universal DVD and Blu-ray. This includes a making-of documentary and a portrait of Michael Crichton, both from 2001. The Crichton one, running 12-minutes, is surprisingly decent, providing an interview with the author where he talks about his experience in med school, how he got into writing (and why he originally wrote under a pseudonym), and his involvement in the film. The 30-minute making-of is standard for its type, gathering interviews with Wise, Crichton, screenwriter Nelson Gidding, special effects artist James Shourt (who apparently almost bankrupted himself working on this film), and others. Despite a familiar feel to this documentary it’s still an entertaining track, explaining the reasoning behind the adaptation choices, the set design, effects, casting decisions (like adding a woman when the book’s characters were all men), and more. Wise even talks about one of the film’s more controversial sequences, which was around a monkey and a rat being exposed to the film’s central virus/spore/being/whatever, with Wise assuring the animals were never in danger (Reesman talks about this in the commentary as well and like him I still found it a bit cruel).
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and three TV spots. If you have a BD-ROM on your computer, you can access a PDF copy of the script. And (if you’re lucky, as it sounds as though there are some editions already without it) this edition also comes with a booklet. Peter Tonguette first provides an essay on the film and what Wise—never tied to a particular genre—brings to the film. There is also a reprint of a 1971 “discussion guide” for teachers and students written by Tom Andrews, which can be used for either the film or the book to encourage discussion about the topics covered in either. It was probably more of a publicity attempt at the time (and even includes information about Crichton and Wise) but it’s interesting approach and a cool find on Arrow’s part. If you can get the booklet it’s a nice addition to the release.
Arrow doesn’t go all out but the material they do add still offers a huge improvement over Universal’s standard type of material.
A terrific edition for the film, providing engaging and informative supplements and a gorgeous looking new presentation. Highly recommended, even if you own any of the previous Universal editions.