The Andromeda Strain (1971)

G | 121, 127 or 130-131 mins | Science fiction | March 1971

Director:

Robert Wise

Writer:

Nelson Gidding

Cinematographer:

Richard Kline

Production Designer:

Boris Leven

Production Company:

Universal Pictures
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HISTORY

Although copyright records list the film's running time as 121 minutes, reviews variously list it as 127, 130 or 131 minutes. The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: “Acknowledgements: This film concerns the four-day history of a major American scientific crisis. We received the generous help of many people attached to Project Scoop at Vandenburg Air Force Base and the Wildfire Laboratory in Flatrock, Nevada. They encouraged us to tell the story accurately and in detail. The documents presented here are soon to be made public. They do not in any way jeopardize the national security.” Other than Vandenburg Air Force Base, the prologue references are entirely fictitious and part of the story. Although Peter Hobbs is listed under Roman Bieri in the open credits, he is listed above Richard O’Brien in the closing credits. The graphics presented under the opening credits mimic computer screens and “top secret” technological and scientific documents detailing “Project SCOOP.” At the end of the film, before the closing credits, onscreen graphics simulate “Wildfire’s” computer overload.
       As indicated in the prologue, the story unfolds over four days, with each day noted by an onscreen title. Locations and times are frequently displayed in the form of a “teletype” banner running along the bottom of the screen. Scenes of the Senate hearings into the Wildfire incident are shown as if simultaneous to the four-day emergency, although the hearings are dated two months after the near disaster. Frequent voiceovers from the hearings fill in information on the procedures at Wildfire as they occur. A multi-screen effect is used at different ... More Less

Although copyright records list the film's running time as 121 minutes, reviews variously list it as 127, 130 or 131 minutes. The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: “Acknowledgements: This film concerns the four-day history of a major American scientific crisis. We received the generous help of many people attached to Project Scoop at Vandenburg Air Force Base and the Wildfire Laboratory in Flatrock, Nevada. They encouraged us to tell the story accurately and in detail. The documents presented here are soon to be made public. They do not in any way jeopardize the national security.” Other than Vandenburg Air Force Base, the prologue references are entirely fictitious and part of the story. Although Peter Hobbs is listed under Roman Bieri in the open credits, he is listed above Richard O’Brien in the closing credits. The graphics presented under the opening credits mimic computer screens and “top secret” technological and scientific documents detailing “Project SCOOP.” At the end of the film, before the closing credits, onscreen graphics simulate “Wildfire’s” computer overload.
       As indicated in the prologue, the story unfolds over four days, with each day noted by an onscreen title. Locations and times are frequently displayed in the form of a “teletype” banner running along the bottom of the screen. Scenes of the Senate hearings into the Wildfire incident are shown as if simultaneous to the four-day emergency, although the hearings are dated two months after the near disaster. Frequent voiceovers from the hearings fill in information on the procedures at Wildfire as they occur. A multi-screen effect is used at different points in the film: for example, to display the members of the science team in different locations in the Wildfire laboratory; the state of the two survivors; technical equipment used to evaluate their condition; and the corpses in Piedmont. As indicated in the credits, computers and medical and technical equipment that gave the film its authentic look were provided by several technical companies that also provided advisors on their use.
       The Andromeda Strain was based on the first novel that author, anthropologist and medical doctor Michael Crichton (1942--2008) published under his own name. According to a HR article, Universal bought the novel right for $350,000 in 1969 and budgeted the film at $6.5 million. Crichton, who had a cameo appearance in the film as a surgeon, has since continued his career as a best-selling novelist; his stories frequently include great scientific and technical detail. Many of Crichton’s novels have been made into financially successful motion pictures, including the 1992 Universal blockbuster Jurassic Park . Crichton also directed several films, as well as executive producing the popular television series ER .
       A Jan 1970 Var news item indicates location shooting for The Andromeda Strain in Schafter, TX. Another Var item in Apr 1970 indicated a scene was to be shot in a large corn field in Ocotillo Wells, CA. A modern source adds John Whitney Sr. to the crew as a visual effects man.
       According to a modern interview with producer-director Robert Wise, in his adaptation of the novel, Nelson Gidding suggested that he change one of the novel’s all-male scientists to a female. Wise initially refused, wary of critical comparisons to Twentieth Century-Fox’s 1966 science fiction production, Fantastic Voyage (see below), in which “bombshell” Raquel Welch appeared as a surgical assistant. Gidding prevailed after he described the middle-aged, caustic character “Dr. Ruth Leavitt” played by Kate Reid. In the same interview, Wise described filming the “death” of the lab monkey, a sequence one review called “Shakespearean” in its melodramatic rendering. Under the guidance of a university veterinary, an airtight set was filled with carbon dioxide and when the cage was opened, the monkey had no oxygen to breathe, prompting its dramatic collapse. A veterinarian was waiting just outside the closed set with an oxygen cylinder that was used immediately to revive the monkey.
       The Andromeda Strain was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing. In May 2008, a three-hour mini-series based on Crichton's novel, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Productions, was broadcast on the A & E cable television network. That version starred Benjamin Bratt and was directed by Michael Saloman. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
May 1971
pp. 436-53.
Daily Variety
10 Mar 1971
p. 3.
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 102-105.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Mar 1971
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 1971.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
1 Apr 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Mar 1971
Section IV, p. 1, 16.
New York Times
22 Mar 1971
p. 40.
Newsweek
29 Mar 1971
p. 98.
Publishers Weekly
24 Jan 1969.
---
Saturday Review
3 Apr 1971
p. 52.
Variety
8 Jan 1970.
---
Variety
16 Apr 1970.
---
Variety
10 Mar 1971
p. 16.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Joe DiReda
Gil Stuart
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Robert Wise Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir trainee
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Best boy
Key grip
2d grip
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
2d asst props
3rd asst props
COSTUMES
Ladies' cost
Men's cost
Men's cost
MUSIC
Mus eng
Mus eng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Matte supv
Titles and optical eff
Spec eff
Titles and optical eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Tech adv
Scientific background support by
Scientific background support by
Scr supv
Animal seq filmed under supv of
The American Humane Assn.
Scientific equipment by
Scientific equipment by
Scientific equipment by
Scientific equipment by
Scientific equipment by
Scientific equipment by
Scientific equipment by
Scientific equipment by
Scientific equipment by
Driver captain
STAND INS
Stunts
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (New York, 1969).
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1971
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 21 March 1971
Los Angeles opening: 30 March 1971
Production Date:
April 1970
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures
Copyright Date:
21 March 1971
Copyright Number:
LP39250
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
121, 127 or 130-131
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After a space satellite launched by the United States as part of a top-secret biological research project code-named SCOOP crashes near the small town of Piedmont, New Mexico, two military recovery technicians arrive. When the men report their discovery of two dead bodies to Vandenburg Air Force Base mission control, they are ordered to return immediately, but the controllers then lose contact with the men. A reconnaissance photography flight over Piedmont reveals dead bodies scattered throughout the small town, prompting duty officer Maj. Arthur Manchek to declare a state of emergency and summon a special scientific investigative team that includes pathologist Dr. Charles Dutton, microbiologist Dr. Ruth Leavitt and surgeon and blood chemistry expert Dr. Mark Hall, led by Nobel Prize-winning biologist Dr. Jeremy Stone. Stone is privately briefed on SCOOP, created by the army’s Biological Research Division to collect organisms existing in outer space that could be used as potential biological weapons. The morning after the satellite crash, Stone and Hall, wearing protective gear, are flown by helicopter to Piedmont. Examining several bodies, they conclude that some victims died quickly while others appeared to have had mental breakdowns before dying. As the pair proceeds through the town, Hall notices a car accident victim whose injuries did not bleed. The men track the satellite to the town doctor’s office, where Stone is indignant to find the capsule has been opened. Hall then inspects the dead physician and when he cuts the man’s arm, powdered blood pours out, revealing clotting throughout the entire system. Recognizing that whatever infected the citizens of Piedmont is not from Earth, the men prepare ... +


After a space satellite launched by the United States as part of a top-secret biological research project code-named SCOOP crashes near the small town of Piedmont, New Mexico, two military recovery technicians arrive. When the men report their discovery of two dead bodies to Vandenburg Air Force Base mission control, they are ordered to return immediately, but the controllers then lose contact with the men. A reconnaissance photography flight over Piedmont reveals dead bodies scattered throughout the small town, prompting duty officer Maj. Arthur Manchek to declare a state of emergency and summon a special scientific investigative team that includes pathologist Dr. Charles Dutton, microbiologist Dr. Ruth Leavitt and surgeon and blood chemistry expert Dr. Mark Hall, led by Nobel Prize-winning biologist Dr. Jeremy Stone. Stone is privately briefed on SCOOP, created by the army’s Biological Research Division to collect organisms existing in outer space that could be used as potential biological weapons. The morning after the satellite crash, Stone and Hall, wearing protective gear, are flown by helicopter to Piedmont. Examining several bodies, they conclude that some victims died quickly while others appeared to have had mental breakdowns before dying. As the pair proceeds through the town, Hall notices a car accident victim whose injuries did not bleed. The men track the satellite to the town doctor’s office, where Stone is indignant to find the capsule has been opened. Hall then inspects the dead physician and when he cuts the man’s arm, powdered blood pours out, revealing clotting throughout the entire system. Recognizing that whatever infected the citizens of Piedmont is not from Earth, the men prepare to depart with the satellite when they are startled by a sound. At a nearby house they find a live baby crying lustily. Urged on by their protective suits' dwindling oxygen supply, Stone summons the helicopter, which air-lifts the baby aboard. Hall is then nearly attacked by an old man brandishing a cleaver but when the man collapses on the ground writhing in pain, he is also taken aboard the helicopter. Stone contacts Manchek to request that Piedmont be “neutralized” by a thermonuclear blast to prevent the spread of the mysterious infection. While Stone, Hall and, separately, the baby, old man and satellite are transferred to a secret location, Manchek requests authorization to destroy Piedmont. Science advisor Dr. Robertson immediately agrees, but political advisor Grimes insists on a more cautious approach. A little later, Manchek receives a call from the President telling him to delay the destruction of Piedmont for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Stone and Hall then meet Dutton and Leavitt in a remote desert area near Flatrock, Nevada where a nondescript government agricultural station masks the entrance to Wildfire, a five-level, underground biological crisis laboratory designed in part by Stone two years earlier. Stone is puzzled to learn from the communications center that there has been no message from the White House regarding Piedmont, but with the others, begins a sixteen-hour decontamination procedure that takes them through each level of Wildfire until they meet on the lowest, safest level to study the two survivors and the satellite. Using a special key, Stone arms the laboratory’s nuclear device, which would destroy the facility should contamination threaten to break out of Wildfire. Stone then presents Hall with a similar key, explaining that as a single male, Hall is the “odd man” selected to carry the only key that can stop the nuclear detonation, which is on a five-minute delay after being triggered. After the long decontamination procedure is completed, Stone and the team go over their objective: to confirm there is an entity, uncover its structure, then contain and control it. While Hall visits the two survivors, Stone and Dutton examine the satellite using robotic hands, which allows them to work from the safe confines of their sealed lab. When live test rats and a monkey exposed to the satellite die shortly thereafter, Stone and Dutton conclude that the organism is transmitted by air. Joined by medical technician Karen Anson, Hall uses a protective body sleeve that shields him from direct contact with his patients and examines the baby and old man. Meanwhile, Leavitt joins Stone to conduct high-magnification scans on the outside and inside of the capsule. Blood tests from the old man, who has revived momentarily to identify himself as Jackson, indicate that he is anemic and has a high level of acidosis. Jackson admits he drinks the alcoholic fuel sterno to quell the pain from a bleeding ulcer, which further confounds Hall. Dutton’s autopsy and test results on the lab animals demonstrate that the organism is inhaled, clotting blood in the lungs before spreading outward into the rest of the body. Later, Stone and Leavitt’s scans reveal a tiny indention made by a grain of sand that is covered with green patches. Under high magnification, Stone and Leavitt are startled to see the green patches move and grow. Back at Vandenburg mission control, Manchek learns that an Air Force training mission jet crashed near the Utah and New Mexico state lines and the pilot’s last frantic transmission declared that all the rubber in the craft was dissolving. Frustrated at not having heard from Stone about the delay to destroy Piedmont, Manchek and several experts visit the crash site and conclude that an organism that consumes synthetic rubber destroyed several parts of the plane. Back at Wildfire, after running more tests, Stone, Dutton and Leavitt are astonished to find that the green substance resembles plastic, and although it contains no amino acids, proteins or enzymes, it still grows. Working well into the third day, Leavitt begins monitoring cultures of the organism to search for growth patterns. Unknown to the others, Leavitt suffers from epilepsy, and when a computer message flashes in red indicating growth, the blinking sends the scientist into an epileptic trance. When Leavitt revives nearly half an hour later, the testing cycle has ended and she realizes that she has missed several results. Meeting at the start of the fourth day, Hall reveals Jackson has identified the baby as Manuel Rios and said the infant cried continually. Stone then messages central control to inform them an organism has been isolated and an automatic response sends back the assigned name for the life form as “Andromeda Strain.” Standing by the teletype machine, Hall glances at older messages and excitedly shows Stone the original message from Manchek regarding the postponement of the destruction directive. Unaware that a sliver of paper had prevented the message alarm bell from ringing for Manchek’s priority messages, Stone angrily contacts the White House to demand action be taken at Piedmont. Grimes defends the President’s caution and Robertson asks what the team thinks of the jet crash. Energized by the information from the crash, Stone sends the others back to work and within hours they determine that the organism’s structure is crystalline. Leavitt reports that Andromeda grows well in oxygen, but grows best in pure carbon dioxide and hydrogen. With a shock, the scientists suddenly realize that these results mean that a thermonuclear explosion would allow Andromeda to multiply at a fantastic rate, destroying the entire planet. Stone frantically contacts the White House to insist the destruction of Piedmont be called off. Relieved, the scientists return to their study and are mystified when Andromeda’s dividing and mutations continue to occur, overloading the computer. As Hall and Karen continue to wonder what protected Manuel and Jackson against Andromeda, a yellow alert sounds, indicating that contamination has broken out in a localized area. Hall meets Leavitt in the hallway and as they rush to the main lab, the flashing lights set off a major epileptic seizure in Leavitt. Hall immediately recognizes the symptoms, but technicians and nurses, fearful that Leavitt has been infected by Andromeda, flee in fright. Eventually, Karen provides Hall with an injection for Leavitt. Hall then meets Stone in the main lab to discover that Dutton’s pathology lab is contaminated. Terrified, Dutton sits panting heavily, monitored by Stone and Hall. Hall recognizes abruptly that labored breathing changes blood chemistry, which would occur in a crying baby and the agitated, drug-addled Jackson. Baffled when Jackson and Manuel’s blood tests do not show exact opposite readings as they should, Hall orders Stone to cut the oxygen to Dutton’s lab and tells the pathologist to keep breathing hard. Certain that Andromeda must experience a period of no growth, Hall begins running the growth results, reminding Stone that Leavitt may have had an epileptic blackout while monitoring the readings. The scientists then notice a test rat in Dutton’s lab has gotten loose but shows no effect of Andromeda and conclude that the organism has mutated to a non-lethal form. At that moment, alarms sound and the computer warns that Andromeda has infected the ventilator shaft, where it is destroying the plastic. Moments later, Wildfire’s protective nuclear device is triggered. Horrified, Stone and Hall race to the hallway, but automatic emergency procedures seal access to the safety station and the elevator to the next level. Stone urges Hall to take the ladder in the central core up to the next level before it is contaminated. Knowing that gas and lasers protect the core, Stone rushes to the computer room monitor to help guide Hall up the ladder. In the core, Hall evades several laser shots but is stunned by a grazing shot to his cheek and hand. Dulled by the pain, Hall reaches level four too late, as it has already been contaminated and its safety station sealed. With Stone’s encouragement, Hall finally reaches the safety station on level three with nine seconds before detonation. Hall revives the following day and Stone, Dutton and the recovered Leavitt explain that the now-benign Andromeda has continued to grow into a super colony, but is being infused with silver iodine which will force it into the ocean where the heavy alkaline will destroy it. Two months later in Washington, D.C. at a closed hearing of the Senate Committee on Space Sciences, Stone details the events surrounding the discovery of the Andromeda Strain but asks what will happen when the next biological crisis occurs. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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