It is interesting to discover how technical and clinical a biohazard thriller The Andromeda Strain is. Based on the late science-fiction author Michael Crichton's 1969 novel of the same name and directed by Robert Wise (The Sound of Music), this documentary-esque thriller is a chilling portrait of a deadly alien organism on earth. A far cry from also-excellent Crichton adaptations Jurassic Park and "Westworld", The Andromeda Strain is intelligent, deliberate science fiction that never panders. Though its 130 minutes unravel much slower than sci-fi thrillers of late, Wise's film is well acted and offers surprisingly modern technology and frank observations of a frightening germ apocalypse.
Bookended with scenes of Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) testifying before an unspecified committee, The Andromeda Strain concerns U.S. government project Scoop, a satellite that crashes in rural Piedmont, New Mexico, where almost all of the town's inhabitants die in short order. A military team sent to recover the satellite perishes mid-mission, necessitating a group of scientists, suspecting the satellite returned to earth with an alien organism, be assembled to complete the objective. Stone and Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson) are dropped into the town, where they find victims whose blood has crystallized into powder and several other peculiarities. Two residents committed suicide after the event and two remain alive: the town drunk and a baby. The men take the two survivors to an underground laboratory and are joined by Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne) and Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid), leaders in their fields of research and practice. There, they undergo extensive decontamination procedures in their lengthy journey to the lab's lowest level - Level Five - to determine the origin and effects of the organism.
There is something incredibly ominous about a silent, impartial killer. The Andromeda Strain offers such a menace: an "it's already inside you" antagonist that travels through the air and infects indiscriminately. The scientists give the organism the code name "Andromeda" and discover it incredibly lethal. They seek to discover why the drunk and the baby survived, and the crew weighs the frightening bio-warfare implications of their discovery. Make no mistake folks, this is not an action-packed film. Instead, the majority of The Andromeda Strain is spent alongside the scientists conducting careful, occasionally tedious procedures. As the boiler pressure increases, the film moves toward its climax, which sees the organism escape into the laboratory as the crew fights to regain control and keep their lives. Wise's picture could have used a bit of trimming in its midsection, when the narrative grinds to a near-halt, but the film is an overall well-acted and accomplished property. I suspect an intellectual narrative like this would not fare well in the modern studio system, but there is something impressive about a film that frightens with implications rather than visual depictions of doom.
Arrow swings for the rafters with its 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The disc's liner notes indicate Arrow restored the film, using a 35mm camera negative that was scanned in 4K resolution, and the effort is largely apparent. Fine-object detail and texture are impressive, and colors are nicely saturated. The film looks good in motion, and the layer of grain remains relatively stable save a few shots that waver due to optical effects. Softness is infrequent, and skin tones remain natural. Shadow detail is impressive and highlights never bloom. Wide shots are deep and clear, and close-ups reveal impressive detail in the underground lab. Film density is relatively consistent, with only a couple of shots looking anemic - again largely due to optical effects - and I noticed no issues with edge enhancement or noise reduction.
The LPCM Mono mix was remastered from the optical negatives according to liner notes. The film sounds as it should, though no one will mistake the aural effects of this 1971 film as modern sound wizardry. Even so, dialogue is crisp and clear, and overcrowding is not an issue. Light ambient effects are relatively immersive, and the soundtrack is appropriately balanced. Viewers looking for a true-to-source presentation should enjoy this track. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc Collector's Edition arrives in a clear case with reversible cover artwork and a multi-page booklet with an essay and stills. On-disc extras include an Audio Commentary by Bryan Reesman, a film historian who provides a satisfying analysis of the movie. A New Strain of Science Fiction (28:02/HD), is a well-made retrospective; Making the Film (30:08/SD) is a solid 2001 archival making-of by Laurent Bouzerau; A Portrait of Michael Crichton (12:33/SD) concerns the late author; the Cinescript Gallery offers the full shooting script; and the extras conclude with a Theatrical Trailer (3:18/HD), TV Spots (1:50/HD), Radio Spots (1:49/audio), and an Image Gallery.
This excellent adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel of the same name offers deliberate, ominous science fiction thrills without pandering to its audience. The Andromeda Strain offers a frightening glimpse of a germ apocalypse, and Arrow's new Collector's Edition release should please fans of the film. Highly Recommended.