Day 4: The Andromeda Strain

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE!

Just as well, really, after the last one!

Anyway, it’s 1971, and the space race is well and truly on. Man has walked on the moon, and everything, and now satellites are being sent into space in search of extraterrestrial life. Satellites that fly though space, scooping up…well, space. And anything that happens to be out there floating around in space. This is project Scoop.

Scoop.

Just let that name sink in for a little while. There is a beauty in simplicity, but perhaps ‘Scoop’ crosses the line. Not only does Scoop cross the line, it crosses the atmosphere, and crashes back to earth in a remote town in New Mexico. Everyone dies. (Almost). A US military team is sent to recover the satellite. They die.

Time to activate Project Wildfire. Possibly a little better named, but you haven’t seen it yet. Because, clearly, something is up, and it’s an outer space up.

At this point, I should step in and mention the opening credits. Because they’re mad. As in truly, really, barkingly mad. If you got some self-isolating small children, bored at home, and said, “Hey, kids. Here’s a synthesizer. Why don’t you press all the buttons at the same time and see what happens?” that’s probably pretty close to what you’ve got here. Odd noises, and colours colliding, and words floating about. It’s the seventies, man, but only just, and the sixties’ drugs haven’t all worn off yet.

The Project Wildfire guys, in their chemical suits and oddly light respirators, pick up the scooping satellite (which looks in suspiciously good shape for something that has plummeted through the atmosphere, reached terminal velocity and crashed in New Mexico, but there you go) as well as a small baby and an alcoholic old man. It takes all sorts to survive a plague.

And they all go off to Project Wildfire, deep in Nevada somewhere. A crack team has been assembled: the space guy (Dr. Hall, the team leader), the Surgeon (called away from an appendectomy), and a couple of scientists (including Dr Leavitt, who has neglected to mention at anypoint that she goes into a catastrophic petit– or grand-mal seizure at the slightest hint of a flashing red light. Of which Project Wildfire has many.)

Project Wildfire works on many levels. Because it is on many levels. Deep underground, concealed withing a Department of Agriculture station, the access to which is inside a storage shed which doubles up as an elevator! Each level is a different colour, and a different colour uniform is provided for each one, which is burnt at the end of the level! But it’s ok, they’re made of paper. A new kind. This film is already nuts, and we haven’t even met the virus yet.

The crack team of four go through what feels like a six-week decontamination journey to get down to level five, which is where the alien virus and the baby and old man from New Mexico are being kept. Next door to each other. As well as some very disposable rats and monkeys. It’s all going on down there. As part of the decontamination process, all of your body hair and the top two layers of your skin is burnt off with some sort of radiation. Beats waxing, although there is more ash.

And then finally, after a tortuous journey down, we meet a strange, green, glowing, pulsing blob. Named Andromeda, because it comes from space, and the Andromeda galaxy is in space, so why not. At this point it doesn’t really matter. I haven’t even mentioned that the whole lab is a nuclear bomb that will go off five minutes after a leak unless a big clunky red key is inserted into a wall. But only in certain places, obviously.

The green stuff kills monkeys, and rats, and looks like crystals, but isn’t, and grows in a vacuum, and all sorts of science-y stuff, but it didn’t kill the baby and the old man, essentially because the baby cries and the old man is some moonshine-drinking alcoholic with a stomach ulcer, and then the lab nearly blows up and lasers start firing and…well…it’s all a bit odd. There are computers everywhere in this film, and they are amazing. And very, very, colourful. Seriously, this won’t freak you out like Contagion did. But you will be left with many questions.

The Luxembourg Version

A secret satellite lands in Cents, in Luxembourg city on a Saturday morning, but no-one notices, because there’s no-one there. A crack military team is sent to retrieve the satellite, code-named Projet Sachet, but it takes a while to assemble one. No-one dies in the assembling of this team, because it is still the weekend, and there is still no-one there.

The satellite is taken to a secret research base under the Gelle Fra, accessed through the public toilets (there’s a little door at the back of the office where the women sit and pass judgement on urination times – move the second mop and you’re in.)

The first two layers of the secret underground base are actually three: a French, German and Luxembourgish level (which is by far the hardest to negotiate), and the team from Projet L’Outer-Space (a pan-European venture) set to work unlocking the secrets of the extraterrestrial specimen.

Because they’ve done everything properly, no-one’s been exposed to the virus, even if it did come from well outside of Schengen, and high-powered electron microscopes reveal that it is just some green crystals anyway. No monkeys are harmed. The scientists all go off for lunch, and a cleaner wheels off the sample to be tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Casemates. As he leaves, the crystal pulses, and above, a bird falls from the sky.

5 thoughts on “Day 4: The Andromeda Strain

  1. The team leader is Dr Stone, not Dr Hall. Getting details like that right is the Hall, Mark (ahem) of top class reviewing.

    You have been very unfair to what is a brilliant film. Very Crichton, obviously, especially the intense process of decontamination, but that is one of the reasons we love him, if we do.

    Still in my top five films of all time this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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