KLAATU YOU (4)
January 22, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | d. ROBERT WISE | 1971
Robert Wise’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel The Andromeda Strain still feels in some inchoate way like The Future. Even though it was more than a decade old when I first saw it on TV as a kid, the pure attention to visual detail in this medical/conspiracy thriller about a deadly micro-organism brought back to Earth by an American space probe was absolutely riveting. You felt like you could fall into the curved sleek primary-colored hallways of the Project: Wildfire labs, that you could reach out and touch all those computer screens with a light pen. Eight-year-old me wasn’t concerned that the acting was maybe a little stagey, the characters flat, and the pacing a bit slow. I wanted to freeze-frame and peek at every dossier writeup, every laboratory control panel, every decontamination sequence, every snippet of computer animation, every glimpse of the eerily multiplying green crystalline Andromeda lifeform. Perhaps if I’d seen it for the first time in the era of the VCR, The Andromeda Strain wouldn’t have held such a fascination for me.
The only bit that I maybe didn’t understand fully as a kid was the conspiracy at the heart of the film: that the U.S. government had intentionally brought this organism down from the heavens as part of a bioweapon research and development program. Bookended by Congressional hearings where the personnel of Wildfire assess the events of the film in flashback, The Andromeda Strain is a partner to the other great science fiction spectacle-cum-conspiracy thriller of the late 1960s/early 1970s: 2001: A Space Odyssey. In each film, the government’s lies and coverups in the service of scientific secrets lead to untimely and preventable deaths; a fitting pair of thematic explorations in those years between Vietnam and Watergate when it was hard to tell where America’s scientific establishment ended and the Pentagon began.
It’s these two thematic axes — the wonder of science and the fear of conspiracy — that The Andromeda Strain balances so well. Every discovery in the lab, every puzzle solved thanks to that gleaming cutting-edge equipment, seems to lead to more mystery, more secrets held by men and not nature. The one set piece from The Andromeda Strain that always stuck in my mind from childhood was the scene where we discover that a teletype machine’s alarm, meant to alert the scientists to important messages from the White House and Pentagon, was stopped by a simple sliver of paper stuck between the striker and bell. A better metaphor for the gremlins in the machine of the Cold War, for the best intentions of the military-industrial complex gone astray, couldn’t possibly be devised.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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