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“The Andromeda Strain” terrified me as a kid, again and again. Seems the tv schedulers loved it almost as much as I did, because it feels as if I have seen this 20 times during my fragile young years… But seeing it again in our hi-tech age will certainly cut off some of the edges, and it will appear as a somehow amusing effort at tech thriller in a pre-tech age, right? Fascinating to see that the film is perfectly effective in what it is doing, and in particular in depicting the laboratory environment in which some form of possibly alien possibly lethal possibly life form is analysed. This is not just a lab, it is a system sucking in scientists, who need to descend through one circle of hellish sterility a fter another until they end being locked up hundreds of metres below the desert together with their object of fascination. The design of that scenery is terribly disconcerting, I remember when seeing this years ago, the most memorable thing was the cruel choice of colour coding for the respective levels, and I was all sympathetic when one of the researchers got epileptic fits from the occasional red lights flashing on some control panel or the ceiling. If you never had claustrophobia, watching this film might be a very good first step towards it.

The film mostly refuses to engage in apocalyptic drama, despite the threat being substantial. It follows the professionals in a sober manner not unlike what Steven Soderbergh did in his recent “Contagion”. People of a certain skill set are brought together not to reassure each other that “Oh My God, we’re all going to die!”, but to make sure we are not. So each one of them has their little area of work, alone in the system, and there is only one area of humanity, a patient ward where two survivors of the outbreak, an old drunk and a baby, are held behind contagion-proof glass walls.

At some point there is a turn to the more dramatic, with a scene in need of resolving through some heroic action. This is when the film does not quite hold up, the special effects required for this and the direction of an action scene have evolved a bit since 1971, and the slow-moving laser beams look like something you would find in a Lego box.

Despite this flaw, Andromeda Strain is terrifying still, the atmosphere of peril, down in the lab and up in the desert village, is oppressive. The film manages to provide this peril without drama, while being procedural about what needs to be done to contain the threat. I guess the word is “subliminal peril”, and that may be the best kind…

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  1. By Ex Machina (Alex Garland 2015) | thomas4cinema on 06 Jan 2016 at 10:56 am

    […] atmosphere is cold, with splendid scifi decorations, sometimes reminiscent of Andromeda Strain labs, around the house, but countered with the beautiful setting of the facility, surrounded by […]

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