June 8, 2010

Justify My Netflix: The Andromeda Strain (1971)

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Today's movie: The Andromeda Strain, 1971 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because I was virtually begged to by one of CCLaP's readers, who claims to be on a one-man mission to convince the world of the brilliance of the early work of genre author Michael Crichton.

The reality: Not too bad, actually; although this 1971 movie certainly is a stark sign of just how much our expectations for genre actioners have changed in the last forty years. See, although it concerns the same subject as any other modern summer blockbuster -- mysterious microbe wipes out an entire small town in a matter of days, team of scientists is assigned to figure out what happened -- the movie itself is actually an extremely slow-paced, highly methodical look at the cutting-edge "clean" facility that was secretly built by the government specifically to handle situations like this, becoming a procedural film for most of its length and only kicking into summer-action territory in the last half-hour, as it's proven that billions in research and development are no match for such simple mistakes as pieces of paper stuck inside communication machines. (And in this, then, the movie mirrors the same message as the two biggest hits of Crichton's career, Westworld and Jurassic Park -- that do-gooder scientists will always underestimate the sheer unending greed and stupidity of most humans.)

Screenshot from The Andromeda Strain (1971)

In its defense, the movie looks fantastic -- turns out that much like George Lucas, director Robert Wise was one of the few artists of the countercultural era to refuse to give up on the shiny sharpness of Mid-Century Modernism (with good reason -- he was also the director of such actual Mid-Century Modernist classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still and West Side Story), delivering a space-age look to the central facility rarely seen in films from the early '70s; and it also features a chilling beginning that makes it easy to see where Stephen King got the idea for the start of his novel The Stand, written just a few years later. But to its condemnation, let's also admit that the movie is a veritable treasure trove of cheesy New Wave filmmaking gimmicks, including tons of split-screen scenes, quick zooms thrown in almost randomly, and a shot of a dead naked hippie's boobs (complete with gaudy peace necklace dangling between them) so deliberately lingering that I found myself bursting with ironic laughter and wildly applauding while alone in my apartment watching it, like literally being at a one-man midnight movie. It's definitely worth checking out, that's for sure, but be prepared for it to be as unintentionally hilarious as it is purposely serious, and for it to also move a lot more slowly than a typical Michael Crichton flick.

Strangest piece of trivia: Crichton himself has a cameo in this film, playing one of the non-speaking assistants in surgery during the scene near the beginning when the main doctor is told to break scrub.

Worth your time? Yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:01 PM, June 8, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |