Friday Flashback: The Andromeda Strain

I just listened to an audiobook on DARPA, the people who brought you the Internet and GPS. But DARPA pretty much makes a point of being about 10-15 years ahead of everyone else on science and technology. Michael Crichton must have been familiar with the secretive research arm of the Pentagon because DARPA-like technology is on display in 1970’s The Andromeda Strain, as is the often-clueless bureaucracy that made Vietnam such a disaster.

The story concerns a secret lab facility in Nevada code-named Wildfire. Wildfire is activated, much to the chagrin of its designated specialists, when a fallen satellite brings back an alien pathogen. The pathogen, which turns out to be the most bizarre life form ever seen, turns blood to powder and eventually eats rubber and human skin. A pilot gets infected and crashes as the pathogen, the titular “Andromeda strain,” which then eats all the hoses on the plane and causes him to crash. They only find bones and not a trace of rubber.

Kate Reid is a standout in this movie as Dr. Ruth Leavitt. In a remake, she could be played by Kathy Bates easily. Both actresses have that no-bullshit vibe that makes Leavitt a compelling character next to her more subdued egg-head counterparts.

The technology, which has looked quaint since the Macintosh debuted in 1984, is really cutting edge for 1971. The computers use a primitive GUI and work rather fast for the sluggish mainframe days. The central core of the lab is protected by realistic lasers that actually burn things rather than disintegrating people like so many science fiction films of the day.

Leave a Reply