Wednesday, January 28, 2009

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To - Andromeda Strain (1971)

I miss the old days of science fiction. Stories didn't(and a lot of the time couldn't) depend on snazzy special effects and gross amounts of action to to keep you engrossed in the proceedings. A prime example of this would be 2001: A Space Odyssey, but you all know about that one. Instead, what I have for you here is a nice bit of 1971 hard sci-fi directed by Robert Wise, the man responsible for The Day the Earth Stood Still, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and a lof of other really cool stuff. Seriously, he was one of the best directors working in the 1940's all the way through the late '70's.

Andromeda Strain is about a biological distaster unleashed on Earth when a satellite crashes in a small town in New Mexico, killing everyone in the immediate area. But there aren't any aggrandized scenes of catasrophic panic and death. This film is more centralized, and only deals with the few scientists and military personnel directly involved with what's going on. I label Andromeda Strain as "hard" sci-fi because it's very procedural in the way the scientists try to figure out what caused all the deaths, and a lot of the film simply shows them working in their labs doing experiments and the like. It's not a character piece, and you could say they aren't explored in any meaningful depth, but you'd be missing the point. This is what sci-fi used to be about; no hokey romantic melodrama about astronauts and their loved ones while they're trying to blow up an asteroid on a collision course toward Earth. And if you want comic relief, go watch that pile of trash movie instead(you know which one I'm alluding to, so I don't have to name it). Andromeda Strain is about very smart people doing very scientific things in an isolated location, but in the back of your mind you still get that there are far-reaching ramifications and a lot is at stake.

It's not that I don't like a lot of modern sci-fi, but they really just don't make them like this anymore. Nothing is dumbed down for the popcorn-chewing, text messaging mouth-breathers that frequent the cinema these days, and it's refreshing to go back and see how a true master of the genre handled material like this. While it may put off some viewers, the clinical nature of the film is what draws me in the most. Sure, technology has improved and the sets may look outdated for that reason alone, but the underlying fascination with science and problem solving never gets old.

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