Science fiction films experienced a shift in the late sixties and early seventies. Inspired by the challenge that 2001: A Space Odyssey, many science fiction films decided to up their game. Filmmakers took out lengthy action sequences and replaced them with tension building scientific explorations. The films became slower, more intellectual. A prime example of this shift is a film from 1971, The Andromeda Strain.
While 2001 had Hal, The Andromeda Strain had Wildfire, a bunkered down laboratory built to maintain secrecy and the ability to work even when the whole world is being destroyed by disease and nuclear energy. A scrappy gang of doctors and scientists gather in this Wildfire facility in order to figure out what killed a whole small town in New Mexico unexpectedly. I say whole, but there were two survivors, a baby and a drunk. Why did they survive when everyone else’s blood turned to powder?
The film is seemingly divided into two sections. The first section is not only concerned with setting up how dramatic this disease that might have been from outer space is but also the exploration of the Wildfire facility. The facility is seen through the eyes of the scientists that have never been there before. They go through levels each with their own tests and sterilization processes. These processes look more and more like S & M practices the deeper down they go into the facility. One scene involves each scientist stripping naked, putting on a fabulous bejewelled helmet and then having the skin burn off of them which results in a white powdery substance. The second part of the film is the hard scientific part. They hypothesize, test, and discuss what may have happened, how it is spread, where it came from and how to stop it. In this section there are a lot of trippy seventies visualizations that I found quaint but not really fitting. Have the filmmakers actually been in a laboratory before? Trust me that is not how tests look like. I guess the filmmakers were trying to give the audience something to look at while they run their boring tests. Despite these visualizations, this part is really the meat of the film and where the build up from the previous section gets it’s payoff. Will they find a cure in time? I guess you just have to find out.
In this film there are many small moments that make this film a treat to watch. All of these moments would mean nothing to you reader if you have not seen the film, but mean a lot to people who have. It is one of those films where you have to see the film in order to know truly what all of the hype is about. I thin describing it within 2001: A Space Odyssey’s wake is both a compliment and a disservice. While this film would never have been made if 2001 did not prove that there was an audience for hard science fiction, the film stands up on its own as being a unique exploration of the value of science in saving millions of people’s lives. It is a great film that needs to be seen by anyone who loves science fiction.