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A&E’s Andromeda Strain (2008) Review

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Andromeda Strain 2008 posterA&E is remaking Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, which premieres on Monday, May 26th at 9pm as a TV mini-series. TV mini-series always worry me, but The Andromeda Strain is a cool enough story that I figured I’d better see it for myself. Thankfully, A&E sent me Part One of the series to review.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to review only half of a movie/mini-series, especially when the first half is the uninteresting part. It’s been a while since I’ve read the book or watched the original movie, but I’m pretty sure a lot of the stuff in the first part of A&E’s version is made up to serve as filler. The added material, which expands the search in the quarantined town and shows more of how the infection came to be, is not that bad in its own right. The expanded plot works naturally in terms of the story’s progression.

Unfortunately, by the time the first half of The Andromeda Strain comes to an end, the movie still hasn’t dived into the exciting part, which, needless to say, is the part based directly on the book. If you’re unaware of what The Andromeda Strain is about, the story follows a group of scientists in a high-tech, underground facility who are trying to discover a cure to an alien virus that kills quickly and mutates just as fast. The facility, designed to safeguard against contamination of the outside world, becomes a trap when the virus is unleashed. The scientists have to move from one floor to the next to save themselves and stop the facility’s nuclear core from self destructing, which, contrary to the intended purpose, would cause the virus to become even stronger.

When Part One ends, the scientists have yet to be put in danger. This is a major problem. Nothing particularly interesting occurs in the first half, even though it contains a lot of deaths, a possible nuclear strike and more. The power of The Andromeda Strain is its claustrophobic, breakneck suspense, and the A&E series doesn’t reveal any of that in its first half. What does this tell me? Either people will lose interest after the first half, or, as I would recommend, just watch the second half on Tuesday, May 27th. I’m sure they’ll have a nice little recap at the beginning.

Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the second half of the series. From a production point of view, the first half is good but not great. The mini-series stars Benjamin Bratt, and in general the acting is pretty good for a TV movie. Neither Bratt nor the rest of the cast will blow you away, but they pull things off well enough. The production seems to have a fairly decent budget, though it definitely feels like a TV movie at times. Oddly enough, with so many added minutes, the setup to the infection could have been done better. Some of the characters who die make some really weird decisions (if a satellite crashed right next to you, wouldn’t you call the police rather than load it into the back of your truck and then proceed to open up its shell?). TV movies always seem to focus on elements that shouldn’t be focused on, while neglecting normal storytelling techniques that could really enhance even the most basic of screenplays.

I do believe The Andromeda Strain could really become something in the second half if it sticks true to the novel, but the first half isn’t particularly memorable.

Also, don’t forget to enter my Andromeda Strain contest – I’m giving away a prize pack that contains the original 1971 DVD, the 2008 A&E DVD (not yet released), the Crichton novel and more.

By Erik Samdahl
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  • Wolfgang

    You begin three paragraphs with the word “unfortunately”. I hope that is not a bad omen.

    Television, in recent seasons, has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide quality programming. With top-name movie actors, directors and producers, the public has be fortunate to have had entertaining shows.

    If one compares the level of shows in the last five years to say, ten to fifteen years ago, there really is no comparison. (see Damages, Shark, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, 30 Rock, Alias)

    Plot holes aside, (find me a TV show or box office move without them!), one must appreciate the efforts by the networks to put a product on the table worth going through the drive-thru.

    I am sure there will be issues concerning Andromeda Strain after all is said and viewed. But whatever the case, the positives are more likely to outweigh the negatives.

  • http://www.filmjabber.com Erik Samdahl

    Hi Wolfgang,

    You make several good points, and I will – amazingly – concede a bit. First, starting three paragraphs with “unfortunately” is just bad. Second, you do have a point. Comparing TV movies to big budget films is not really fair, and The Andromeda Strain is a thousand times better than the TV movies we used to see on network television – and currently on the Sci-Fi Channel. So, in retrospect, the movie is pretty decent.

    At the same time, I still fault The Andromeda Strain (2008) for adding so much filler in at the beginning. There’s only one reason this stuff is added in, and that’s to make it longer. Why make it longer? For advertising dollars. If a story is naturally a length that warrants a mini-series, that’s fine, but the book has been adapted before – into a regular-length film.

  • jc

    Your filler comments are a little skewed. I haven’t read the book, but have seen the movie many times and can only comment off that as the “original”.
    Most of what you term “filler” was in the original, including the search of the dead town by the scientists (I think actually about the same here, certainly not too much longer). The opening sequence with the crash of the satellite and the old man’s flashback of events are new, but take up very little time really.
    The new elements are the expanded conspiracy-theory type subplot with the general (the idea of the government looking to find a biological weapon is touched on in the film but not elaborated upon; here it’s looking like an effort to develop a biological wepon in zero gravity), and the reporters storyline which is wholly new. Are these filler? Maybe. I took it to be an effort to make the story more exciting for people to watch. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, or at all necessary. They’d obviously be assuming that the public isn’t patient enough to sit through the pace of the original. I disagree, but that’s their choice. The additions have not bothered significantly me in any way yet, and I’m waiting to see their payoffs.
    As for the characterization of “the exciting part”, in the original film the climactic escape of the virus in to the facility is the last act of the film and covers something like 20 minutes. And the whole team does not move up the levels racing to stop the nuclear failsafe; only one scientist does that race-against-time, which takes probably about the last 10 minutes at most. The vast bulk of the movie is spent in the laboratory, examining the virus
    If the book differs from this, I can’t say.

  • Joe

    This show sucked. They tried to hard to make it suspenseful and dramatic with bad acting. Also, so much crap in it did not make sense. Even worse was the ending which left it all open and unexplained.

  • Randy

    I enjoyed the book. The original movie was okay — but like so many others that were produced around that time… nyehhh, whatever. This one? I watched both nights and eventually fell into noticing every little BS detail. When something is fairly GOOD — disbelief is suspended enough to watch and absorb, not nit-pick. (shrug) What I REALLY want to know is: what is the name of the actor who played the General’s assistant? The one who arranged for the sample to be saved but was executed along with the General at the end. He’s not credited anywhere I can find. He had several speaking parts and due to this gov’t conspiracy plot-tweak they wrote in — he’s central to the story. SO, what is the actor’s name? He played in a sitcom back sometime around 2000, 2001, 2002… a hapless, well-meaning dork married to a funny, smart wife with long dark hair. If I knew his name, I could find the name of the show. If I knew the name of the show, I would know HER name. AND THAT’S THE ONLY REASON I STUCK AROUND FOR PART 2 OF THIS SAD LITTLE REMAKE.

  • Brendon

    I loved the book and the throughly enjoyed the original movie. I was saddened by the atrocity that was this remake. The only reason I kept watching was because I had wasted so much time already. With what I would consider a great cast, the movie was downtrodden with its terrible script of puns and cliche lines that make you groan. Comparing it to other TV movies/mini-series this is still an awful movie. At least with SciFi channel films I know what to expect. With A&E I have come to expect something at least comparable to a major motion picture. It makes you wonder if somewhere along the lines A&E said “Shit” after they realized how horrible it was but figured they had poured enough money into it to just let it go. If they had stuck more closely to the book rather than saying these half a dozen points probably should be part of this movie somewhere, it may have turned out differently. The review of the first half sticks well to the second half and “Unfortunately” fans of the book and original film are left wishing their own blood had been turned to dust.

  • Mike

    What is the name of the actor that played the old man found alive?

  • Jerry

    Wow! This piece o’ crap sucked. I don’t know where to begin. Was it the crack addict reporter outwitting the entire (evil of course) military establishment or the uncovered pool of radioactive fluid at the bottom of the maintenance shaft (ever hear of shielding)? I know, the highlight of the evening came when the lead scientist took time out to work out on a tread mill while the Andromeda virus raced toward Southern California.

    The original movie is a taut, intense, intelligently executed Sci-Fi classic. I actually sat down with my children to watch this trash because I hoped that we would see an updated version of the original with a modern version of the Wildfire facility. What we got was sillier than Galaxy Quest (a movie intended to be silly).

    The only benefit I see coming from this experience is that my kids will be blown away when they see the original.

    One last thing, why remake a film you don’t believe in? Never read the Chrichton book but I doubt it included the unnecessary garbage contained in this film.

  • Ivan

    Didn’t everyone notice the Time Loop factor in all of this?

    I’m not a mathematician but to me this would be the second time that the People from the Future sent the Virus to the past. Think about it. There was no way that they could have known the containment code for storage the first time they sent the virus. Only the second time they sent it could they have known, because the Virus will eventually break out yet again. But there is a problem with this theory. It says to me that it will break out again and the guys from the future are warning where it’s coming from (specifically the storage casing it was placed in at the Space Station). This makes no sense because…

    In the end the Virus must still have to have an Origin.
    It is even a moot point to even tell the Audience that it is in the containment Area aboard the Space Station because in the Future the Virus will still…

    A. Be created in a Lab by someone or a Group
    B. It is sent to Earth from an Invading Species bent on Destroying Humans and all life.

    What I’m stating is, the Virus Will break out regardless of it being on the Space Station at the time in the Future. I thought at first that Dr. Charlene Barton would be the deciding factor in preventing the Virus but this isn’t so.

    These series of events will happen again and again unless there is some divergence in time preventing this from recurring.
    As it stands, and I didn’t read the book or if it has a sequel but to me this is just going to loop over and over again.

    The people in the Future will have to tell those in the past who will create the Virus or if Aliens created it and to tell them how to stop it in the Future. I think from the moment they are stopped in the future then the past as well as the Future (Present) will be saved.This might be the only way of stopping the Paradox.

    On another note:
    I was wondering did Dr. Tsi Chou really have to immerse his whole body in the Coolant to get to the thumb? To me I think he could have just reached over with just a little effort. Also why so Cryptic from the future if they knew the organization would take it yet again. Kinda lame not to tell them, for so much trouble! Also does it take so much code to make a rotating insignia? It would have saved them alot of trouble and encoding if they just made a static jpeg, lol. This way they would have had more room for actual text.

  • pam

    That movie was terrible. It seemed like it was going somewhere in the first part but that second part was a complete waste of time. What was that!! Why was the tower falling apart? I know the building was set to self-destruct but couldn’t they just implode or explode the building? That’s right, make the poor people trapped in the building because they were quaranteened and about to die suffer first as pieces of insulation, parts of the wall and electrical sparks were falling on their heads. And how did Dr. Chou manage to throw that thumb 8 stories up to Benjamin Brat? While he was dying from laying in the coolant solution (took a minute to figure out why he was suddenly dying). That was one of the laziest endings ever. The script writers and producers couldn’t do better than that? A complete waste of time!

  • pam

    quarantined

  • T

    Wretched, wretched teleplay. $50 Million special effects, 50 cent plot… The movie, “I, Robot” completely departed from Isaac Asimov’s books but at least it was somewhat entertaining in its own way. This “Andromeda Strain” version veered off early from the original book/movie and headed straight into a ditch. So many abysmal errors and discontinuities. Can’t they run a screenplay by a scientist once in while? Or even a writer?

    The researchers discover Andromeda has no proteins, uses no amino acids, and has no DNA. So, why did they test bacteriophage against it (which would only work against some bacteria in any case)?

    Bacillus infernus: Said to be a member of the Archean genera? Oh really? A Bacillus is a member of the Archeabacteria *kingdom*? News to microbiologists. And the growth rate is fast enough to make 100K+ liters of bacteria in a few hours? right… Bacteria from a deep sea vent (under a few hundred atmospheres and near boiling temperatures) can thrive in an arid surface and eat the sulfur in Andromeda within seconds? right…. Falling into the water tank of a nuclear core kills people in seconds but not those a few feet above the surface? right… A purple foam bath and a swallow of antibiotic kills all the body’s bacteria? right… “Andromeda keeps mutating”? Really? How can you tell if you know nothing about its genetics or whether it even has genetics? A nuclear bomb disarming station can get taken offline if someone tips a computer table into it? right…

    This from a producer like Ridley Scott, who was behind Alien & Blade Runner? Sad and disappointing — Overpaid for whatever role he had in it.

  • http://www.filmjabber.com Erik Samdahl

    Hi JC,

    Thanks for the comments – I haven’t seen the original in a long time so I’ll take your word for it. Maybe my analysis was a bit skewed. Regardless, the new version seemed to drag at times and wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been (even with all of the elements in place).

    Thanks for the feedback,
    Erik

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