The Andromeda Strain
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Andromeda Strain can be found here.

Yes. The Andromeda Strain (1969) was written by American author Michael Crichton. The book was adapted for the movie by American screenwriter Nelson Gidding. A remake, also titled The Andromeda Strain, was released in 2008 as a TV miniseries.

When a U.S. Army satellite falls to earth near Piedmont, New Mexico, the recovery team finds that everyone in Piedmont is dead, their blood having clotted within their bodies. A team of four scientists -- Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne), Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson), and Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid) -- are called to investigate the cause at the Wildfire Laboratory, built specifically to investigate extraterrestrial organisms, should the earth ever encounter one. They discover a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin that somehow has left an old Sterno drinker and a six month old baby untouched. The team races to identify the organism and defeat it before it spreads to the entire West Coast, and from there into a worldwide epidemic.

No, although the opening acknowledgements do say:


This film contains the four day history of a major American scientific crisis. We received the help of many generous people attached to Project Scoop at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Wildfire Laboratory in Flatrock, Nevada. They encourage us to tell the story accurately and in detail. The documents presented here are soon to be made public. They do not in any way jeopardize national security.
There is a Vandenberg Air Force Base located in California, but there is no Wildfire Laboratory, and no documents (other than the novel and the movie) have ever been made public. These so-called 'acknowledgements' are presented purely to enhance the story.

The name was chosen randomly by the computer, similar to the way hurricanes are named in alphabetical order. Since the Wildfire Lab deals with threats from space, names with space and astronomy are chosen. Being that this was supposedly the first contact with an organism of extraterrestrial origin, a name beginning with A was selected. Andromeda is a ring galaxy near the Milky Way. Should a second contact ever happen, the code name selected for the organism would begin with a B, e.g., the Bode Strain (named after the Bode Galaxy discovered by Johann Bode in 1774), the constellation Botes, or even Babylon, after the TV show. Michael Crichton states in the DVD commentary that he had the title for years before he wrote the book and had been searching for a story to use it on.

The monkey was contained in a cage filled with normal air. The cage was then placed in a set filled with carbon dioxide (CO2). When the door to the monkey's cage was opened, the CO2 rendered the monkey unconscious for a few seconds before it was immediately resuscitated. This was all performed under the watchful eyes of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

What is Sterno?

Sterno is a jellied fuel made from ethanol and methanol. It is used for heating chafing dishes and camp stoves. Sterno drinkers will sometimes squeeze the Sterno through cheesecloth and mix the resulting liquid with fruit juice to make 'squeeze'. Because of the methanol (aka 'wood alcohol', used in antifreeze and solvents), Sterno is toxic to the human body, and many Sterno drinkers end up with methanol poisoning.

The movie makes it clear that Andromeda is like no organism known on earth. In their battery of tests, the scientists learn that it is airborne; when inhaled, it rapidly spreads through the blood stream, causing blood to clot and turn to powder. It's 2 microns in size, larger than a virus. It's composed of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen all the elements of life but it has no amino acids, which comprise the proteins, enzymes, and nucleic acids needed to sustain life. Yet it grows anywhere, albeit poorly in oxygen. It grows best when incubated under x-rays, which leads the scientists to conclude that it functions like an atomic reactor, absorbing energy and turning it into matter. Inspection under the electron microscope reveals that it is a crystalline entity, and it can only survive in an environment with a very narrow pH, that of 7.39 - 7.43, the same as human blood. Anything more acidic or alkaline does not support its growth. In essence, the Andromeda strain is deemed the perfect organism for living in outer space.

Not much attention is given in the movie as to why Andromeda kills everything but the buzzards. In the book, Crichton provides a better explanation. Stone and Hall both puzzle over it a couple of times, but the matter is never brought up for discussion among the four team members. Here is a snippet from the book (page 325 of 350); this is Hall thinking to himself:


And then the birds, with the fast metabolic rate, the fast heart rates, the fast breathing rates. The birds, who did everything fast. They, too, survived. Breathing fast? Was it as simple as that? He shook his head. It couldn't be.

An alarm suddenly goes off due to a broken seal in the autopsy room, sealing Dutton inside. Emergency contamination procedures go into effect. The red blinking lights cause Leavitt to collapse in an epileptic seizure, but Hall recognizes it and gives her phenobarbitol. Knowing that Andromeda grows poorly in oxygen, Stone pumps oxygen into the autopsy lab. Hall realizes that fast breathing brings on blood alkalosis, similar to the crying baby, and orders that the oxygen be stopped. He then tells Dutton to breathe hard so as to raise blood pH and not allow Andromeda to get into his blood stream. They suddenly notice that a rat is still alive and conclude that Andromeda has mutated to a noninfectious form. Due to the broken gasket, which feeds contaminated air into the central core, Wildfire senses the containment breach and goes into self-destruct mode. Stone fears that the bomb going off will serve only to feed Andromeda with the energy it uses to grow and mutate. Trapped on level 5 with no access to a substation, Hall is forced to crawl up the central core to level 3, dodging gas and laser beams designed to kill escaped animals. He reaches the substation and turns it off with just eight seconds to spare. The Andromeda cloud is heading out over the Pacific and appears to have mutated into a nonlethal form. To be sure it causes no more trouble, they're seeding the clouds with silver iodide to make it rain; the rain will carry Andromeda into the ocean where the alkaline seawater will kill it. Stone assures Senator McKenzie that Andromeda is under control and that they will continue to study it at Wildfire. The senator asks what they would do should they encounter another such biological organism. 'Precisely,' Stone replies. 'What do we do?' In the final scene, a view under the electron microscope at a power of 310,138 X shows a green crystal beginning to grow and mutate. At 989,000 X, the computer goes into a 601 shutdown and ends the program.

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 2 years ago
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