I remember watching this film for the first time late one night with my father and younger brother. I was five years old, I already knew I was going to be a scientist, and I was *riveted* to the show. The next day I *demanded* that my mother take me to the library to check out the book. Despite having seen the movie, I read the novel with as much excitement and anticipation as I watched the film. I questioned every adult I knew who had any sort of science or medical background about the ideas I found in the story.
For someone who considers self-awareness, intelligence, and rational thought the defining and redeeming qualities of humanity, and the scientific method, from chipping stone tools to putting a man on the moon, the single greatest achievement of humanity thus far, it has always appeared to me that the arts have been overwhelmingly negative in their portrayal of science. The mad scientist and the evils of scientific progress, the superiority and 'humaneness' of emotionalism and impulsiveness over rational thought and diligence, all are staples of Western culture.
The Andromeda Strain is different; it is realistic in that good and evil are identified with people and their motivations. However it is used, science is powerful: as a tool for learning, understanding, and interacting with nature. Wildfire, the facility where a cure for Andromeda is sought, we learn, was actually built for darker purposes. Despite that, it serves to help the team of scientists understand a radically different form of life, a form of life with a unique origin. The characters of the scientists, also, are real people; brilliant in their areas of knowledge, yet bearing characters flaws. In the end, despite arrogance, irresponsibility, quarrelsomeness, it is their passion to learn, to understand, to solve a significant and meaningful problem, which overcomes their flaws and focuses their talents.
I remember this movie fondly, and watched it any time it came on TV (before the era of video tape). I still have an often-read paperback copy of the novel. I recently viewed the movie on video, and highly recommend it. There are a few isolated sections which are dated, but they don't harm the film. Since the film wasn't attempting to be "futuristic", I actually enjoy seeing the "advanced" technology of the time, and contrasting that with current technology. The special effects are still well-done. The scientific realism is due mainly to Chrichton; however, Wise deserves credit for keeping faithful to the novel. He doesn't add layers of glittery pseudo-technology and techno-babble.
If you want to inspire a young scientist or engineer, or simply offer some counterbalance to all the science-is-evil sentiment that saturates both information and entertainment media, read the novel, then watch the movie. Show them that challenge and excitement can be found in constructive, collaborative, and intellectual activities. I am doing that now with each of my children; when they have all read the novel, we're going to have an "Andromeda Strain" party and watch the movie together. We'll discuss what parts were realistic, the social questions at issue when the movie was made (biological warfare, the space program, the beginnings of genetic engineering), and what science it actually about. I hope it will be as inspirational to them as it was for me.
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