Michael Crichton was one of the greatest literary minds of his time during his life. He was, for all intents and purposes, the second coming of Jules Verne. That is because his novels, like those of Verne, told stories that were so far ahead of their time. Jurassic Park, for instance was not so much about a bunch of dinosaurs living on an island, but rather the issue of cloning before it become a major topic for scientists and news agencies to talk about daily. Now it is everywhere. Next focused on genetics and government control thereof before the news ever picked up on the issues, such as drug companies using people’s blood types to control the drug industry and people being able to pick the gender of their babies with their doctors. In The Andromeda Strain, one of his earliest works, Crichton addressed the issue of germ warfare and the issue of what constitutes “intelligent” life from other worlds other than our own. That book was adapted to the silver screen in 1971, and subsequently released (and re-issued multiple times) to home viewers. Early last month, Arrow Video re-issued the movie again, this time on Blu-ray, resurrecting the chilling plague outbreak story for a whole new generation of sci-fi and horror fans. The noted audiences are certain to appreciate the noted story, which forms the foundation of the movie. The bonus content featured with the movie’s latest re-issue adds even more to its presentation. The companion booklet that is also featured with the movie’s re-issue is yet another positive touch to its overall presentation. Each item noted here plays its own key part in the whole of The Andromeda Strain. They certainly are not the only key elements that one can examine. One could also examine additional items, such as the movie’s cinematography, its casting and even the work of the movie’s cast by relation. All things considered, they make The Andromeda Strain an welcome addition to the home library of any science fiction (and more specifically Michael Crichton) fan.
Plague outbreak stories seem to be a favorite go-to for Hollywood’s major studios. From the likes of The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Masque of the Red Death (1989) and Outbreak (1995) to the likes of And The Band Played On (1993), 12 Monkeys (1995) and The Andromeda Strain (1971) and so many others, Hollywood’s major studios seem to love stories about plagues. To that end, it makes sense that early last month, the latter of the noted group of movies – The Andromeda Strain – would re-issue that movie. Released June 4, it was re-issued this time on Blu-ray. Fans of the outbreak genre, fans of Michael Crichton’s works and sci-fi fans in general have plenty to appreciate in this latest re-issue, starting with the movie’s story. The story at the center of The Andromeda Strain follows a group of scientists that is working to contain a space-borne virus brought back to Earth on a satellite that mysteriously crashed to Earth in a quiet town in the American Southwest. As the story progresses, it is eventually discovered — not to give away too much — that the virus being aboard the satellite might not have been quite as coincidental as originally thought. The antidote (of sorts) is eventually discovered, thanks to two lone survivors from the town – an old man and a baby. The story in whole harkens back to the sci-fi flicks of the 1950s and 60s turned out by Universal Pictures, whose stories centered on the military’s atomic testing leading to all kinds of problems for mankind. Again, not to give away too much, but there is a very close similarity between those stories and this work. It is also addressed in the bonus features included in The Andromeda Strain’s bonus material. That will be addressed a little later. Keeping that in mind, this story will appeal to a wide range of viewers, even despite its pacing issues.
It becomes clear through everything noted so far, that the story at the center of The Andromeda Strain builds a strong foundation for Arrow Video’s recent re-issue of the movie. The bonus content featured with the movie’s recent re-issue strengthens that foundation even more. That is because this re-issue features some previously presented bonus content and some new material in one setting. Among the most notable of the new bonus content is the discussion by critic Kim Newman. Newman discusses in his commentary, The Andromeda Strain’s place in the bigger picture of the plague/virus outbreak genre, citing the movies already cited in this review, and others. Newman’s discussion might not seem like much on the surface, but in the bigger picture, the roughly 10-minute presentation brings new light to the fact that said genre is in fact so expansive. The previously presented “making off” featurette, which was featured in the movie’s 2001 re-issue, is another notable addition to this re-issue. That is because some viewers have not previously seen this featurette while others perhaps have not seen it in a long time and forgotten what was discussed in the mini-doc. Audiences get discussions here on topics, such as the then groundbreaking special effects used in the movie, the deliberate choice of cast members who were not at the time, well-known and the faux bibliography featured in The Andromeda Strain and its connection to it cinematic adaptation. That discussion, with the movie’s script writer Nelson Gidding, makes for its own share of insight and entertainment. There are also vintage interview segments with Crichton himself featured within the “making of” documentary in which he talks about his connection between his medical education and the book. Those discussions are expanded even more in yet another of the movie’s key features, “A Portrait of Michael Crichton.” The late, great author talks in this presentation, about his decision to author his original novels under a fake name and why he decided on going to medical school first among other topics. As if everything in this and the other noted featurettes is not enough, the new feature-length audio commentary will entertain and engage viewers just as much if not even more than those featurettes. All things considered here, the bonus content – new and old alike – does just as much to keep viewers engaged and entertained as the story at the center of The Andromeda Strain. The two elements together are just part of what makes this latest re-issue of the classic sci-fi flick such a welcome addition to audiences’ home movie libraries. The companion booklet that is featured as yet another extra with this re-issue is notable in its own right to the movie’s whole.
The companion booklet that comes with the latest re-issue of The Andromeda Strain adds its own touch to the movie’s presentation, as its liner notes – penned by author Peter Tonguette – discuss not only the movie’s place in the grand scheme of the cinematic universe, but also that of its director, Robert Wise. Tonguette states in his notes, that Wise and the movie both deserve far more credit than they have been given. He notes Wise’s work on so many b-flicks prior to helming The Andromeda Strain as a big part of the reason that Wise has never gotten the credit that he believes the director has deserved. Additionally, Tonguette discusses Wise’s approach to the Andromeda, crediting that approach for items, such as the dialogue and effect of the cinematography. Along with Tonguette’s brief, but concise discussion on Wise’s work on The Andromeda Strain, the companion booklet also offers a starting point for discussions on the movie within the context of a film appreciation class, clearly outlining a set series of discussion topics; topics such as the nature of the deaths in Piedmont, the President’s decision whether to drop an atomic bomb on Piedmont, and the impact of the virus’ mutation. There are also focuses on items, such as recent real life scientific breakthroughs in comparison to the topics discussed in the movie, whether The Andromeda Strain is in fact science fiction or science fact, and Werner Von Braun’s statement decades prior about the very topic on which Crichton centered his book. Even more interesting is that all of these discussion topics were featured in a 1971 educational guide sent to schools nationwide to help promote the movie. That guide is still just as relevant today as it was in 1971. To that end, it is another key addition to the companion booklet included with this latest re-issue of The Andromeda Strain. Keeping this in mind, the vast expanse of content (and the depth thereof) within the booklet proves to be just as important to the re-issue’s presentation as the bonus content and the story itself. When all three elements are considered together, they make The Andromeda Strain a movie that, again, sci-fi fans will appreciate just as much as fans of Michael Crichton and those of the plague/virus outbreak genre.
Arrow Video’s re-issue of Universal Pictures’ The Andromeda Strain is a strong new offering for fans of Hollywood’s plague/virus outbreak genre just as much as for fans of Michael Crichton and of science fiction in general. That is due in part to the movie’s central story. While maybe not the first movie of its kind when it was originally released in 1971, its story is one that still rings true for audiences to this day. It is far more believable than most other movies within its realm. The bonus content that is featured with the movie’s recent re-issue adds even more engagement and entertainment to the re-issue’s presentation. That is because the content balances new and old for viewers of all ages. The companion booklet that also come with the re-issue adds even more interest to the re-issue. Each item noted in this review is important in its own way to the whole of The Andromeda Strain. All things considered, they make this re-issue a work that is one more of this year’s top new DVD/BD re-issues. It is available now. More information on this and other titles from Arrow Video is available online now at:
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