“The Andromeda Strain” (pt. 1): a brief review (w/spoilers)

| May 26, 2008

OK, Sandra and I just finished watching the first two hours of A&E’s mini-series, “The Andromeda Strain”, based on the Michael Crichton novel.

Sandra, about 45 minutes into tonight’s showing, turned to me and said, “This is like a SciFi Channel movie, but made with better actors.” What makes that really funny is that she said independently, almost word for word, what Charlie Jane Anders wrote over at io9 in his review. Actually, this miniseries also has much better effects and (for the most part) better writing than the various SciFi films.

But the plot is simultaneously goofy and heavy-handed, with a blatant political agenda/slant and some truly bad science. What made the original novel (and movie) so effective was the lack of villains and the low key scientific verisimilitude that didn’t attempt to explain everything.

But, you know, it’s still more watchable than most of the SciFi Channel movies, and I’ll definitely watch the final two hours tomorrow (Tuesday) night. Note that if you missed tonight’s Part I, it will show on Tuesday night just before Part II. [UPDATE: Here’s my review of Part II.]

Spoilers after the jump.

OK, the left-wing political slant is pretty heavy-handed, with the requisite Halliburton clone (named “Enburtel” and identified as “one of President Scott’s largest campaign contributors”), venal and dishonest US government and military leaders, and a suspected government leaker being murdered by the side of the road by a US government agent disguised as a highway patrolman (and we know how often that happens). However, I did laugh at the President’s press secretary telling President Scott, “If you drop a nuke on Utah, you can kiss your reelection goodbye.” (It’s unclear why the town of Piedmont was changed from Arizona to Utah, other than Utah strikes Hollywood types as being a bit more exotic.)

There are some weird plot inconsistencies as well. On the one hand, the ‘ebil’ (to use Charlie Jane Ander’s wonderful word) US government feels free to murder US citizens in cold blood and to shut down communications with the Wildfire facility; on the other hand, Dr. Stone (Benjamin Britt) — who is currently locked down in an ultra-secure facility from which he cannot exit w/out active permission from those guarding him, and whose communications he cannot control, demands from Gen. Manchek full details on the Scoop project, or he’ll give information about Andromeda to all the news organizations. Wha…? And Jack Nash, ace reporter for NNT, manages to embed himself with a National Guard unit being mobilized for biological quarantine without any permission or authorization. Yeah, that’s believable.

The science — where it deviates from Crichton — gets pretty silly as well. Buckyballs (a form of fullerene) are described repeatedly as “advanced nanotechnology” that no one could possibly produced today, which I’m sure would come as a surprise to quite a few scientists and engineers. Then there’s an entirely new addition to Crichton’s novel in the form of what is alternately described as a small “singularity” or “wormhole” that somehow appeared in low earth orbit without being detected by the thousands of professional and amateur astronomers around the world and from which the Scoop probe somehow gathered the Andromeda strain.

I can hardly wait to see how this is explained, though the review extracts I’ve seen online don’t give me a lot of hope. ..bruce w..

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Category: Main, Media, Reviews, Television

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.