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DVD Review: The Andromeda Strain

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As an avid movie watcher, I find myself continually wondering why Hollywood seems so obsessed with remakes. Is it because it's easy just to reheat ideas that have already been done, or do some entertainment honchos really feel they can improve an old piece of material?

Recently, A&E broadcast a four hour mini-series called The Andromeda Strain, an adaptation of the 1969 Michael Crichton novel, that was already adapted for the big screen by respected director Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, The Day the Earth Stood Still). While the original theatrical release was a reasonable 130 minutes, I was leery that expanding the story to four hours was a positive sign.

andromeda-strain-movie-1.jpgProduced by Ridley and Tony Scott, this updated version of The Andromeda Strain expands on the original story and tries to reflect America's cultural diversity. In Crichton's 1969 novel, the featured scientists are presumably all white, heterosexual men (there was one woman in the 1971 film version) but Robert Schenkkan, who wrote the teleplay for this remake made the decision to change the characters' ethnicities, sexualities, and genders because, he said in a May 2008 interview with Brent Hartinger of AfterElton, "If you're going to update the story, which is our mandate, you have an obligation to reflect the world as it is." Schenkkan further said that he decided to include the brief reference to Keene (Rick Schroder) being gay because of a principle invented by Crichton in the original novel, the "Odd Man Hypothesis," which states that in a time of crisis, an unmarried, unattached person (Crichton specified a man) with no family to distract him would have the best chance of making rational, unbiased, unemotional decisions.

Fear not, sci-fi fans, The Andromeda Strain of 2008 hasn't turned into a morality lesson. Aside from the changes noted above, the core story remains essentially the same. The whole thing begins when a U.S. military satellite crashes into a Utah desert. Thinking it might be worth something, two teenagers decide to take it home. Once they get it open, a deadly bacteria is released that kills the whole town — with the exception of a baby with colic and a diabetic drunk. When a couple of Army guys show up to retrieve the satellite, they die instantly too.

While the original film focused almost exclusively on the team within the biology lab, this version's four hour running time means that the scope of the story and the number of characters have been widely expanded. The military might have something to hide, but it might not have anything to do with the satellite. It's up to General George Mancheck (Andre Braugher) to find out what happened, fix the problem, and keep it hidden from the general public to avoid utter panic.

Dr. Jeremy Stone (Benjamin Bratt), always cool as a cucumber, heads up the Wildfire Team, a group of doctors with expertise in biological diseases of epic proportions — clearly, this one qualifies. Stone is joined by Dr. Angela Noyce (Christa Miller), Dr. Tsi Chou (Daniel Day Kim), Dr. Charlene Barton (Viola Davis), and Major Bill Keane MD (Ricky Schroder). (Apparently "Rick," has gone back to "Ricky".) The group is sequestered deep underground to figure out what it is that's killing virtually everyone in the town.

andromeda-strain-movie-2.jpgOnce the Wildfire team is together, a series of subplots not found in the 1971 film begin to emerge. The team not only finds that the virus kills within seconds of exposure, but turns survivors into homicidal and suicidal maniacs. Up for re-election, the President (Ted Whittall) seems oddly unconcerned about the whole thing. He is worried because his attempts to initiate thermal-vent drilling on the ocean floors are being thwarted by environmentalists. To top all of this off, there is Jack Nash (Eric McCormack) whose attempts to get the story out are thwarted by all the red tape an out of control government can throw his way.

I came away from this version of The Andromeda Strain feeling almost overwhelmed by it. All of the subplots felt like they weighed down what could have been a fairly impressive remake of a semi-classic film. Instead, the filmmakers took nearly four hours, created several different subplots, but never fully developed anything, so we were left with a lot of disturbing images and a lot of loose ends.

The two DVD set has a few special features:

Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Executive Producer Mikael Salomon, Executive Producers David W. Zucker and Tom Thayer, and Editor Scott Vickrey – Nothing particularly exciting. Very Dry.

"Terra Incognita: Making The Andromeda Strain" (26:05) – This is a standard making-of-doc. usesclips of the film, interviews with cast, crew and creators, and behind-the-scenes footage and photos.

"Visual Effects Breakdowns" (15:38) – Compiled and set to music is a series of visual effects breakdowns and comparisons for select scenes and sequences.

Photo and Design Gallery – 110 images you can scroll through manually.

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