Review: The Andromeda Strain

There's nothing like taking four hours to tell a story that would fit into two.

I remember watching the original movie version of Michael Crichton's story The Andromeda Strain and being riveted to the screen. I was suspicious of the A&E version when I first heard about it, even though it had names like Ridley Scott attached to it.

Well The Andromeda Strain 2008 managed to live down to my expectations.

First off, I'd like to know how the heck A&E managed to get a TV-PG rating on a show that explicitly shows a woman setting herself on fire, a guy getting shot point blank in the head and a guy cutting his own head off with a freaking chain saw for crying out loud!

Anyway, the show opens with what look like a couple of under-twenty-years olds parked out in the desert, with the guy dropping below the camera line telling her he's "going where no man has gone before" (yet more PG-rated fun). What appears to be a meteorite streaks by, but turns out to be a satellite crashed to Earth. Brilliantly, the redneck loads it into the back of his pickup truck (aren't satellites like, really heavy?) and takes it back into town. Very soon thereafter everyone in town is dead, except for an old disheveled guy and a crying infant. When a couple of army guys show up to retrieve the satellite, they die instantly.

Alternately we're introduced to the cast of characters, including the super-calm Benjamin Bratt as Dr. Jeremy Stone, Ricky Schroder (yeah, he's going by "Ricky" again) as Major Bill Keane MD who also happens to have some bad history with Stone. There's also Eric McCormack as drug-addicted reporter Jack Nash. There is WAY more backstory laid with the characters than we even remotely need, and I'm a big fan of character development, mind you.

They're gathered to go to the super-secret lab, and we are then put through an artsy, slo-mo decontamination sequence that is ridiculously long and only there to show peek-a-boo shots of the guys with no shirts and 3/4 shots of one of the female characters topless (cough, PG, cough).

As opposed to the original film, they find the source of the virus almost immediately but then the questions are how is it spread, how does it mutate, where did it come from and what exactly is it.

I have to say that I more than half expected to see in the credits that this mini-series was sponsored by a combination of, Al Gore and maybe Greenpeace just for kicks. It was chock full of "government is the secretive bad guy hiding behind homeland security" plus there was a scene totally tossed in that had nothing to do with anything where one of the characters lets us know he's gay.

The purpose behind the arrival of the virus is ludicrous and while you might call it "timely," I call it idiotic. Sending a virus that could destroy mankind encapsulated by some container that warns us not to destroy some obscure natural resource is beyond the pale.

There are more annoying scenes, like where Nash narrowly survives an attempt on his life, is wandering through the desert with no food or water. He drops to his knees and prays, promising to give up some of his vices (obviously not something he does very often). Minutes later, God, if you will answers his prayer with the arrival of an SUV from out of nowhere - he looks up and says "I take it back." What an a-hole, but it's totally in line with the flavor of the rest of this thing.

If you're really interested in what is potentially a really cool story, I strongly suggest that you buy or rent the original Andromeda Strain from 1971 which was directed by the great Robert Wise and nominated for two Oscars back when that still meant somethin. Do that, instead of watching a version written by a guy with seven times as many acting credits as writing credits to his name.

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