- A buried treasure of a film- Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain is a not-so-distant cousin from Welles, Wyler and Kurosawa’s achievement in deep focus photography. Wise here uses the half convex glass attached to his lens—the split diopter—to an unprecedented artistic level
- Based on the 1969 Michael Crichton novel— with a special effects assist from Douglas Trumbull (2001, Blade Runner)- Wise is 10 years removed from West Side Story and clearly inspired by Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece
- Wise is known for his genre work—this is not his first foray into sci-fi—he did The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951
- Most of the work by De Palma, Tarantino, Jack Clayton or whomever in split diopter- has one, two, maybe four uses of split diopter (Blow Out may be the exception)- but I stopped counting here in The Andromeda Strain—I’ve seen as many as 140+ or 200+ examples listed if you count the double-splits. Wise basically made an entire film using the technique. It simulates the deep focus artistry of the great masters through the method. The results are astounding- a nearly endless supply of stand-alone stunning frames (showing off the different aspects of the frame in the foreground and background)—but also adds up nicely to match the unnatural sterile paranoid content. A perfect marriage of visual style and content.
- Opens with the exploration of a seemingly deserted town by two scientists and right from the get go Wise shows the soldiers at the Air Force base in the split diopters—the solider front left on the phone and the speaker on the right. Wise constantly fills the background of the frame with complex character blocking (a la Visconti or Kurosawa).
- At 11 minutes the double split diopter—I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before—the two military police flanking the frame with the third in the deep background middle
- It is just an absolutely dogmatic dedication to an aesthetic—there’s very little shot, reverse-shot— or cinematically or stylistically quiet sequences for the entire running time. Wise even uses the splits when characters are doing something as basic as reading a letter. Unnerving — heightened – because of the visual approach and choice
- At 22 minutes there is the ghost town barbershop stunner
- Again – there are a nearly endless supply of these foreground/background splits—scientists in the background creating immaculate compositions
- The narrative is a procedural—it is really about state of the art safety protocol, sanitation, “established procedure” but Wise approaches it with the day by day titles—scrolling news like CNN
- The performances are adequate at best. As impressed as I am by Wise and his visual accomplishment—the film would be better with better actors in the four leads
- Another standalone shot is the 115 shot of Kate Reid with the flashing red light
- Immaculate interiors- the Wildfire scientific lab– clearly this is where the budget went and it shows- an impressive set-piece and production design work. You combine that with the alarm going off countdown finale and it is hard not to think of Ridley Scott’s Alien a few years later
- A masterpiece—certainly one of the most underrated films of the 1970’s
Uy, this is really is a masterpiece? usually people don’t speak highly of this movie, i’ll check it, thanks
[…] The Andromeda Strain – Wise […]
I noticed that you have this as a simple R on the Robert Wise page.
Did you move this from a R to MP off of one viewing? Or was it a more gradual process like
going from R to HR to MP or something like that? I am curious as I know you don’t redo page everytime
you change a grade.
@James Trapp- depends on the film. This was 2020- I was totally floored. Clearly I wrong with the “Recommend” that I had coming in (probably from a first time viewing from 2002-2005). In this case I actually watched The Andromeda Strain again the very next night in 2020. I did something similar with I Am Cuba. With I Am Cuba it was just to sort of bask in the awe of it all— but in this case with Wise’s film I wanted to make sure aliens hadn’t abducted me the night before.
“the film would be better with better actors in the four leads”.
What are your choices?
@M*A*S*H – Ok so 1971- so lets so how about George C. Scott, Gene Hackman, Ellen Burstyn and Martin Balsam? Hard to say this without sounding rude to these four actors- but you could improve the cast with just about any four actors.