Sci-Fi Storm

Andromeda Strain miniseries/DVD review

by on May.28, 2008, under Television, Video/DVD

The miniseries just aired on A&E, and the DVD will be released next Tuesday. Remaking a classic (albeit dated) movie is always a risky business, so the obvious question is – did they do a good job? Alas, not really – but they could have…

First, a quick synopsis (my own) for those unfamiliar with the story:

When a satellite crashes in Piedmont, Utah, and the residents open it up and release a super-bug that kills or induces homicidal/suicidal rage with incredible speed, a special team of scientists and doctors are brought together in a state of the art facility to determine how the bug works, how it can be stopped – and where it came from.

Warning: there are likely to be spoilers ahead, but I will try to limit them.

Naturally, comparisons to the original movie, or even the book, would be made. I have not read the original story (it’s on my reading list, but I’m wait behind on that), but I understand that the original movie follows it pretty closely. The basic plot is still there, but in this version it is intertwined with additional subplots that were generally unnecessary, sometimes confusing, and often using terms incorrectly. Had they left off the subplots entirely, or at least introduced any sort of intrigue into the source or meaning towards the end, I think this could have been a generally watchable movie. After all, the original looks dated – the special effects, computers, etc. are all decades behind what we have now so updating it to current or near-future tech made sense.

However, the added government conspiracy subplot simply muddied the rest, and its interaction in the story just wasn’t believable.

Technically, this is a nitpicker’s dream. There were so many scientific goofs – just to name a few: light year as a unit of time (I call that an “unforgivable” goof), and calling the wormhole a singularity (to my knowledge, a singularity is specific to black holes, and wormholes are a different construct); why didn’t the accidental nuke give Andromeda the mega-boost they claimed it would? And the whole idea that they could contain the bug without killing every living thing for miles was laughable. “Look’s like we’ve got a breach in containment.” Yup.

There were other general issues too numerous to mention without giving too many spoilers, but some things that just didn’t work for me: the killing speed of the bug – it seemed to kill/affect its victims faster that I would reasonably expect it to be transmitted – like when the rat bomb hits the soldier, and a different soldier dies within 10 seconds. Yes, it’s airborne, but that’s FAST; the deadly pool of water at the bottom of the shaft (I may have missed an explanation, but still); the color changes of the landscape (apparently it affects plants too?); and the whole “source of the bug in the buckyball” subplot (don’t want to spoil too much).

Effects wise, there were problems there as well. The flight of the birds in the Hitchcock-esque attack scene just looked fake. The nuke scene made me scratch my head wondering if it had detonated at first as it didn’t seem to be a very big explosion. At least some of the equipment/computers seemed sufficently modern/futuristic, and surprisingly were computer generated, like all the robotic arms, and even Air Force One – so they did pretty good at some of it.

One thing that always bugged me about the original – the floors were divided into 5 sections, with each section being sealed off in an emergency. Three of the sections had the Odd-Man nuke override stations – which means that the Odd-Man could be trapped in a section without a station. They realized the flaw and added in two more stations, but they weren’t complete. You would think that would be an important design item in the first place that they wouldn’t have to add them after becoming operational. Then again, it was a plot item.

Well, in this version, this problem was different. It appeared that only individual labs could be sealed (so it was still possible for the Odd-Man to be locked up – still a design flaw), but otherwise there was access to the override station – the single, non-redundant, fragile override station. Again, it was a plot item – but there appeared to be a protective cover on the station on the other floor…

Visually for the most part it was decent. Nice location shots, and the Wildfire sets looked good with the greenish lighting – doesn’t mean they were practical designs though. How long can you stay sane looking at lit floors and tables?

Time to move on…I could rant for hours, and I still need to get to the DVD itself…

Acting wise, I had trouble believing most of these characters in their roles. Perhaps the exception was Daniel Dae Kim, sporting longer hair and speaking English, who at least seemed to present himself as knowledgeable in the subjects he was discussing. Let me run down the major cast:

Dr. Jeremy Stone (Benjamin Bratt) – head of the Wildfire team and chief consultant and designer of the Wildfire lab. He just didn’t strike me as one of the foremost experts on microbiology and biological warfare, or even a serious scientist.

Major Bill Keane M.D. (Ricky Schroder) – Army neurologist who has a competitive history with Dr. Stone, and the designated Odd-Man who can stop the self destruct of the Wildfire facility. Not too bad, but didn’t act much like a military man. Could have been made non-military except they needed some link to the Army/Government conspiracy subplot.

Dr. Angela Noyce (Christa Miller) – Surgeon and former biologist specializing in tropical and exotic diseases. Sorry Christa, but I just didn’t find it believable. Maybe I watched too much Drew Carey Show, and I apologize for that.

Dr. Charlene Barton (Viola Davis) – pathologist. At least early on, she seemed to be able to handle the technical part of the role, but not so well with the kidnapping subplot.

Dr. Tsi Chou (Daniel Dae Kim) – microbiologist and former biological weapon designer for the Chinese government. Probably the best of the bunch, but he had technobabble expertise on Crusade.

Jack Nash (Eric McCormack) – reporter looking in to the truth behind Piedmont. I couldn’t see much of a reason for the character to exist, and the ex-junkie angle didn’t really seem to go anywhere.

Between them all, there was just no sense of urgency in any of them regarding the crisis. They debate the physics of wormholes, decipher messages in buckyballs, etc. even though they are medical/biological specialists. Kill the bug first.

Most of the other characters/actors weren’t worthy of mention, although Stargate SG-1 fans may recognize Tom McBeath (Col. Maybourne) as the sterno-drinking survivor of Piedmont, who did well in the role, playing it as a reasonably intelligent guy instead of just a drunkard.

Finally, about the DVD itself (not that this is a pre-release copy and may not reflect the final version, although it is probably close if not exact):

The DVD comes in a metallic-finish cardboard slipcase with a flip-open front with images of the cast, a few scene images, and the tagline “It’s a Bad Day To Be Human.”

Inside is a standard Disney-style (with the two flip tabs to unlock the case) disc case holding two discs. Each disc holds half the feature, along with a full length commentary track. Disc 1 also holds some previews, while Disc 2 contains the bonus features. Each is simply printed in black, with a grey biohazard symbol across the face.

Special Features:

Terra Incognita: Making The Andromeda Strain – typical making-of featurette, with both set design and location shooting.

Visual Effects Breakdowns – Groups of shots of a particular visual effect type or scene, with some shots of how it was done. No narration.

Photo and design gallery – typical set of images to page through showing production and design.

Audio commentary – full length, with director/co-exec prod Mikael Salomon, executive producers David W. Zucker and Tom Thayer, and editor Scott Vickrey

Overall, the DVD set is pretty basic – I’d expect more features to accompany a 3 hour (4 with commercials as shown on A&E) miniseries. The box advertises “Over 4 hours of bonus features!” That includes the 3 hours of audio commentary, however.

As for the feature, well, despite all my criticism, both written above and kept to myself, if you leave your nitpicker’s guide on the shelf I think it is a watchable movie, but my expectations were low given I still love the original and what I had heard they were doing with the source of the bug plot. If you are a hard-science fanatic, this is definitely not for you. I don’t see this generating a lot of heat either way.


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