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The Andromeda Strain

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"There's a fire, sir."
Capt. Morton (film version)

The Andromeda Strain is a novel published by Michael Crichton in 1969 about a team of scientists who investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin that causes rapid, fatal blood clotting. As the novel opens, the microorganism has killed an entire town save for two individuals, an old man and a crying infant. The team races to find the common link between the two survivors before the rapidly mutating organism can find a way out of containment and cause a deadly epidemic. The team is whisked away to an underground research installation called Wildfire, located in a remote part of Nevada. A lot of the book and the 1971 movie spend considerable time showing the process they have to go through to be decontaminated and able to work on the problem.

The novel has been adapted into movie form twice; the 1971 film starred Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid, and David Wayne and followed the book closely, while the 2008 miniseries is a re-imagining of the original story.


Tropes used in The Andromeda Strain include:

The Book Edit

  • Computer Voice: The computer in the Wildfire secret underground base plays pre-recorded messages spoken by a pleasant female voice. It is revealed that the voice, which one scientist describes as "luscious," is that of a woman in her 60's, turning it into in-universe Fetish Retardant.

    This is in-universe Fan Service, as the book points out that the most sexy voice the military could find is used for voice reminder systems on the theory that men will pay more attention to it. It turns into in-universe Fetish Retardant when the same voice also announces the nuclear countdown. Stone finds this extremely infuriating.
  • Disability Immunity: the titular Strain kills an entire town save a baby and an old man. Turns out that the contagion is actually extremely sensitive to abnormal PH levels. The old man was a nutcase who drank alcohol jury-rigged from canned stove fuel, resulting in somewhat acidic blood, and the baby had colic, and had cried himself into alkalosis.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The top-secret WILDFIRE facility is hidden underneath a real agricultural research facility studying corn crops.
  • Magic Countdown: Subverted in that Hall disarms the nuclear self-destruct with more than half a minute to spare. Double Subverted in that the lowest level of the facility is evacuated of atmosphere thirty seconds before detonation to increase the yield of the nuke - the researchers were only seconds from being suffocated.

1971 Movie Edit

  • ASCII Art: The computer graphics - hot stuff at the time.
  • Avengers Assemble: When Code Wildfire is declared the movie cuts to scenes showing the military coming to collect the four scientists, often interrupting them in mid-work.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Dr. Hall is repeatedly told about Wildfire's nuclear bomb Self-Destruct Mechanism (which will go off if a disease escapes containment), how he's the only one who can stop it from detonating and how important it is that he be able to get to one of the deactivation terminals quickly. You can guess what he has to do at the ending of both the movie and novel!
    • A fighter jet experiences a severe malfunction when it flew past Andromeda -- all of its plastics dissolved, leaving him helpless as the jet crashes. Andromeda quickly adapts the same form in Level Five and destroys the gaskets keeping the levels uncontaminated, quickly causing a self-destruct mechanism to activate.
  • Convulsive Seizures
  • Creator Cameo: When Mark Hall is ordered to stop a surgery he's about to start, one of the doctors in the back of the operating room in the 1971 film is Michael Crichton.
  • Decontamination Chamber: The 1971 movie has a long sequence in one of these while they are entering Wildfire, done to prevent any outside contaminants from getting inside. (There is a similar long sequence in the book.)
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: When the scientist is given the key to prevent the nuclear device from arming, he for a moment thinks it would be his job to initiate it.
  • For Want of a Nail: A simple piece of paper prevented the notification bell from ringing.
  • Gender Flip: Leavitt was a male in the book, but was changed to a female in the film.
  • Hot Scientist: Noticeably averted. The lone female is in her fifties and overweight.
  • Just in Time: The coutdown is stopped with time to spare.

 Ruth: There were eight seconds left. Hardly exciting.

  • Media Classifications: This Movie is Rated G for General Audiences "But may be too intense for younger children". It would receive a higher rating today, no doubt. A town full of dead bodies. A dead child. A dead hippy girl with bare breasts. Cutting the bodies open. A woman mentions that an experimental farm would be a "great place to grow pot". Lab animals "dying" on camera. A woman has a seizure and foams at the mouth. Released as G today would unleash a firestorm of What Do You Mean It's for Kids?
  • Pixellation: In the men's ultraviolet scan, their privates are blurred.
  • Spy From Weights and Measures: The Wildfire biological research installation is buried underground, below a Department of Agriculture crop research facility
  • This Is No Time for Knitting: In the opening, the pair in biohazard suits are investigating the corpses littering the town:

 Dr. Mark Hall: [Removing the pants of the dead doctor] Have a look at his buttocks.

Dr. Jeremy Stone: That's not funny.

Dr. Mark Hall: Not meant to be! Normally, blood in a dead person goes to the lowest points. There should be marks of lividity, right? Do you see any purplish marks on his butt?

Dr. Jeremy Stone: No...

2008 Miniseries Edit

  • Alternate Reality Game: What Happened In Piedmont is an ARG for the miniseries.
  • Death of the Author: Literally. The producers used Crichton's declining health to shove a Green Aesop into one of his seminal Panic Is Evil works.
  • Fan Service: Actress Christa Miller, naked during the sanitation sequence.
  • Stable Time Loop: The 2008 version.
  • Green Aesop - Turns out the only way to kill the disease is with a rare strain of bacterium found only in deep sea volcanic vents which were destroyed in the future for their mineral resources (don't even try to make sense of it). People in the future somehow found this out despite the bacterium having been totally wiped out, thus they sent the disease back in time to infect earth while we still had a chance of killing it.

In General Edit

  • Crazy Prepared: The entire plot concerns a U.S. government agency whose job it is to deal with obscure, virulent contagions. One character who is surprised that it is so readily funded find out later that the government is mainly concerned about using these contagions as possible WMDs, and if they can't, containing them. As well as being prepared in case U.S. (or another nation's) military biowar agents get loose. At the time of the book, the USA was spending $300 million a year in biological weapons research and production. More true to this trope, the WILDFIRE facility has a lot of redundant security systems, all which are bypassed and nearly destroy the facility.
  • Crying Little Kid: One of the survivors, an infant, is found by researchers who hear it crying. The crying is the reason why the baby didn't die.
  • Desolation Shot: Piedmont, New Mexico. Current population: two scientists, a baby, and an old guy vomiting blood.
  • Deus Ex Nukina:
    • Subverted. The Wildfire team find out, almost too late, that the disease would actually thrive in the middle of a nuclear explosion, mutating wildly and spreading on the winds to the West Coast.
    • Doubly subverted in the 2008 miniseries, where the virus somehow gains the ability to activate the nuclear bomb after the drop has been canceled, since the virus knows the bomb will help it spread.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The Wildfire facility.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The introduction to the novel is written as an introduction to some official report of the events covered in the novel, and the end is a log of the suspicious -- and fatal -- failure of a manned spacecraft's tungsten-and-plastic laminate heat shield as it re-enters the atmosphere.
  • Failsafe Failure: The organism mutates into a form that eats plastic... just like the plastic used in the gaskets that are keeping the most secure level from being contaminated. Also, a warning bell that is supposed to sound when vital information is being printed from a teletype machine is defeated when a loose shred of paper accidentally becomes lodged inside the machine between the bell itself and the striker, silencing it when it tries to go off. Thus, the team misses an important alert that costs them time.
  • Foreshadowing: In the 1971 movie, when Dr. Leavitt first enters Wildfire, she avoids looking at a flashing red light. Later on she looks at a flashing red alarm light and goes into a grand mal seizure, whereupon another character realizes she's epileptic. There's a similar bit with a male scientist and a cop's siren in the miniseries.
    • It's also in the book, but is easy to miss when Leavitt doesn't look at the light when they're being deconned..
      • Leavitt also doesn't look at a flashing emergency light when he is first picking up Dr. Hall to take him to Wildfire.
  • Hazmat Suit: Dr. Stone and Dr. Hall wear these when investigating the town of Piedmont. In the book, it's stated it makes them look ridiculous ("fat men from Mars"), and they're a bit less bulky in the movie.
  • The Immune: Central to the plot is the mystery of why a baby and an old man survived when everyone else died.
  • Indy Hat Roll: Attempted, but the character in question was too slow.
  • Inferred Holocaust: In the remake, humanity in the future sends a sample of a Nanobot virus dead set on killing with humanity with (very roundabout) instructions on how to beat it and (presumably) to keep some of that cure around for when it comes in the future. They stop the virus, but continue with the deep sea excavation that will cause the extinction of the only thing capable of stopping it; so the future is completely screwed because of us.
  • Info Dump: Most of the book consists of it.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: Averted in all versions when it is discovered that the pathogen will make things much, much worse if nuked.
  • Leitmotif: The 2008 version gives Andromeda itself a guitar riff whenever it either adapts or spreads on camera.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The novel is presented as a docudrama recounting actual events, complete with a bibliography listing relevant scientific papers (most of the citations are real, but some are fakes supposedly authored by characters from the book).
  • Lockdown: Part of Failsafe Failure. The airlocks closing were supposed to stop any infected personnel or animals going to the upper levels, but Level Five, the floor the protagonists are on, has their self-destruct call-off still under construction. Hall needs to climb past laser turrets and anesthetic darts to get to level three to shut it off.
  • Master Computer: WILDFIRE is run by one mega-computer.
  • Mundane Dogmatic: All versions although the 2008 mini-series is kind of pushing it.
  • Nuke'Em: Subverted in the book and 1971 film. In this case, nuking a contagion that mutates faster when exposed to any sort of energy would be a Bad Thing.
  • The Plague: The Andromeda strain itself.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: The Wildfire Lab was constructed on top of a nuclear warhead, which is designed to be activated (without human intervention) if any bugs escape. You know there's going to be a thrilling last-minute deactivation scene at some point. Ironically, he has thirty seconds left when he did deactivate it.
    • Double Subverted when it's discovered that is a last-minute save. Five seconds later, all the air would have been pumped out of the lower levels where the others were trapped in order to make the reaction more efficient.
  • Spy Speak: In the 1971 movie, Dr. Charles Dutton uses Variant #3 to enter Project Wildfire:

 Guard: Howdy.

Dutton: Howdy Doody.

Guard: You got the time?

Dutton: My watch stopped at 11:46.

Guard: Darn shame.

Dutton: Must be the heat.

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