Andromeda Strain [1971]

The best-selling novel by Michael Crichton was faithfully adapted for this taut 1971 thriller, about a team of scientists racing against time to destroy a deadly alien virus that threatens to wipe out life on Earth. As usual with any Crichton-based movie, the emphasis is on an exciting clash between nature and science, beginning when virologists discover the outer-space virus in a tiny town full of corpses. Projecting total contamination, the scientists isolate the deadly strain in a massive, high-tech underground lab facility, which is rigged for nuclear destruction if the virus is not successfully controlled. The movie spends a great deal of time covering the scientific procedures of the high-pressure investigation, and the rising tensions between scientists who have been forced to work in claustrophobic conditions. It's all very fascinating if you're interested in scientific method and technological advances, although the film is obviously dated in many of its details. It's more effective as a thriller in which tension is derived not only from the deadly threat of the virus, but from the escalating fear and anxiety among the small group of people who've been assigned to save the human race. The basic premise is still captivating; it's easy to see how this became the foundation of Crichton's science-thriller empire. --Jeff Shannon

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