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DVD Review

The Andromeda Strain
TV Mini-Series


Starring: Benjamin Bratt, Eric McCormack, Christa Miller, Daniel Dae Kim, Viola Davis, Ricky Schroder and Andre Braugher
Universal Pictures
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 19 May 2008

A satellite crashes just outside the small Utah town of Piedmont and is picked up by a couple of locals. When the recovery team track it down they discover that something has killed almost everybody in Piedmont, except an alcoholic and a baby. With the threat of global contamination a crack team of scientists are gathered together, in an underground facility, to investigate and hopefully stop the Andromeda strain pathogen...

The Andromeda Strain (2008, 180 min) is the second adaptation of Michael Chichton’s novel. The first film, directed by Robert Wise, was a claustrophobic techno tale which focused on the scientists' furious efforts to understand and kill a deadly virus. This new version, directed by Mikael Salomon (Band of Brothers), has added considerably to the original. This broader canvas changes the tone of both the book and the film - changes that are likely going to have fans of either baying for Saloman’s blood.  The show also boasts Tony and Ridley Scott as Executive Producers.

Although the show is generally well executed, with some reasonably made-for- television special effects, some subplots turn out to be little more than filler, muddying what could otherwise have been an excellent thriller.

Eric McCormack (Will from Will and Grace) plays Jack Nash a hard drinking drug taking investigative journalist who gets a tip that something is going on and checks himself out of rehab to... well... investigate. Although McCormack plays his part well, it quickly becomes evident that if his whole performance had hit the cutting room floor then it was not going to be missed. The only important role his character plays is as target for the machinations of a nefarious general, who is after the virus as a biological weapon - another subplot which could have been dropped. The only point of having either subplot was to highlight how paranoid the Americans are about their government and to drag in a few old X-Files fans.

To further stretch out the time, we have an unnecessary romance between two of the scientists and a back story about one of the scientists wife's mental health problems and their off the rails son. This seems to go absolutely nowhere, except in the last few minutes when they look all gooey-eyed at the man who they thought was just a dad and a husband - but now they see he is a hero. Armageddon (1998) anyone?

To further accommodate the conspiracy theorists the show goes overboard in its possible explanation of where the Andromeda virus came from. The satellite was approaching a nearby wormhole, to collect samples, when it malfunctioned. The problem is that the shot of this happening shows the satellite just barely outside the atmosphere, like no one else on the planet spotted a wormhole that close, or wondered why the whole planet hadn’t been sucked in.

With that scenario the show comes up with a plethora of possible explanation.  Is it a message from our future, warning us not to mine the Oceans (everyone has to have a green message these days)? Is it an invasion from evil aliens? Is it a mote in God’s eye?

To tell the truth the answers, and questions, came so thick and fast that my head spun. I’m still not sure that the show made up its mind even in the end, which led to unintentional irony on the part of the President who tells one of the team, who is threatening to go to the press, that he didn’t know the truth. Hells bells! At the end of the show nobody knew the truth.

That said it isn’t all bad, the acting is generally above television standard and the CGI is decent enough, especially in the bird attack and the downing of the fighter sent to nuke the town. Although the creeping of the virus, across the landscape discolouring the vegetation, is a bit ropey. The plot is well paced and action fans will have a few good moments to remember. Sadly the original ending, where they have to crawl up through the central shaft of the underground bunker, has been watered down losing much of its original impact.

The show is spread over two DVD’s and, as you would expect from a modern production, the quality of the picture is generally high. There is a decent enough set of extras, the most impressive of which is a feature length audio commentary from Mikael Saloman, Executive Producers David W. Zucker and Tom Thayer and Editor Scott Vickrey. Terra Incognito: The Making of the Andromeda Strain (26 min 07 sec) which pretty much does what is says on the box, with contributions from most of the cast.  Visual effects Breakdowns (15 min 39 sec) which is pretty much a before and after comparison of what seems to be all the CGI scenes in the show. The only surprise here is that they CGI’d a lot of the doors and robot arms rather than build them. I have to say I didn’t spot that whilst watching the show. Photo and Design Gallery with a hundred and ten shots covering behind the scenes and some nice pre-production drawings.

The transfer is decent enough even though the 5.1 soundtrack isn’t as dynamic as it could be, which is especially noticeable in the action sequences.

Overall not a bad effort, though, taken as a whole, the show is dragged down by the unnecessary subplots which tread far too familiar ground.


Charles Packer

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