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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

A&E’s ‘The Andromeda Strain’ is seriously goofy fun

They only sent me a screener of the first night of the two-night “event” of the new adaptation of The Andromeda Strain on the cable network A&E, and to the A&E publicity people I say this: Bastards! Why tease me like this? It’s terribly mean.

Because that first night — it debuts on cable on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, at 9pm Eastern, and concludes on Tuesdays, May 27 at 9pm, and it’ll be available on DVD on June 3 — is pretty kick-ass. And it ends on a cliffhanger, with things looking pretty bad, like that the alien virus code-named Andromeda is about to be spread all around planet Earth, to the doom of us all. Now, I’m guessing that planet Earth does not die at this time, but still: it’s very mean to leave me hanging like this.
It’s pretty much the story from the Michael Crichton novel, at least in this beginning half: a NASA satellite crashes to Earth, and some weird bug that’s hitched a ride on it wipes out an entire town in the middle of nowhere in Utah. Except for two survivors: a middle-age man and a baby girl, whom gubmint scientists snatch up and whisk away to a secret gubmint lab. The scientists are trying to figure out what killed everybody — is it North Korean bio warfare? OMG! — and why those two people survived, while at the same time trying to figure out what their own Washington overlords are keeping secret, and how those overlords plan to deal with this deadly virus or bacteria or whatever is it. Things don’t look good: nukes are mentioned.

When I say this new Andromeda Strain — from producers Tony Scott and Ridley Scott — kicks ass, I mean that in the sense of overly serious science fiction movies that make themselves even more unintentionally goofy than they might otherwise have been by being so damn solemn, as if Science were only important as long as no one cracks a smile. But that’s okay. Because all the paranoia about government secrecy is totally of the moment, plus the homicidal/suicidal rage the Andromeda bug induces is reminiscent of flicks like 28 Days Later and where we’ve seen zombie flicks going in recent years: toward zombieness/disease/public health hazards as threats to civilization, even if they don’t kill off everyone. And also because The Andromeda Strain is premiering in high-definition, which means that Benjamin Bratt, who stars as Our Hero the infectious-disease doctor will be even more gorgeous than ever. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The mini also features such talents as Andre Braugher and Ricky Schroder (yes, he’s “Ricky” again) as military dudes with secrets to keep, Viola Davis and Daniel Dae Kim as scientists with chips on their shoulders, and Eric McCormack as a journalist with a nose for hard news and a weakness for substances that can be abused, like booze and scoops. It’s good stuff. Silly, but good.



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  • I’ll trust you that it’s a good movie, but I have one objection to it that’s really more of a rant against Hollywood today in general. I loved the original Andromeda Strain. Do you remember what the scientists in that movie look like? Very middle-aged and, well, ordinary and typical of what you might find among real research scientists.

    Now tell me what the actors playing those roles this time look like. Every one of them is good looking, slender, mostly quite young for their supposed expertise. Typical Hollywood nonsense where the great-looking blonde is the word’s leading astrophysicist or something. Oh well, I won’t pick on this movie for something that is pandemic in today’s entertainment, but it’s what I noticed when I saw ads for this one. Really stood out compared to the original.

  • MaryAnn

    Well, that’s a good general description of Hollywood’s depiction of scientists at the moment, and it’s mostly pretty good for this movie, too. But there’s no 22-year-old blonde who’s a nuclear genius/bikini model here. And I think it’s safe to say that Benjamin Bratt and Viola Davis are both, technically speaking, middle-aged. Gorgeous, both of them, but not too young to be believable in their roles.

  • Robert

    I half watched a trailer for this standing in line at the concession stand in a movie theater and thought – oh cool, a modern adaptation of the classic. I just assumed it was going to be a theatrical release.

    I just saw an ad on YouTube – I didn’t realize it’s a friggin’ made for TV movie. Aaaarrgggghhhh… Based on any MFT flick I’ve seen this automatically means crap. Okay so it’ll be high-def crap. Schlock writing, overly drawn out, calculated to fit a time slot & commercial breaks crap…and an A&E watermark in the corner the whole time.

    Nothing with Rick Schroder in it can possibly be anything but pablum.

    I caught part of an interview with Eric McCormack hawking this on Leno or whatever the other day and I’ve noticed that I have yet to see him do a post Will & Grace interview where he isn’t obviously trying to get the message out – “I’m **NOT GAY** and I want to branch out to do other things”. He was talking about the “macho” stunts he did on the film, mentiong his WIFE AND KIDS…did I mention I have A WIFE AND KIDS???

    His problem is he was cast for W&G for a reason. I know the PC Police will be knocking on my door but he looks gay. His voice tends toward whiney & his natural mannerisms aren’t the most masculine. So it sounds like they’ve shoehorned him into a part he doesn’t fit.

    And NO blond babes babes in bikinis? WTH??

  • Robert

    Out of curiosity, why do your reviews have a title that’s a link right back to itself?

  • MaryAnn

    I didn’t realize it’s a friggin’ made for TV movie. Aaaarrgggghhhh… Based on any MFT flick I’ve seen this automatically means crap.

    Then you need to see more of them, because on the cable networks, at least, there are quite a few very good ones.

    His problem is he was cast for W&G for a reason. I know the PC Police will be knocking on my door but he looks gay.

    The definition of “gay” is “a man who is sexually attracted to other men.” It has nothing to do with what a man looks like. And you’d better believe that there are men who don’t “look gay” to you who are. And vice versa.

  • MaryAnn

    why do your reviews have a title that’s a link right back to itself?

    That’s the permalink to the blog posting. It’s a pretty standard setup for a blog format.

  • Robert
    Based on any MFT flick I’ve seen this automatically means crap.

    …on the cable networks, at least, there are quite a few very good ones.

    I don’t have cable but seeing a couple of bootleg segments of TAS on YouTube – or hell, even one of the official promos, this clearly isn’t one of the good ones. Absolutely the kind of junk I assumed. Someone has posted the original in multiple parts on YouTube and I watched some to remind myself of the tone. Despite 37 years of improvements in cinematic technology, they’ve managed to lower the bar.

    I guess Crichton cares more about the paycheck these days than what gets done to his stories, if he still has any control.

    The definition of “gay” is “a man who is sexually attracted to other men.” It has nothing to do with what a man looks like.

    I believe I recall you referring to W&G as being in “gayface”? A turn of phrase I found humorous. They obviously chose actors – like McCormack – who fit a certain outward stereotype. With the Jack character, a prancing sissy, in Will’s case a somewhat whiney, pouting pretty-boy with all these “elevated” sensibilities. Something becomes a stereotype because it has at least some validity.

    The point being, I suspect there are certain parts he’ll be less believeable in. But this production appears to be such a wreck it probably isn’t a major issue.

  • Know the weirdest thing about the casting of Will and Grace?

    The lovely John Barrowman (better known to many of us as the bi-but-mostly gay Captain Jack Harkness on episodes of Dr. Who and Torchwood) was the other finalist for the role of Will Truman. He LOST the role of Will Truman because the producers didn’t think he appeared gay enough. Barrowman is gay (and out), Truman is straight. Go figure!

    Back to Andromeda Strain – I’m half way through it and I have such mixed feelings about it. I’ll probably watch it tonight, but I think the first movie was vastly superior.

    That said, Eric McCormack, Daniel Dae Kim, and Andre Braugher are all terrific. The script is so-so and the set and lighting design are both laughable. If it was horrible, I would have completely given up, but I’m willing to see what they do to the ending.

  • Well, I meant to say “McCormack is straight” but…

  • MaryAnn

    They obviously chose actors – like McCormack – who fit a certain outward stereotype.

    No, they chose actors who could act to a stereotype. Certainly there’s nothing that reads “gay” about McCormack’s performance in *Andromeda Strain.*

    I no great fan of McCormack’s or anything, but it pisses me off when people confuse media-propagated stereotypes with reality. Of course there are gay men who conform to the stereotype, but there are many who do not… and are often not perceived as gay because they don’t. Ditto for women who either do or do not conform to the lesbian stereotype. And ditto for straights who are mistaken for gay.

    The ONLY thing that makes someone homosexual is to whom they are sexually attracted. That’s it. Not how they dress or how they talk. Who they sleep with… or want to sleep with.

  • Robert

    No, they chose actors who could act to a stereotype.

    Well…I believe there can be more to it than that. There are certain things an actor just carries around with them.

    Again, I base what I say having seen McCormack & Hayes outside their W&G characters.

    I no great fan of McCormack’s or anything, but it pisses me off when people confuse media-propagated stereotypes with reality.

    So when actor Nathan Lane says “I’m 40, single and I work a lot in musical theater. You do the math.” discussing his orientation, he’s totally off-base?

    The ONLY thing that makes someone homosexual is to whom they are sexually attracted. That’s it. Not how they dress or how they talk.

    I’m sure there are Sgt. Rock types who are gay but when some guy comes prancing in with a swishy walk, a lisping “oh girlfriend” manner of speaking, you’re going to tell me you make absolutely no assumptions about them…? I don’t believe even you’re that liberal.

    I imagine most people know guys from school who “everyone knew” was gay and were proven right.

  • MaryAnn

    I base what I say having seen McCormack & Hayes outside their W&G characters.

    Yeah, but the fact remains that McCormack IS straight. There’s no reason to believe otherwise.

    Obviously stereotypes have SOME basis in fact. But they’re not the whole story, not by a long shot.

  • Robert

    Obviously stereotypes have SOME basis in fact. But they’re not the whole story, not by a long shot.

    Obviously.

    Of course, there IS that whole thing about girls with red hair…

    ;-)

  • Collin

    The script was utter triep and was only further aided in the demolition of the story by the inept direction.

    The introduction of the military conspiracy, the evil assasains, the forced feeling of political correctness permeating the movie from the casting right on through the dialog, and then end up wiht a completely bogus time travel as the resolution?

    This shows how much of a hack the screenwriter was -alcoholic reporter seeking redemption, evil military conspiracy, bad business related politicians… all ancient leftist caricature cliches from the 60’s. And adding them to the movie gained NOTHING other than clutter.

    It became such a farce that the only thing missing by the end of it were MST3K’s Joel, Tom Servo and Crow.

    The movie was a terrible waste of a good science thriller book, a decent set of effects, and a decent cast who seemed almost ashamed of the dialog at times.

    The screenwriter and director (who also wrecked Spartacus) should be ashamed of the piece of garbage the created from such a solid book of source material. Nobody should ever give EITHER of these bufoons a job again, unles its puching a mop at McDonalds.

    Even the 1971 movie, although dated, did a better job of maintaining characters, suspense, conflict, and interest.

    Go read the book (or re-read it), and save yourselves the waste of time this garbage is.

  • MaryAnn

    Well, the second half does indeed make it plain why A&E did not send out screeners of the second half. :->

  • Ryan

    Spoilers below:

    I think my favorite part of the second half was Benjamin Bratt’s character just sort of chilling on a ladder while the military scientist died and then a second scientist CAME AFTER HIM and killed himself to cut off the first guys thumb and then toss it up to Bratt’s character. (This after he left a woman to potentially die in the decon chamber)

    Also, while Bratt’s physically strong character fumbled weakly to press the severed thumb against the panel, the much weaker looking character played by Daniel Dae Kim who was dying of serious radiation overdoses…freaking hurled that thumb up to him. That was the most ludicrous sequence of events I have ever seen committed to television. (OK, it was in the top 10 though) My friends and I were laughing non-stop. This is one of those ‘movies’ the greatness of which can only be appreciated by being added to the MST3K roster.

    Also amusing, the alcoholic wife gazing inscrutably at her ex-husband on TV at the end, well her kid tells her, ‘hey, he saved the world…gotta give him props!’ Way to resolve that plot!

    I could go on, but this is a classic…as long as you watch it with friends and know a few good drinking games.

  • Robert

    Well, the second half does indeed make it plain why A&E did not send out screeners of the second half.

    So, did you find yourself having any “seriously goofy fun” on Night 2?

    The screenwriter and director (who also wrecked Spartacus) should be ashamed of the piece of garbage the created from such a solid book of source material.

    So we can take heart that despite the protracted writer’s strike, things are back to business as usual, they haven’t lost a thing.

    These are all people who are in it for a paycheck. Writers who don’t care what kind of crap they put out. A bunch of actors hurtling headlong toward joining Erik Estrada on the autograph convention tour and pitching swampland at 2AM.

  • MaryAnn

    So, did you find yourself having any “seriously goofy fun” on Night 2?

    Only in laughing at it. And Benjamin Bratt is still hot, even when he’s doing some really dumb stuff. :->

    So we can take heart that despite the protracted writer’s strike, things are back to business as usual, they haven’t lost a thing.

    I seriously doubt this mini was impacted in any way by the writers’ strike.

  • Ryan

    It is strange how off the tracks the script went on night two…because the first part was honestly pretty good, especially for an A&E made for TV movie. I wonder if they had some editing issues…or if they just realized they had written themselves into a corner, with too many plots to resolve.

    Oh, and since a definitive cure to Andromeda had been developed…why would the secret organization at the end care about hiding it? It would seem to be notably less potent now that there is a known cure.

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