Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Politically Correct Mutation.

A&E presented a remake of The Andromeda Strain, the groundbreaking techno-thriller by Michael Crichton. This book has a very special place in our hearts here at Deaddrifts. We were given the book by our 7th-grade English/Social Studies (AKA "Block") teacher, the beloved Miss Wallace. It was the most captivating work of fiction that we had read, and remained so for many years. The book gives one a glimpse into the world of Apollo-era molecular biology, epidemiology, and space technology with a credible plot and engaging characters. It inspired science hobbies that lead to a career in science.

The original movie based on the novel (1971) was a quite satisfying and reasonably faithful adaptation, and achieved cult status in geekdom. A&E's promotional trailers promised an exciting update with forty years of advancement in the biological sciences, the birth and growth of "astrobiology", the maturation of computer technology, and the directorial mastery of Ridley Scott.

The remake of The Andromeda Strain does have all of that, but alas also carries such an immense weight of politically correct and conspiratorial baggage that it is a chore to watch, like a mandatory requirement of a platoon's political officer. The principal characters are so deliberately diverse (very, very diverse) it's as if A&E Market Demographics had dictated the makeup of the Wildfire Team (guys, you did miss putting a "little person" in the story somewhere). There is also the evil - really evil - invisible hand of the United States Government, working to the detriment of humanity, which appears to be a current requirement for the story of this film genre. Finally, there is the Hero Newsman, of course, fighting to Get The Truth Out.

These political ormanents are lethal to the enjoyability of this movie, because one is always being clubbed over the head by them, while precious little is shown of the process of scientific discovery, a central theme of the book. One never sees this highly talented team of scientists actually do some real science...the computer just gives them the answers. Otherwise they spend a lot of time hollering and hurling accusations, and spilling the beans to the outside world on their cell phones (or catching up with the family). What little "science" is portrayed with the typical Hollywood mangling into a grand game of "I've Gotta Hunch". The politics drags the film's pace so that any tension is anesthetized (and stretching the story into a four-hour, two-evening miniseries was a dose of Vallium on top of that).

The original movie has aged rather well, and is certainly more to the point without the ponderous ideology. Go rent it, or better yet, read the book. One observation is that there is no mention of the remake on Michael Crichton's website, and he is only credited in the remake as the author of book on which the film is based. I wonder if Dr. Crichton approved of the re-telling of his story in this manner.

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