'The Andromeda Strain' (1971)

Disclaimer: Films listed here may be terrible, but they must have at least one scientifically interesting idea, however badly they may exploit that concept.

~The Power (1968)
George Hamilton, Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Rennie, Arthur O’Connell, Earl Holliman, Nehemiah Persoff, Richard Carlson, Gary Merrill, Yvonne De Carlo, Barbara Nichols, Aldo Ray, Celia Lovsky, Lawrence Montaigne, Vaughn Taylor, Ken Murray, Miiko Taka, Forrest J. Ackerman, Miss Beverly Hills
C-108 mins.
Based on Frank M. Robinson’s 1956 novel

Opinion is divided on The Power: Some love it, others hate it. I like it, despite its flaws. A terrific cast does well in this George Pal sci-fi/mystery thriller, a hybridization that actually works. And that eerie musical score by Miklos Rozsa is just right. Too bad they resort to stock military footage at one point. Nevertheless, several scenes simply won’t fade from memory. One reviewer, however, is less than thrilled:

A panel of brilliant professors studying human endurance for the space program discover one of their colleagues harbors transcendental powers and is out to kill each one of them (causing heart attacks by the force of his mind). A good example of the mid-’60s major studio B-picture: all the money has gone into the ‘idea’, presented here with sleek visuals and designs … but with a middle-drawer cast left to sort out the screenplay, which is distinctly without much power. George Pal produced, with amusing shock effects and editing tricks, but the potentially intriguing plot gets muddled up in dead-end scenes and red herrings. Suzanne Pleshette (as the one female on the panel) looks lovely, yet her character keeps popping up without explanation — and her confusing final scene leaves behind nothing but disenchantment. George Hamilton is the film’s star, which should tell you how much thought went into the casting. — moonspinner55 on the IMDb

~The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Kate Reid, Paula Kelly, George Mitchell, Ramon Bieri, Frances Reid, Ken Swofford, Richard Bull, Peter Hobbs, Eric Christmas, Kermit Murdock, Joe Di Reda, Mark Jenkins, Peter Helm, Carl Reindel, Richard O’Brien, James W. Gavin
C-130 mins.
Based closely on Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel

There is a science fiction subgenre called “hard SF,” in which the science is respected and represented as accurately as possible (or at least as plausibly as can be done with the budget). The Andromeda Strain may be the best example of hard SF on film, with the only SFnal aspect here being the extraterrestrial life form itself. An excellent cast of actors convinces us of the “reality” of what’s happening (although one monkey manages to outperform all the humans). And I’ve never seen a book more closely followed on the big screen:

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

P.S.: If you want to read a more detailed critique of this film, go here; but beware of SPOILERS.

~A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Malcolm McDowell, Warren Clarke, James Marcus, Patrick Magee, Michael Tarn, Adrienne Corri, Sheila Raynor, Philip Stone, David Prowse
C-136 mins.
Based on Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel

“As I was saying, Alex, you can be instrumental in changing the public verdict. Do you understand, Alex? Have I made myself clear?”
“As an unmuddied lake, Fred. As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer. You can rely on me, Fred.”
“What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolence.”
“Initiative comes to thems that wait.”

Decidedly not a pleasant satirical film; if you’re at all squeamish, avoid it. Still, it gamely tries to score political and social points and does have an intriguing underlying philosophical basis concerning human nature and how it can be conditioned to adapt to society’s mores. Definitely not for children.

Stanley Kubrick’s striking visual interpretation of Anthony Burgess’s famous novel is a masterpiece. Malcolm McDowell delivers a clever, tongue-in-cheek performance as Alex, the leader of a quartet of droogs, a vicious group of young hoodlums who spend their nights stealing cars, fighting rival gangs, breaking into people’s homes, and raping women. While other directors would simply exploit the violent elements of such a film without subtext, Kubrick maintains Burgess’s dark, satirical social commentary. We watch Alex transform from a free-roaming miscreant into a convict used in a government experiment that attempts to reform criminals through an unorthodox new medical treatment. The catch, of course, is that this therapy may be nothing better than a quick cure-all for a society plagued by rampant crime. A Clockwork Orange works on many levels — visual, social, political, and sexual — and is one of the few films that hold up under repeated viewings. Kubrick not only presents colorfully arresting images, he also stylizes the film by utilizing classical music to underscore the violent scenes, which even today are disturbing in their display of sheer nihilism. Ironically, many fans of the film have missed that point, sadly being entertained by its brutality rather than being repulsed by it. — Bryan Reesman

~THX 1138 (1971)
Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe, Sid Haig, Marshall Efron, James Wheaton, Robert Feero, David Ogden Steers (Stiers)
C-86/88 mins.
Original screenplay by George Lucas and Walter Murch
Novelized by Ben Bova in 1971

“If you feel you are not properly sedated, call 348-844 immediately. Failure to do so may result in prosecution for criminal drug evasion.”
“Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses.”
“Thou art a subject of the divine, created in the image of man, by the masses, for the masses.”
“Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy.”
“Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.”
“You have nowhere to go. I am here to protect you.”
“Please come back. We only want to help you.”

What is intended as a criticism of the Republican Party (and Richard Nixon in particular) seems ironically more ominous now with Obamacare in the offing, because every point liberal George Lucas scores against a society he regards as oppressive could just as equally be applied to the totalitarian nanny state being imposed on America by the present regime. Granted, THX 1138 is highly derivative (cf. Nineteen Eighty-four and Brave New World) and the pacing is off; nevertheless, it still manages to involve the viewer and doesn’t clobber you over the head with its “message.”

~Silent Running (1972)
Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint, Joseph Campanella, Roy Engel, and Mark Persons, Steven Brown, Cheryl Sparks, Larry Whisenhunt (as robot drones)
C-89 mins.
Original screenplay by Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino, and Steven Bochco

“It calls back a time when there were flowers all over the Earth … and there were valleys. And there were plains of tall green grass that you could lie down in — you could go to sleep in. And there were blue skies, and there was fresh air … and there were things growing all over the place, not just in some domed enclosures blasted some millions of miles out in to space.”

Only the stunning visuals by Douglas Trumbull make this one worth viewing; the storyline is deeply flawed and out-and-out illogical — how smart is it to put orbiting forests out near Saturn, when the wise thing would be to put them near Venus or even Mercury where sunlight is available in abundance? Another viewer begs to differ:

One of the best science fiction films of the 1970s, Silent Running stars Bruce Dern as Freeman Lowell, a nature-loving crewmember aboard the Valley Forge, a gigantic spaceship in a small fleet that carries the last surviving forests of the Earth, which has fallen victim to overpopulation and ecological neglect. Freeman’s name reflects his nonconformist philosophy, which runs counter to the prevailing recklessness of his three ill-fated crewmates, who are eager to jettison their precious payload and return to the bleakness of Earth. Before they can sabotage the forests, Freeman does what he must, and spends the remainder of his mission with three robotic “drones” as his only companions, struggling to maintain his sanity in the vastness of space. Dern is superb in this memorable role, representing the lost soul of humankind as well as the back-to-nature youth movement of the 1960s and the pre-Watergate era. (Appropriately, Joan Baez sings the film’s theme song.) A rare science fiction film that combines bold adventure with passionate social conscience, Silent Running will remain relevant as long as the Earth is threatened by the ravages of human carelessness. — Jeff Shannon


Mike Gray