The Andromeda Strain (1971) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A team of top scientists work feverishly in a secret, state-of-the-art laboratory to discover what has killed the citizens of a small town and learn how this deadly contagion can be stopped.

  • When virtually all of the residents of Piedmont, New Mexico, are found dead after the return to Earth of a space satellite, the head of the US Air Force's Project Scoop declares an emergency. Many years prior to this incident, a group of eminent scientists led by Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) advocated for the construction of a secure laboratory facility that would serve as a base in the event an alien biological life form was returned to Earth from a space mission. Stone and his team - Drs. Dutton, Leavitt and Hall (David Wayne, Kate Reid, and James Olson, respectively)- go to the facility, known as Wildfire, and try to first isolate the life form while determining why two people from Piedmont (an old wino and a six-month-old baby) survived. The scientists methodically study the alien life form unaware that it has already mutated and presents a far greater danger in the lab, which is equipped with a nuclear self-destruct device should it manage to escape.

  • A U.S. Army satellite (Scoop VII) falls to earth near Piedmont, New Mexico. The recovery team experiences difficulties as it becomes clear that the satellite has performed its intended function all too well, and has brought back something from space. A team of scientists is assembled in a high-tech, underground facility to identify and defeat the "enemy" before it is too late.

  • When the capsule of the Scoop Mission returns to Earth and lands in the small town of Piedmont, it brings an unearthy organism with it. Except a crying baby and an old man with an ulcer, the entire population dies from clotted blood. A team of four scientists - leader Dr. Jeremy Stone, Dr. Charles Dutton, Dr. Mark Hall and Dr. Ruth Leavitt - are summoned and gathered together in the top secret Wildfire facility. Fighting against time, they try to understand the reason why the old man and the baby survived and research an antidote to Andromeda, the ultimate biological weapon.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The Universal movie based on the Michael Crichton book opens with the Universal logo then "Acknowledgements. This film concerns the four-day history of a major American scientific crisis. We received the generous help of many people attached to Project Scoop at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Wildfire Laboratory in Flatrock, Nevada. They encouraged us to tell the story accurately and in detail. The documents presented here are soon to be made public. They do not in any way jeopardize the national security."

    FIRST DAY (February 5, 1971)

    Two Air Force men, Lt. Shawn (Mark Jenkins) and Sgt. Crane (Peter Helm) peer at the little hamlet of Piedmont, New Mexico, population 68, through night vision goggles. They drive their van into town, all the while they are in direct communication with Vandenberg AFB, Scoop Mission Control. They talk to Lt. Comroe (Carl Reindel) and report progress. They report, "We see bodies, lots of them." Before they can retrieve the satellite they are attacked by, "something in white." Lt. Comroe calls Major Mancheck.

    Major Mancheck (Ramon Bieri) requests a reconnaissance flyby over the town. He requests, "Infrared. A FLIR scan, all sectors. Film to come direct to Scoop." An F-4 Phantom jet criss-crosses the area taking photographs. The pilot is surprised to see all the dead bodies scattered across a wide area. Mancheck and Comroe review the film. Mancheck declares a State of Emergency, and restricts all personnel to base. He enters a small closet, unlocks a red telephone, and calls a special number. He leaves a message, "I recommend calling a Wildfire Alert. We have evidence here on film of unnatural death caused by Scoop 7 returning to earth." He hangs up the phone. Five scientists are activated and collected: Stone, Leavitt, Dutton, Kirke and Hall.

    A party in an upscale Berkeley neighborhood in California is underway. Mrs. Allison Stone (an uncredited Susan Brown) answers the doorbell. She is surprised when MP Capt. Morton (John Carter) and his aide (an uncredited Michael Bow) appear and insist on seeing Dr. Stone. Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) reacts as if he knew they would arrive which upsets his wife even more than she already is. Morton calmly tells Stone, "There's a fire, sir." Morton assures Mrs. Stone that Dr. Stone will be fine and they leave. Stone reviews a file on Project Scoop on the drive to San Francisco International Airport. Allison Stone frantically calls her father, a U.S. Senator, and tries to report the strange abduction of her husband. The phone line is cut and a voice warns Mrs. Stone, "This communication is being monitored. The connection has been broken for reasons of national security. You will be briefed at the appropriate time. Thank you for your cooperation, Mrs. Stone." General Sparks (Peter Hobbs) calls Dr. Stone, who is alone on a large commercial jet airliner, and tells him, "I just wanted to inform you that all members of your team have been cleared and are now being called in, except for Professor Kirke. He's in the hospital: Appendectomy."

    At the Dutton residence, Clara Dutton (Frances Reid) packs a bag for her husband, Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne). His daughter enters the bedroom with a cup of coffee and asks, "Germ warfare people, Dad? A lab accident?" His grandson enters the bedroom, and excitedly exclaims, "Grandpa, there's a car, and they got guns." Outside in the snow is a green military vehicle surrounded by three soldiers. At her lab, Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid) is working when two Air Force officers inform her of a fire. Her assistant, Bess (an uncredited Midori), gets her some water to take a pill, and tells one man, "All Dr. Leavitt needs is rest." The major (Richard Bull) is in no mood for Leavitt's brand of humor, but is relieved when she tells him, "Relax. I'm going with you." In a hospital Operating Room, Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson) is just about to make an incision on his patient when the hospital administrator (an uncredited Paul Bellantyne) tells him to break scrub and be in the surgeon's conference room in thirty seconds.

    SECOND DAY (February 6, 1971)

    A helicopter takes off from Vandenberg AFB at 8:00 a.m. The pilot, Dempsey (an uncredited James W. Gavin) flies Doctors Stone and Hall, in white space suits, to Piedmont, New Mexico. Stone explains to Hall that the satellite isn't radioactive, but may have brought back a space germ. Hall asks why he was chosen. He is told he is an MD, he knows blood chemistry and most importantly that he is single. Stone is annoyed that Hall has not been reading the Wildfire materials he has been sending the doctor.

    We jump ahead in time to April 14, 1971 and the closed hearing of the Senate Committee on Space Sciences in Washington, D.C. Senator Phillips, the senator from Vermont (Eric Christmas) chides General Sparks about Dr. Stone. Senator McKenzie (an uncredited David McLean) from New Mexico expresses disagreement with his colleague about Dr. Stone. Sparks relays that Dr. Stone didn't know anything about Project Scoop. He and Stone were consultants with NASA on the Lunar Receiving Lab. Stone felt a more advanced lab was required to isolate and study any extra-terrestrial germ that may be encountered in the future. Stone wrote a letter asking that a facility be funded and built for such a purpose. Phillips objected to the cost, $90 million.

    In the present day, the helicopter approaches the small town. Buzzards are picking at the dead bodies, so gas canisters are dropped to kill the birds. Stone and Hall investigate the town, while the helicopter hovers a safe distance away. They find the townsfolk cut down in mid-stride, all dead. Some appear to have committed suicide. They retrieve the satellite from the residence of Dr. Alan Benedict (an uncredited Jason Johnson), the town doctor. Hall notes that Benedict's blood has turned to powder, and realizes just how dangerous this new organism is to the world. On their way out they hear a baby cry. They only find two people in town still alive: Jackson (George Mitchell) an elderly wino, and an infant, Manuel Rios (an uncredited Robert Soto). Before they leave, Stone tells Mancheck by radio, "The town is finished, contaminated beyond all...Order up a 7-12."

    In the White House Situtaiton Room, the time is 2:40 p.m. EST. Mr. Grimes (Richard OBrien), special assist to the President, meets with Dr. Robertson (Kermit Murdock), science advisor. A Cabinet Secretary (an uncredited Glenn Langan) advises, "It's against the Moscow Treaty of 1963 to fire thermonuclear weapons above ground." Grimes gets a call from the President. He is told that the National Guard will cordon off the area around Piedmont, and a decision to cauterize the area, via a 7-12, will be delayed 24 to 48 hours. Ed, the Assistant to the Cabinet Secretary (an uncredited Walter Brooke) is told to handle the National Guard deployment.

    Back at the hearing, Sen McKenzie asks who decided on the location for the Wildfire Lab. Sparks tells him that Dr. Stone wanted an uninhabited area.

    It is close to noon and Dr. Dutton is driving Dr. Leavitt to the Wildfire facility in southern Nevada. The surface structure is disguised to look like an old building run by the Department of Agriculture. They enter the building, and after Dutton provides the guard a pass-phrase, they walk to a storeroom. The floor drops away and they are taken down some distance underground to the first level of Wildfire. Stone and Hall enter a decontamination chamber in their white suits and are irradiated. Dutton tells Leavitt he thinks the capsule may have been brought back with the infection deliberately. Their final step before entry is a palm print analyzer that verifies identification. Dutton tells Leavitt, "It gives you final clearance to enter Wildfire." Hall and Stone greet Dutton and Leavitt, then they all proceed to the communications room on Level 1. Stone asks Sgt. Burk (Joe Di Reda) if there are any messages from the White House. Burk is annoyed, but gives them the brief tour of the teletype machine. "I listen for a little bell in here. Ding-a-ling. That means a message coming in is for the Wildfire Team. No messages yet."

    The team changes and meets for a briefing. Stone gives Hall a special red metal key on a chain. Stone arms the nuclear device at the bottom of the complex. He explains that in an emergency it is activated automatically, and Hall's key is the only thing that can disarm it. He further explains, "There's a five-minute delay between the time detonation locks in and the bomb explodes." Hall is confused and Leavitt tells him, "You should have done your homework, sport." She explains the "Odd-Man Hypothesis" that unmarried males are best suited to decide on the use of nuclear weapons. Stone shows Hal, via an electronic diagram, where he can find the stations where he can cancel self-destruct with his key. He also explains that it will take 16 hours to descend to Level 5, and that each level is cleaner than the one above. They start the decontamination and immunization process, the time is 5:10 p.m. On Level 4, they rest for 6 hours and are told to meet after that in the cafeteria.

    THIRD DAY (February 7, 1971)

    Hall joins the others at a table in the cafeteria. All they consume is a glass of Nutrient 42-5, which Hall describes as tasting like orange juice. Stone explains, "Developed for the astronauts. Eight ounces satisfy all daily nutritional requirements." Stone tells the team he has planned the work in three stages: 1) detection, 2) characterization and 3) control: how to contain and exterminate. They head for Level 5. It is now 4:33 a.m.

    Hall asks Dutton how he can examine his patients if they are sealed off. He is told that entire rooms are set up like glove-boxes. The two men join Leavitt and Stone in Main Control. Stone is using robotic "hands" to open the satellite. They use a lab rat to see if the open capsule has contaminated the air inside the sealed work chamber. Sure enough, when the sealed cage is opened, the animal quakes and shutters and dies in a few seconds. Next they expose a rhesus monkey to the air, and like the rat, it dies in a few seconds. Stone decides that he and Leavitt will scan the capsule, Dutton will do the necropsies on the animals, and Hall will examine his patients.

    Hall enters the patient exam/med lab complex. He meets Karen Anson (Paula Kelly) and asks, "What's been done for them?" Karen replies, "Just plasma for the old man, dextrose for the baby." Karen explains the computer, Medcom, handles all medical decisions and lab work. She briefs Hall on the equipment and the body suit glove box. Hall orders blood work, then Karen and Hall enter the exam room via their suits. In the Main Control Room, Stone and Leavitt are examining the satellite with remote scanners. She intimates that what they are searching for was deliberately brought back to Earth. In autopsy, Toby (Ken Swofford) is the technician helping Dutton with his vector studies. Like the medical facility, Toby is in a full body glove box suit. Dutton chides Toby to be more careful and use the "hands" to minimize exposure. They verify that Andromeda is still present and still lethal and transmitted by the air. The use of various filters yields knowledge that the size is 1-2 microns: the size of a bacterium. Dutton calls Stone and Leavitt to let them know what he has discovered, so far. Stone and Leavitt start their scan on the inside of the satellite. They eventually concentrate on a small pebble and some green substance that looks like paint. Hall examines his patients and reviews the blood results. He talks to Jackson but gets very little useful information. He tries to examine the baby, but it is clear he has no experience with babies. Dutton calls to show him the isotope scan: it shows how Andromeda gets into the body. As they suspected, it is inhaled, "The clotting begins in the lungs and spreads outward." Ruth is tired, and annoyed that Stone will not concentrate on the obvious clue, the indentation and pebble, and of course, the green stuff. They zoom in on the green substance and it flinches and grows under 440 magnification. They examine the green material at 1,000 magnification and both see it move. Stone calls for a technician, then operates the hands to remove the pebble for microchemistry examination. The MIC-T (an uncredited Michael Pataki) arrives and praises Stone's technique with the equipment.

    Hall now knows Jackson's blood is too acid, but not why. He learns the man has an ulcer, but the still doesn't know why the baby is still alive.

    Meanwhile, a pilot flying over the Piedmont area at 23,000 feet experiences trouble. The oxygen mask he is wearing begins to disintegrate. His F-4 Phantom jet crashes in Utah near the Four-Corners area.

    At the hearing, some months later, it is disclosed that messages for the Wildfire team were routed but the alarm, "was knocked out by a sliver of paper...the sliver had peeled from the roll and wedged between the bell and striker, preventing the bell from ringing."

    It is now 12 Noon, and Dutton tells Hall he thinks they are being held incommunicado and that what Scoop found was no accident. "I suspect they were looking for the ultimate biological weapon." Stone and Leavitt enter the break room to join their colleagues. Stone proudly announces, "We've isolated the organism. It's in microchemistry."

    At the crash site in Utah, Major Mancheck arrives with his team and they learn about the rubber dissolving from the pilot's recorded mayday call. An investigator informs them that the F-4 does not contain rubber, but a new synthetic called Polycron. It is similar in characteristics to human skin, which explains the human bones found in the Jet. The investigator tells Mancheck that either a chemical reaction or a micro-organism entered the cockpit which dissolved the pilot's Polycron-oxygen mask which caused the pilot to become disoriented from lack of oxygen and it led the jet to crash.

    Back at Wildfire, the entire team is now in the Microchemistry lab. Their analysis of the rock indicates it is a plastic of some sort. The green substance is even simpler, it is composed of only four elements: Hydrogen, Carbon, Nitrogen, and Oxygen. A more detailed analysis indicates the total absence of amino acids. Stone refocuses the group to study of the organism, specifically, "We're halfway home if we find out what will keep that from growing." Hall wants to concentrate on his patients, specifically what they have in common.

    Ruth reviews the growth results, but misses the culture in Alkaline, due to a red flashing message, "No Growth." Ruth zones out and does not hear the alarm for the midnight conference.

    FOURTH DAY (February 8, 1971)

    Hall, Dutton, and Stone are meeting. Hall concludes it must be a blood disorder. The bickering between Hall and Leavitt prompts Stone to call for a 6-hour rest period. Dutton suggests they requests a code name be obtained: Andromeda Strain is assigned. Hall notices that messages for the team were never relayed to the team. The 7-12 was never carried out over Piedmont. Stone is furious and calls the communications center to chew the Sergeant Out. He demands to talk to Dr. Robertson in Washington, D.C. Grimes and Robertson inform the Wildfire team of the Phantom Jet that crashed and the dissolving rubber. Stone emphasizes that the 7-12 must be expedited (but Stone and the team dismiss the dead pilot's claim of rubber dissolving-incorrectly assuming that the pilot was infected by Andromeda).

    At about 3:00 a.m. the team isolates a cell piece of the green substance. They discover it is a crystal, which now explains why Andromeda lives without amino acids. It converts energy into nourishment. Despite its isolation in the electron microscope the crystal divides and multiplies. Stone exclaims, "In a vacuum, bombarded by electrons? It shouldn't even be alive!" Ruth explains that the growth program shows Andromeda can live on anything, "Only gas and light affect it." They finally conclude, to their shock and horror, that a thermonuclear detonation would only allow their new discovery to mutate and grow into a super-colony in one day.

    They call Dr. Robertson back and Stone directs Robbie to disarm the self-destruct mechanism at Wildfire. When they tell the computer to explain Andromeda's function, it overloads and returns the message: 601. They now know that Andromeda divides and mutates with no Earth-bound checks and balances to stop it. Stone calls up a map simulation to show how it might spread. Dutton and Leavitt are shocked and disappointed to see and learn that Wildfire was developed for germ warfare simulations and Andromeda was already programmed in as the designated weapon. Stone tries to mitigate the situation, then deflect criticism by redirecting their efforts to finding an antidote.

    A little later, as Hall and Karen are with the baby, a yellow light flashes and a bell rings an alarm. Karen points at the light and explains to Hall, "Contamination!" A voice over the PA explains, "A seal has broken in autopsy. Emergency procedures are in effect." Hall gets Leavitt on the way to the autopsy lab, but Ruth is frozen in place when she sees the flashing red alarm signal light overhead. She falls to the floor and foams at the mouth with a seizure. Hall has trouble getting help with Leavitt, as the personnel around think she is infected with Andromeda. Karen assists with the treatment when Hall tells her it is only epilepsy.

    Dutton is in the autopsy lab and admits, "I'm scared. Oh, Lord, I'm scared." Stone feeds Dutton pure Oxygen as Hall explains what happened to Leavitt. Hall is surprised that Dutton is still alive. Hall finally concludes that blood pH is the answer. After Hall and Stone run a quick growth program, they finally see that Andromeda can only survive in a narrow band of pH: Acid vs. Alkaline between 7.39 and 7.43. Then Stone notices the lab rat, exposed longer than Dutton, is also still alive. He concludes, "Andromeda's mutated to a noninfectious form." Unfortunately, Stone also notices a message on the console, "EARLY DEGENERATIVE CHANGE IN GASKET."

    The Andromeda virus is now consuming the Polycron gaskets around the facility, causing the micro-organism to contaminate Wildfire. With all the gaskets decomposed, another red light and alarm sounds and the doors in Level 5 begin to seal off. Hall is unable to get to a substation to deactivate the 5-minute countdown to detonation. Hall cuts his way through the glove box suit and enters the central core. Gas and lasers protect the area from escaped lab animals. Hall climbs to Level 4, but it is now sealed. He shakes off the shock from being struck by two laser shots: one to the back of his hand and one to his face. He gets to Level 3 and inserts his key in the substation.

    Hall wakes up in the Infirmary some time later with Karen standing next to him. Ruth Leavitt, with her usual brand of irony, tells Hall, "Eight seconds to spare. Hardly even exciting." Dutton tells Hall the super-colony is now off the coast and rain will wash it into the ocean where it will die.

    At the Senate Hearing two months later, Senator Phillips asks Dr. Stone, "This cloud seeding business, you absolutely sure it worked?" Stone replies, "All reports indicate the experiment was successful." He further admits they are continuing to study Andromeda at Wildfire and postulates that another biological crisis can occur. The senator tartly asks, "What do we do about that?" Stone grimly redirects the question with, "Precisely, Senator. What do we do?"

    We close with a view of a computer simulation of Andromeda growing (showing that although contained, the Andromeda virus remains unpredictable), and then the ominous error message, "601" flashing on the screen.

    End credits

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