When I first heard that A&E remade the sci-fi classic The Andromeda Strain as a four-hour miniseries, I immediately made it a high priority for this week’s viewing. I read the book repeatedly as a boy, so much so that my father still jokes about it. The original movie followed the book rather closely, but it dragged; except for the first 20 minutes and the last 30, the pace could cure insomnia.
After seeing part 1, I can say that the producers have cured that problem, but at the expense of making the story almost unrecognizable. As in the original, the plot involves a covert effort by the American government to find biological material in space that could be used as a weapon on earth, but unlike the original, we know that immediately. In attempting to cover that up, some members of the government try blaming the North Koreans for infecting the damaged satellite, even though as one character finally points out, why would Pyongyang spend all the money to send a biological weapon into space hoping an American satellite would come close enough to it to hit it and trust that said satellite would hit the US? The character who says that points out that Homeland Security can’t be bothered to inspect most shipping, leaving that method wide open.
And that brings us to some of the other updates. Everyone has personal problems in this remake; the Head Scientist has a bipolar wife, the Nosy Reporter has a cocaine addiction, three of the main characters have unresolved personal conflicts from the war. It’s all very Lifetime Channel in that sense. Worse, though, are the little zingers that the writers of the remake put into the script about the current war and administration. When the Utah National Guard gets mobilized to quarantine the area, the Nosy Reporter tells his television audience that the UNG expects the call-up to be brief and says with a smirk, “Where have we heard that before?” One character postulates that the US supplied Saddam with all of his biological weapons, and so on. These pop up on a regular basis about every 20 minutes during the first installment.
Still, I can sympathize. The producers needed to pick up the pace from the original, which means they had to add a lot more action, which meant more subplots. For the most part, they succeeded, and it’s entertaining even if it’s nowhere near the book any longer. Most of the characters have completely changed and the tone has gone from officious arrogance to near-hysteria. The ride has gotten much faster and more compelling, and as long as viewers don’t mind the 30-point decline in IQ, they should enjoy it.
Both the first installment and the finale air tonight on A&E, starting at 7 pm ET/6 pm CT.