A&E's The Andromeda Strain Takes Alien Viral Invasion Seriously

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. 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 (ET), concludes on Tuesday, May 27 at 9pm, and will 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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MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

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