The Andromeda Strain



Airdate: 9-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, May 26-27 (A&E).

Like Halley's Comet, "The Andromeda Strain," Michael Crichton's story of a virulent microorganism from outer space, is coming around again. It's previous appearance, as a theatrical directed by Robert Wise, occurred 37 years ago, so it was probably due for a return visit.

In some ways, you'd hardly recognize the old pathogen now. It has a completely different origin, a revised and more diverse team of scientists fighting it and a far more imaginative solution for defeating it. Plus the scientific equipment in the secret underground lab is wa-a-a-ay cooler.

A&E's four-hour mini also contains a strong environmental message which is, in itself, a little ironic considering that Crichton, who was not associated with this project, spoke with skepticism about global warming before a congressional hearing in 2005.

The heart of the story remains the same as it was in the 1969 novel, and scribe Robert Schenkkan wastes no time getting to it. A satellite crashes into the desert just outside of a small Utah town. Whatever was in it kills everyone almost instantly or drives them murderously insane. A team of scientists (Benjamin Bratt, Christa Miller, Viola Davis, Ricky Schroder and Daniel Dae Kim) is quickly assembled to save the world.

There are "B" stories as well, the most prominent of which is about a macho, cocky TV reporter (Eric McCormack) trying to get to the bottom of this story. There's also a Dr. Strangelove-style general (Barry Flatman) with an act-first, think-later mentality. Mostly, though, these are deliberate diversions or unintended comic relief. With the world at stake, who really cares about unrequited love over a petri dish?

Director Mikael Salomon whips the story into a first-rate, quickly paced suspenseful tale. He is not at all shy about using flashy special effects, but he doesn't let them dominate the drama. Each part has edge-of-the-seat moments, thanks to some admirable performances as well as several intriguing new plot twists that inject surprise at key moments.

Production: Scott Free and Traveler's Rest Prods. in association with Universal Pictures. Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Eric McCormack, Christa Miller, Daniel Dae Kim, Viola Davis, Ricky Schroder, Andre Braugher, Justin Louis, Barry Flatman, Ted Whittall. Executive producers: Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, David W. Zucker, Tom Thayer. Co-executive producer/dirctor: Mikael Salomon. Producer: Clara George. Co-producers: Malcolm Reeve, Ron Binkowski. Director: Mikael Salomon. Teleplay: Robert Schenkkan. Based on the novel by: Michael Crichton.