(Read our review of part 1)
The creative team responsible for The Andromeda Strain (2008) part deux largely squanders the narrative potential established in part one by not adequately communicating the backstory, while subjecting the viewer to poor special effects and truly unbelievable plot developments.
The plot framework laid out in part one is not adequately resolved in part two. Really great movies find a way to communicate a backstory quickly and meaningfully within the evolving context of the narrative. This backstory is essential to the believability of the unfolding action. Absent this information, character behaviour can be confusing and even nonsensical to the viewer. Confusing and nonsensical are apt descriptors for this movie.
Plot developments should be believable within the context of the narrative. I don’t have really high standards when it comes to action movies. Give me witty dialogue, amazing special effects, a time paradox, or a charismatic lead and I’m capable of suspending a great deal of disbelief for a couple of hours. Often what distinguishes a “good” movie from a “bad” movie for me is how believable the action is within the context of the story. The more serious the story is, the more realistic the action has to be.
The creators of AS08 lay the groundwork for a serious SF movie – most of the plot development takes place in a lab, the lead characters are scientists, and like all good sci-fi – the society depicted (and the challenges they face) mirrors our own in some way or another. The one thing this movie couldn’t do (in my opinion) was devolve into a senseless action flick, which, unfortunately, it did.
Properly executed, action sequences can both exhilarate and creatively advance the plot. Action sequences in AS08-2 were neither creative nor exhilarating. Part one was careful and calculated, part two comes across as contrived and ham-handed. Events unfolded like some bizarre game of Mousetrap which distracted me from the story arc.
Building Codes: (Spoilers)
For example: Surely super-secret, underground labs are subject to building codes – like say for instance ladders in service shafts. What vertical service shaft doesn’t have a ladder in it? The most critical and most tense moments in the movie take place in a vertical shaft that – in the real world – would have had a ladder in it. This simple omission made the entire sequence impossible to believe, and all their attempts to create tension and excitement – ridiculous.
Not to Harp on the Believability Thing: (More Spoilers)
Let’s not overlook how they ended up in the aforementioned service shaft. Through a completely unbelievable sequence of events involving a previously unexplained black-op government agency, blackmail, the most dangerous virus on earth and a gym bag – the virus contaminates the special materials storage room in which it is being kept. Sirens and strobe lights of the contamination alarm triggers an epileptic seizure in one of the scientists who, as he falls to the ground in mid-seize, grabs a piece of lab equipment which topples into and subsequently destroys a wall mounted computer that happens to be the only way to deactivate the lab’s self-destruct sequence on this floor.
To disengage the self-destruct sequence, scientists must break into the ladderless vertical utility shaft (that could easily fit an elevator) and climb up to a different floor to access a different terminal where the self-destruct sequence can be disengaged.
Did I mention that the heavy water pool for the reactor that powers the station is at the bottom of the utility shaft?
Throughout all of this I was still wondering what the special container holding the virus was made of – hand blown glass? Shouldn’t these things be able to handle a bit of jostling around in a gym bag?
Make Sure your Special Effects Budget Matches Your Artistic Vision
In my review of part one, I praised the film makers for their judicious use of special effects – but it seemed to me that in part two the vision of the director exceeded what could be accomplished with the available budget. At critical points in the show the special effects were quite poor – I’m specifically referring to a jet crash, an atomic bomb explosion, and the colouring effects used to show the Andromeda Strain spreading quite literally across the countryside. Poor special effects are distracting – they pull the viewer out of the story, away from the characters and the unfolding plot.
The optimism I felt after viewing AS08-1 was short-lived in AS08-2. The creative team strayed too far from the source material attempting to create tension and excitement through poorly thought out action sequences. Justice was not done to what is a Hugo and Nebula award winning novel.