Director – John Strickland, Adaptation – Richard Fell, Based on the TV Series Created by John Elliot & Sir Fred Hoyle, Producer – Alison Willett, Photography – Sean Van Hales, Music – Nina Humphreys, Special Effects Supervisor – Steve Bowman, Production Design – Paul Laugier. Production Company – BBC.
Tom Hardy (John Fleming), Kelly Reilly (Christine Jones/Andromeda), Charlie Cox (Dennis Bridger), Jane Asher (Professor Madelaine Dawney), David Haig (General Vandenburg), Colin Stinton (Kaufman)
John Fleming and his associate Dennis Bridger have been constructing a new radio telescope at Bouldershaw Fell. As the project nears completion, Fleming rankles as General Vandenburg, the spokesperson for their backers, the Ministry of Defence, seeks to commandeer the project for military surveillance. As they are testing the system, Fleming picks up a broadcast from the direction of the Andromeda Galaxy. As they interpret it, it is revealed to contain instructions for building a computer. They do so and the computer starts testing them in terms of scientific knowledge. However, Vandenburg starts seeing military potential and tries to take over. Fleming then realises that the computer is issuing instructions for the construction of a living body for itself.
The original A for Andromeda (1961) was a British tv serial that aired on the BBC in seven one-hour weekly slots. It was the creation of Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), a celebrated astronomer who held a position at Cambridge and was knighted in 1972. Hoyle also wrote a number of science books and science-fiction works beginning with The Black Cloud (1957), including a novelisation of A for Andromeda.
A for Andromeda was a reasonable success when it aired, although unfortunately all its episodes are lost today due to the purge of videotapes in the BBC vault (a fate that also afflicted many of the Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005- ) episodes from this era). The dual roles of Andromeda and Christine were played by Julie Christie in her first screen role. The success of the series saw a sequel with the six-episode The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962), again co-written by Fred Hoyle and featuring many of the same cast, although Julie Christie was replaced by Susan Hampshire. Unlike the first series, copes of this do still exist.
This was a tv movie remake of the series. The remake came out as part of what seemed to be a mini-revival of 1960s era BBC SF tv shows. Writer Richard Fell has just conducted the remake of The Quatermass Experiment (2005), while around the same time there had been the enormously successful revival of Doctor Who (2005- ).
With the original A for Andromeda serial no longer available, it is difficult to make comparisons between it and the remake. All that one has to go by is Fred Hoyle’s novelisation. In comparison to this, the plot here has been severely condensed – the original hops between multiple locations where the characters have much more in-depth roles, whereas this has everything happening in the same laboratory.
In the 45 years between the two versions, some of the ideas that would have seemed innovative and original in 1961 now seem passé. The whole communications from space theme had recently been conducted in Contact (1997) and this now falls in that film’s shadow. Moreover, the whole messages from the stars with DNA instructions to build a woman had fairly recently been borrowed by the cheesily entertaining Species (1995). Even Hoyle’s dislike of the military seeking to exploit the alien were quite radical for the 1960s, coming after a decade where the military were the heroes fighting off alien invaders, whereas by 2006, David Haig’s military general demanding to take over and exploit the discovery for the weapons potential is just another well-worn trope – see Sinister Military. The film reaches a cliché end where Andromeda learns emotions, all before the super-computer is destroyed and goes up in an explosion.
The remake is not a very good film. Aside from a basic lack of conviction, the material is handled by a director who engenders no inherent belief in what is taking place on the screen. I would hazard a guess to say a good part of this is that the remake is not written by one of Britain’s leading astronomers but by someone with a fairly rudimentary grasp of scientific basics. I had an issue with the idea of a radio telescope being used for terrestrial mass surveillance purposes, where the two operate in completely different ways, although apparently that was part of the original story.
The biggest issue in the script though is the writing in of Kelly Reilly’s programmer character as someone to whom fairly basic science stuff has to be explained. The opposition to the project that Tom Hardy develops in the latter scenes is not much better where he gets absurdly Luddite lines like: “Who do you think you are? Mother Nature? The Bride of Frankenstein?”
Certainly, one unique thing about the film in retrospect is its featuring names like Tom Hardy and Kelly Reilly, several years before either gained international acclaim in various roles. As Hardy’s assistant is Charlie Cox, over a decade before he became Marvel’s Daredevil (2015-8), who here seems uncommonly nerdy behind a wild mop of hair and glasses.