The destructive character knows only one watchword: make room. And only one activity: clearing away. Walter Benjamin's ambiguous protagonist has more than a little in common with that of your average 1970s paranoia-film, that fascinating and amorphous genre encompassing everything from Alan J Pakula to early Cronenberg. In The Andromeda Strain this impulse is taken to dementedly hygienic levels: as one of the characters points out, there's nothing so impure, unclean and viral as the human body. Hence the detailed rituals of cleaning and purification that take place within the five floors that make up the film's underground base. What makes it especially curious is how this ruthlessness is supplemented by the irrational biomorphism of the set. The base is full of curved, winding, womb-like corridors, their antiseptic whiteness or glaring redness not quite managing to obscure what an aesthetic space it actually is.
The film glories in the base's curves, the intimidating lettering, the split-screens and graphics appearing as pure aesthetic objects, with their particular function rather opaque - something encapsulated nicely in the use of numbers-as-terror. The inexplicable horror as the screen reduces itself to the declaration '601'. The chilling beauty of the set designers' puritanic planes matched perfectly by images of the strangely calm, whitewashed apocalypse that takes place in a small Southern town, all estranged further by Gill Mellé's calmly sinister electronics playing in the background. Meanwhile, as is pointed out, 'the president doesn't trust scientists', yet they blithely save the world in their Things to Come-like shelter from the outside, a reminder of the technocratic demand that scientists and engineers take the place of generals and politicians. This is a scientist's science-fiction film, as its revelling in machines and details, and the non-glamour of its protagonists makes clear - and in the process is especially strange and obsessively beautiful.