A Blog Devoted to Exploring and Explaining the World of Military Science Fiction.
31 July 2012
FWS: My Favorite B-Movie: Slipstream (1989)
FWS is back! I am happy to report that Endangered Species is finished! I am researching a mega-blogpost on Mecha for next week, but in the meantime, here is a blogpost on my favorite B-movie, 1989's Slipstream. In 1990, while at Pop-In Video in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, My brother and I were scouring throught the lower shelve for a hidden film gem, something different that my Dad's choices of Shoot'ems up, Mob films, or Westerns. There on the second to last shelf was the box for Slipstream, and either one of us had heard of it, but one name attracted us to it: Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill. That name alone caused Slipstream to be the hardest VHS tape to get at Pop-In Video for months (they only had one copy!), and when we finally got it, I was rewarded with a film that I've loved since. One of the real missed opportunities in my life was when I met Bill Paxton (who plays Matt Owens in Slipstream) at Brace Books while they were filming 1996's Twister around Ponca City, Oklahoma (where I went to High School). We mainly talked about ALIENS, but in the excitement of I completely forgot to ask him about Slipstream!
Here is my tribute to my favorite B-movie: Slipstream. I would see what is your favorite B-movie of all time! Comment below and let me know!
The Plot of Slipstream
The film opens with actress Kitty Aldridge telling the viewer that in the future man's destruction of the Earth caused for a Gaia's Revenge scenario that causes the Earth's landmasses to split and fuse differently, mixing races and cultures together, and drowning most of the major cities. This was called the 'Convergence'. One of the major changes was the formation of river of wind, called the Slipstream. This makes Terra a mix of unrelated terrains and peoples, and lowers most technology to basic levels, only a few possess anything close to pre-Convergence level tech. At some point after the Convergence, but within the lifetimes of the main characters (maybe 15 or 20 years?), a new city is constructed, called the Settlement (which is never seen onscreen), and it's government is attempting to rebuild some resuming society prior to the Convergence. Everyone from lawmen, to criminals, and ordinary people use the Slipstream to travel around the new face of Terra in every type of aircraft, but especially ultralights aircraft.
However, Slipstream film is not about the Convergence, but rather about android on the lamb after murdering a man, this called Bryon (Bob Peck). He is labeled as a hated symbol of the pre-Convergence society apex of technology, and is being hunted by Will Tasker (Mark Hamill sporting a wicked bread) and Belitski (Kitty Aldridge sporting 80's bangs) in their very cool real-world Edgley Optica light aircraft. They get ahead of Bryon, and land, then use a hook to capture him just as Bryon was about to jump into the Slipstream. During the flight back, the law stops at a post-apocalypse airport/bar for a bite, and where they met Matt Owens (Bill Paxton). Once there, we find out Matt is a vagabond trader and dream, dealing in anything that can get him down stream and onto his dream. Once Matt meets Will, and he finds out about Bryon, and Matt sees his Bryon has his paycheck if he turning in Bryon for the reward money.
Matt captures Bryon at gunpoint from Tasker, who laughs it off, until another pilot helps Matt escape with Bryon, but not before Tasker injects Matt with a tracker-dart. Throughout the film, Tasker tells Matt he was actually hit with a poison dart, and uses this over Matt. Bryon is taking on a wild ride down the Slipstream to lose the law, and the film takes a road-film with Matt visiting exotic locations, like the cliff-villages of Cappadoccia, Turkey. There we learn that Matt's dream is to open an airship/balloon business in the Settlement with the money for Bryon's capture, but we also find out that Bryon is a walking storehouse of information, even curing a blind boy.
Oddly, during this point, while Matt and Bryon are at a Windworshippers encampment in the cliff-villages that has been attacked by marauders with guns, while Tasker and Belitski hunt down arms/drug smugglers connected to Matt. These religious fanatics notice that Bryon is a android, and hook him up to a giant kite in the slipstream, allowing god to judge him for being the runaway technology that brought about the Convergence. It is during this point that Tasker and Belitski catch up to them, and help free Bryon from the kite, but not before the kite comes lose, freeing them into the wind. The resulting crash gives Matt and Bryon the opportunity to escape, but Bryon, due to his programming, ops to save Belitski. Bryon leaves Belitski and Matt alone in a cave while he searches for Tasker.
During this scene, Matt connects to his female foe, and learns that she on the edge of wanting a change her vocation. But, her loyalty to Tasker and his draconian mission to impose the old ways on the new world draws her back in. During this scene, Bryon and Matt are shown the way out by a red-haired woman named Ariel. She promises to show them a place where Matt can get a new plane and see a doctor. At the point you could think the film is done, Ariel, Bryon and Matt walk off into the sun headed to some mythic place.
Ah! But we are not...now the film takes a major detour, slowing down and changing themes. It turns out that Ariel is from an buried city that contains a vast library, museum, and all manner of technology not seen in the post-Convergence world. These people seal themselves away from the new world, acting like proper British learned society, then at night, they party and drink, behaving more like hedonists than people of science and books.
Ariel has bought Bryon here to help their locked-away society deal with technologically help, and because she believes that Bryon belongs here. It is in these scenes that we learn more about our android Bryon. He seems that he was custom built for a very rich, but lonely man who lived prior to the Convergence. Bryon was specially developed to be all things to him, nurse, friend, personal assistant. The mystery here is, what happened to Bryon's master? Did the Convergence kill him, or did he die of old age? Some people think that the man Bryon killed was his master, however, I disagree with that. We also learn in more detail, that Bryon is on a quest to locate a colony of androids, attempting to seal themselves away from the post-Convergence world, fearing what the common people might do to them. Cylons fearing the unwashed masses, I guess. Over the next few days, Matt and Bryon dance, drink, and do some soul searching, just before everything does to hell. I will not spoil the ending here...you'll have to get on youtube to watch it for yourself.
What is Wrong with Slipstream?
In a word: editing. The film is terribly uneven, often scenes do not gel or even flow together, making the film bumpy, like taking an old Jeep off-road. Often dialog drops off, scenes just abruptly end, way too many repeated usage of the same terrain making for Scooby-Do sensation. For example, while Tasker is supposed to be tracking down Matt and Bryon, he instead they drops off to hunt to arrest some smugglers that are connected to Matt. Now, you might think that Tasker would ask them about Matt or connect the two events somehow, but the filmmakers do not, making the scene just seem an excuse for a gun battle, and some self-serving dialog shedding light on the inner-works on the chaser.
The original pace of the film slows why down when Ariel takes Matt and Bryon to the underground museum people, breaking the film for the hunter-prey format, to a soft piece exploring Bryon and Matt feelings, and worst of all, making this segment on if the film seem terribly out-of-place. The worst then about Slipstream is the DVD release. There was none by a mainstream manufacture. the copies that are out there, are cheap, I bought mine for a few bucks, and it's quality is on par with my 1993 VHS copy that I taped off of HBO one Saturday night. I was lucky to get the semi-okay cover-art for my DVD, some take images from the actor's other film and paste these totally unrelated pictures onto the DVD. This most likely has prevented Slipstream from enjoying cult status, condemning it to used DVD stores and reviews on the Internet. If I still had a laserdisc player, I would track down the Japanese laserdisc which is the only proper letterbox edition. I've read that Steven Lisberger stated that original Slipstream was to have more violent scenes, rounding out the rough patches.
What is Right with Slipstream!
I cannot say this enough about this little film, it has a great deal of heart, interesting writing, an more original post-apocalyptic film plot than most, great actors, and an incredible musical score. Then there is an impressive job with the usage of the various locations and their ability to convey a sense of a world turned upside down. If you did not live through the rash of post-apocalyptic B-Movies that populated video stores in the 1980's, than some of what makes Slipstream impressive is lost on you, but needless to say, Slipstream is original in setting, unlike hundreds of post-apocalyptic films that liberally dip into the jar of Mad Max.But one of the best thing about this film? Mark Hamill has Will Tasker. You simple cannot see any hint of cracker-farmboy-turned-Jedi Luke Skywalker in this character who drifts towards the dark side more than once, allowing for Mark Hamill to be seen as actually a good actor if given the right role. Tasker is a complex creature, while he is attempting to force law on the new world, he is willing to break the law, and ethics to achieve his goals. Plus, the plane he uses is very cool.
What Happened to Slipstream?
What original doomed Slipstream was the horrible reviews, lack of support by the studio, and the poor editing job. All of this caused a very limited international distribution deal. The reviews of the time called Slipstream an odd duck of a film, while it had great actors committed to the film and characters, great behind-the-camera crew,and real talent in area of producers and director, overall it simply could not come together to form the movie that Slipstream should have been. Instead, it was completely backhanded by critics, condemned to a limited international release, and VHS only release in most of the world. Today, the film is in public domain, and is released by several low-budget distributors that often do a hack job with it that are no better than VHS. Most people I know that have seen Slipstream happened upon it during the heydays of local video stores. Slipstream lives online mostly now, it is uploaded to video sites, B-movie sites and blogs keep Slipstream from completely dying out.
Why I Love this Film
Not to get to weird about it, but Slipstream came out when I was in a bad place, and somehow the film spoke to me, and continues to be a film I love to watch, and agonize over its fall from the public imagination. Plus, I love originality that is not just done for the sake of weirdness, Aeon Flux bordered on this, but Slipstream takes the much overdone post-apocalypse genre, and gives a realistic angle, plus it instills a sense of beauty in this new world swept clean by the Convergence. I also enjoy the characters of this film and the work done to make each unique and fulfill a role in the new world. Bryon is a symbol of the advancement of the old world, and rule of technology over man and its drive that fueled him to destroy his mother planet, causing him to be the scapegoat for man's decisions. Tasker is a lawman that sees the new world as a world without law and order, and he is one of the only ones to bring it beyond the Settlement. These sort of complex characters are rare in 1980's post-apocalyptic films, however, recent films like Children of Men, have made great leaps in that genre.
The outlandish location of wind-worshipers cave/rock settlements are real, and are located in Cappadoccia region in central Turkey, mainly in the village of Göreme and the underground city of Kaymaki.. These villages craved out of the local rock, and are still populated today, despite the Turkish government calls for these settlements to be abandoned. Today, Cappadocia is a world heritage site.I've always wanted to see these settlements for myself.
The insect-looking plane used by the law enforcement trackers is the real-world Edgley EA-7 Optica as know as the Brooklands Aerospace Optica OA-7. This British light aircraft was meant to replace helicopters in some markets, but issues with the design caused only 25 to be built and the company to go bankrupt.
The original source music for the film is really incredible considering what happened to this film later. It was done by veteran composer Elmer Bernstein who did everything from To Kill A Mocking Bird to Ghostbusters. The song Big Arena used in the scene when Matt loads an CD, is from the British band Then Jericho