I realize that I fell out of the habit of “of the Moment” posts as so much of that sort of discussion moved to social media. I was reminded that it might be fun to adapt this Mastodon thread that started as a discussion on Discord into a “proper” blog post.
A Discord-posted meme of a tweet of how hard Mark Hamill looks in Slipstream, a 1989 rarely seen film, reminded me that the movie had been sitting in my “To Watch” pile for some time. I did not recall why it was on the “To Watch” pile, it might have been because it was a “lost classic”, it might have been as a “so bad it is good ‘classic’”, given the age of how long it had been on my “To Watch” pile it might have been something random like possibly people talking about the credits of Robbie Coltrane around the time of his passing. I may never know, I did not take good notes.
The reminder that it was on my “To Watch” pile sparked the curiosity to re-check on it on JustWatch, which told me that Tubi had it free for streaming (with ads) and with encouragement from that Discord channel I decided to watch it.
The was directed by Steven Lisberger best known for Tron, and was his fifth and final film. IMDB says that the movie didn’t get much of any US release in 1989 because the production had bankrupted the producer, most famously a producer of Star Wars. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to have been budget overruns or the other usual reasons for a production to bust: that producer went through a messy divorce that allegedly included awarding the ex-wife the royalties from Star Wars which was exactly where the Slipstream budget was coming from. Oops.
I thought Slipstream wild and mostly fun. It was sometimes hilarious in its schlocky, trope-filled pulp dialog. My overall impression was that it was a bit of a “lost classic” in that way that if I’d stumbled upon it on VHS in a hidden weird shelf at a Blockbuster at the right age in the 90s I might have loved the movie growing up.
The closest comparison for several reasons seems to be Waterworld, despite Waterworld having been produced after Slipstream. Slipstream plays as something of an “Airpunk” Waterworld (an_ Airworld_? 1). It was equally a flop like Waterworld for budgetary reasons, but where Waterworld simply spent too much, Slipstream seems cheaper and overall probably well budgeted if the personal mistakes of the publisher hadn’t interfered. Waterworld has a seriousness to it that plays corny, whereas Slipstream seemed to me to have an intentional playful corniness throughout (that trope-filled pulp dialog, for instance), in ways that evoked to me a lot of old pulp novels and radio/TV serials. (Much as Star Wars and Indiana Jones mine those old tropes.)
The opening narration introduces us to the idea that after a convergence of terrible climate change disasters, most of what remains of humanity are only connected via a harsh air current known as the slipstream. (No need to wonder what the title of the film refers to.) The other obvious type of film to compare this to is a Mad Max-style “post-apocalyptic road trip adventure”, with the interesting twist that all the “cars” in Slipstream are gliders and small aircraft. That gifts us a lot of great B-Roll and C-Roll footage of small planes through valleys in Ireland and Turkey for the film’s version of a cave-filled, wind swept post-apocalypse. From the opening overture the score goes all out to sell these plane trips as incredibly important and maybe goes harder than it should, but I greatly enjoyed that. Later in the movie those types of establishing shots also introducing the movie’s few “drop” tracks, amusingly diegetic in those moments and some equally harder than they needed to be tracks.
The movie is just full of some of the wildest (and most fun) performances. The aforementioned Mark Hamill plays a blond-dyed fascist cop and seems to have great fun hamming it up as the primary antagonist of the film. (The above mentioned tweet was correct, his hair dye and the films costuming choices go a lot harder than they need to, like he was a cut extra from a Matrix sequel, but work well in the context of the movie.) The primary protagonist of the film is pre-_Twister_ Bill Paxton having some of the most wild-eyed fun possible, getting some of the worst, most hilarious one-liner dialog, and chewing scenery along with it. Pre-_Jurassic Park_ Ben Peck (as in “Clever Girl” Muldoon) plays the heart out of a role that is too easy for me to accidentally spoil. There’s a blink and you will miss it cameo from Ben Kingsley. Robbie Coltrane has the chance to steal a couple of wild scenes. F. Murray Abramsom gets a strong scene. Just about everyone in the movie seems to have the right idea of what sort of movie they are in.
Strange caveats to mention:
- The violence isn’t that remarkable for a PG-13 film, but the sexual innuendo and near-nudity is kind of interesting. Some of the “sex scenes” were quite weird, had some crazy dialog that would have made parents I recall in the 90s super mad (but probably would have passed my own parents’ inspection at the right age, I think).
- There’s a third act plot choice that feels very “nearly a fridging” that feels somewhat problematic by today’s standards.
- There’s an “enemies to lovers” journey across the film full of some questionable content, and what I thought was some questionably problematic consent issues, especially in a late scene involving handcuffs.
Other than that it was a fun “so (intentionally) bad it is good” movie with an interesting “lost classic” history and vibe to it.
Does that imply the eventual existence of an Earthworld and a Fireworld? No one will expect it when the Fireworld movie drops. ↩