The Excellent Eighties: Slipstream (1989)

Editor’s Note: Beware of the duplicate titles snafu, for there are two Slipstream movies: The 1973 one by William Fruet of Funeral Home, Baker County, U.S.A., Killer Party, and Blue Monkey fame, which is a Canadian drama about a troubled disc jockey: that’s the Slipstream no one knows. Then there’s the one that everyone knows — and most haven’t seen: the Mark Hamill one that, regardless of its pedigree, fails on all levels. And we wish that Mill Creek would save the 1973 one from obscurity and put it on a box set. You have two choices to pick up a copy of the Mark Hamill Slipstream: we reviewed it on November 5, 2020, as part of their Sci-Fi Invasion set and we’re revisiting it — with this second, alternate take — as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties 50-film pack, which we are reviewing all this month.

The overseas 25-minute making-of documentary courtesy of Pineapples 101 Movie Memorabilia Emporium blogspot.

This is a movie that many of us encountered, not in theaters as intended (at least not in the U.S.), or on VHS where it ended up: but as an oft-run movie on HBO. And regardless of how many times the pay-channel ran the film, most of us never finished it.

Why? Because it’s boring. But how is that possible?

We have Gary Kurtz who produced the first two Star Wars films with George Lucas at the helm. We have director Steven Lisberger who set the tone for future computer-animated universe films with Tron. And how can we forget Kurtz also gave us The Dark Crystal, and a bit further back, Two-Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti. Behind the camera is Frank Tidy, who got his start working with the Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, in commercials and came to shoot The Duellists for Ridley, as well as one of the better Star Wars droppings with Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (a film that’s still eluded a B&S once-over). We’ve got a score by Elmer Bernstein, whose work goes all the way back to Cat-Women of the Moon (you’ve seen, at the very least, ten movies in your lifetime with his composing and/or conducting). Behind the typewriter is, in part, Charles Pogue, who gave us David Cronenberg’s The Fly reboot and the Star Wars-inspired swords-and-sorcery romps Dragonheart and Kull the Conqueror. In the plot department: you’ve got a Mad Mad-cum-The Road Warrior post-apocalyptic vibe about dueling bounty hunters. In front of the camera: you’ve got Mark Hamill from Star Wars and Bil Paxton (who was fantastic) in Aliens, along with support roles by both Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham.

So what went wrong?

Maybe it’s because the film opens with a homage to the “Crop Duster Scene” from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (You Tube) that many seemed to miss — and those that “got it,” weren’t wowed by it. Then there’s that kiss of death: the dreaded voiceover that sets up the mythology where “global warming” finally did it: the Harmonic Converge baked the Earth, split the continents and created a “river of wind” that rendered the planet into one big dust bowl. The few who survive are the ones who’ve learned to harness the wind and solar power, just as Al Gore has always hoped for.

Amid this “green new deal” backstory: We meet Will Tasker (Mark Hamill) and Belitski (British actress Kitty Aldridge, who came to marry Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits) who are — as in Mad Max — part of a ragtag not-the-Main Force Patrol law enforcement agency that allows their agents to sideline as bounty hunters. After a run-in with Matt Owens (Bill Paxton) and confiscating his illegal arms contraband, Owens kidnaps Tasker’s bounty (British Shakespearean stalwart Bob Peck) to collect the reward and recoup the cost of his arms shipment. Oh, and Peck is actually a healing-android (he can heal blindness) who perpetually quotes the poems of Lord Byron to communicate his feelings, which leads Owens to call his new solar-wind plane shipmate, Bryon. Before you know it: Owens gets caught up in Bryon’s quest to reach a mystical land beyond the Slipstream where others, like him, live in peace and harmony.

In the end: No one was ready for an off-the-road aviation-version of The Road Warrior (or Kevin Costner’s all-water version, either). And for as many who consider this Mark Hamill’s best role, there are those who say this role — as well as his work (in the even more abysmal) Time Runner (Australian made) and The Guyver (Japanese made) — is why Harrison Ford and not him — became an A-List Hollywood leading man. Yes, there’s a reason why Hamill retreated (abet successfully) into video game and anime voice work: Slipstream is one of those reasons.

Meanwhile, as Hamill kept pumping out one late-’80s clinker after clunker, poor Gary Kurtz didn’t fair much better. After his creative fallout with George Lucas that lead to Kurtz leaving the franchise during the pre-production of Return of the Jedi and still feeling the sting of his first post-Star Wars outing, The Dark Crystal, bombing with critics and audiences, Kurtz was hoping for a box office bonanza that would set up another franchise. Instead, Slipstream — even more so that The Dark Crystal — was a critical and commercial box office bomb that also failed to find a cult audience on home video. The film drove him into bankruptcy that, in turn, lead to his divorce. Worse: he burned though his Lucasian cash windfall to create his fantasy world solely dependent on wind and sun, just like Al Gore always wanted.

So, was it all worth it? The criticism on this British-made sci-fi’er splits down the middle with no middle ground: Star Wars ephemera-oids either love it or hate. And you can decide by checking out Slipstream on Tubi or own a copy as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion and Excellent Eighties 50-film box sets.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.

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