This is not the end, or the beginning, but the end of the beginning.
Mike of Mike’s Take on the Movies is having a week of country music movies and country stars in movies, and he invited me to review a Kris Kristofferson film today (he knows I’m a big Kris fan). Well, what do you know, I was interested in watching some Michael Anderson films and found one on his resume starring Kristofferson– Millennium (1989). This is about as far as you could get from the subjects and the quality of Anderson’s Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958) or The Quiller Memorandum (1966), but I had fun watching it.
Millennium begins with a strange mid-air crash between two jumbo jets, a huge loss of life and a mystery for FAA investigator Kristofferson to investigate. The air traffic controller has no explanation for why the two planes switched places on his radar screen. When the black box is found, the recording captures the scene we saw, of the co-pilot seeing all the passengers already burned to death in their seats, before any major impact or crash. More weird signs: all the digital watches are found stopped, except for one that’s going backwards, an ecologist (Daniel J. Travanti) arrives on scene with the same intense interest he’s shown in many other air disasters, and a flight attendant (Cheryl Ladd) seems to be shadowing Kristofferson and looking for something. He assumes she wants a quick romance, which they have, and after which Ladd promptly vanishes.
Suddenly the film takes a drastic turn into cheesy sci fi when Kristofferson reaches for a glowing gadget in the wreckage and it zaps him so silly he sees Ladd and some other women in hairdos that look like tidal waves, in steampunk jumpsuits before they walk into a blinding portal. We discover that Ladd is from a time over 1000 years in the future, where a dying, barren humanity has resorted to raiding aircraft from our era to harvest masses of healthy people. They replace ours with their future dead and then set up these mysterious plane crashes. Within days of their mission to ‘89, Ladd and crew also do a job in ‘63, where an unexpected hijacking causes them to lose another stun gun. Two weapons floating around in the past is too dangerous; the potential exists for them to be joined together to bring about a future-ending cataclysm called a Paradox. Ladd must go back to retrieve the weapons, but complications arise when she falls in love with Kristofferson. Meanwhile, he finds an ally in Travanti, who turns out to be an expert on time travel.
Cheesy as it looks and sounds, there is actually a clever story (by John Varley) in here, and the pieces for a mind bending puzzle in the structure and effects of Ladd’s time travel. As we know from time travel tales, going back to change the past has far reaching ripples into the future, and here that leads to both a literal “time-quake” (measured 7 on a “scale” no less!), and a whopper of a plot twist that connects the two planes she works on in ‘63 and ‘89. All good ideas, but what a flop in the visuals and effects department. I have seen the future, and it is made of badly painted backdrops, and sub-par makeup. There’s a humanoid (Robert Joy) with a big heart who gets impatient explaining things to Ladd but loves her; the poor guy is cursed with terribly distracting and badly done foam/paint “metal.” They should have taken the Prometheus (2012) approach and made the robot look like any other human; saves the budget and puts focus on the actor.
If you can get past the unintentional silliness there is deliberate, and quite good, comedy in the romance between the leads and the awkwardness of Ladd as a fish out of water. In her time, she’s a tough and capable but fallible warrior woman who barks orders, saves lives, and has hard boiled dialogue, but when she visits our time she has to learn feminine wiles and wear those embarrassing 80’s “costumes” which are as silly to her as they are to the 2015 viewer chuckling at the giant hair and linebacker shoulder pads. When Ladd and Kristofferson go out for a date, she gets such a kick out of the new experiences of our lifetime, like driving a sports car at a breakneck “velocity,” as she puts it, and knocking back alcohol with abandon. I laughed out loud when she tossed her lit cigarette across a restaurant after Kristofferson told her it’s a bad habit. Kristofferson is a workaholic who needs this strange, exciting woman in his life; you get the idea he’s lost contact with normal humans along the way and relates to this oddity better than his own people. The effectiveness of their part of the movie makes it a shame this wasn’t done more as an adult time travel drama, and left the underdeveloped and laughable future totally to the imagination. I will say the grand council scenes are pretty good, with a Gilliam-esque group of elders encased in glass tubes with hooks and wires holding up their saggy faces.
Millennium is a fun good-bad B; the parts that look good, like the plane crashes and aftermath, and the parts that work, like the relationship between Ladd and Kristofferson, made this really enjoyable for me, despite (probably because of, knowing me) all the parts I laughed at in disbelief. Since this was filmed in Toronto, there’s added fun for fans of Canadian actors, lots of familiar faces like Al Waxman, Lloyd Bochner, Maury Chaykin and Brent Carver.