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"Slipstream" (1989, Steven Lisberger)


unclejay73
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My first viewing of Slipstream was on video in 1990. I never heard of it until I saw an ad for it in one of those 'Coming Soon on Home Video' magazines that video stores used to carry. I noticed that it was science-fiction, I noticed that it starred Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton and I noticed that Steven Lisberger, director of Tron and Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars, were the team behind it. I WAS SOLD! I couldn't wait to see this film. So, I rented it, and was very disappointed. After a recent viewing, the film still falls apart, but some elements do intrigue me.

 

Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, Slipstream follows the story of Byron (Bob Peck), a mysterious android who has the power of healing. He is also wanted for a murder that he didn't commit and is running from the so-called "law." The film opens with a chase scene of the ruthless lawmen, Tasker (Mark Hamill) and Belitski (Kitty Aldridge), capturing Byron and en route to taking him in. They stop at a rundown diner to eat and run into Matt (Bill Paxton), a desperate, two-bit arms dealer that manages to outsmart the lawmen and steal Byron in hopes to cashing him in for a big reward. But not without Tasker shooting Matt with a poison dart.

 

Matt and Byron fly off into the "slipstream", a dangerous wind current that was created by man's destruction of the environment. The evil Tasker and the sympathetic Belitski, are trailing them in hopes to gain back their criminal. Byron manages to heal Matt of his poisoning and their journey leads them to friendship and adventure. They seek refuge at a confined location run by a newly reformed society (led by F. Murray Abraham). There, Byron finds true love with a human woman, and starts to truly feel like a human, something he's always yearned for. But when Tasker enters the new civilization, all hell breaks loose.

 

That's pretty much the heart of it. There's more to tell, but I'll stop here.

 

The film has that "post-war" feel to it, as seen in many movies like the Mad Max films. The look of the film is great, the film's score by veteran composer Elmer Bernstein is spectacular and the premise is very intriguing. Mark Hamill is most of the reason why you should watch the film, he delivers one of his best performances ever here. Playing the sinister lawman Tasker, Hamill sports a black trench coat, mustache and beard, a slick weapon and drives a wicked aircraft. The man is the complete opposite of Luke Skywalker, looks like he could have blended in with The Matrix crew; Bill Paxton is always cool, always funny, yet not used in this film properly, maybe miscast; Bob Peck (you might remember him as the Game Warden in Jurassic Park) is perfect as the android Byron; and Oscar winners Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham turn in respectable cameos.

 

Written by Tony Kayden, whose last effort before this was the ridiculous Anthony Michael Hall actioner Out of Bounds, really dropped the ball on his script. There are so many things that are not explained, the characters are not well-developed at all, to the point where you're just watching a well-produced mess. So much could have been done with this material, the film had potential to be a really good science-fiction fantasy. Director Lisberger does all he can do with the dying script, definitely not a worthy follow-up to his admirable Tron. Mark Hamill did a live Q&A on the internet a few years back and someone asked him about this film. He didn't say much, but he did say that the story kept changing during production, and there were production mishaps. But, it's definitely worth a look if your a genre fan, or even if its just to see Mark Hamill playing a cool villain. I admit, I find myself watching it from time to time...because even though it's not good, it still has a sense of charm. Probably because of its potential.

 

The R1 DVD from Front Row Entertainment is horrendous. Cheaply manufactured, no features of any kind, pan and scan with VHS video and audio quality. The R2 from In Video Entertainment has much better video and audio, but still no features and still pan and scan.

 

I would really like to know what happened with this film. It would be great if some DVD company, perhaps Blue Underground, Synapse or Media Blasters, can get the rights to this flick and release a Special Edition. I'm talking a complete remastered, anamorphic widescreen transfer in its 2.35:1, commentary, documentaries...the works.

 

* * (out of ****)

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