Mother Nature has taken back the planet with a course of tidal waves and earthquakes. As the world recovers, a force of wind ravages the planet. This wind is known as the Slipstream.
The film opens with the capture of a man on the run by a local law enforcer known as Tasker. Together with his female companion Belitski, they take their captive to a nearby airfield to stock up on supplies before moving on. Why the local airfield? This is because everyone has to travel by light aircraft in this vision of the future. The light aircraft can take full advantage of the Slipstream to travel over the country whilst using little in the way of precious fuel.
At the airfield Tasker meets a loner/trader by the name of Matt Owens who tries to sell him some contraband and soon realises his mistake. Before making his quick exit, Matt enquires about the unknown man who stands calmly behind Tasker wearing a pair of hand cuffs. Tasker replies to ignore him as he’s being taken in for murder.
Matt realises that if he takes the unknown man for himself he can claim the bounty and make a small fortune. Outside on the airstrip Matt captures the prisoner under protest from Tasker. Matt jumps into his light plane along with the prisoner and they make their escape.
So begins the main plot of the film Slipstream from 1989. This film first came to my attention in the early 1990’s where my friend and I discovered a VHS copy of in a major video/music retail shop here in the UK called HMV.
The artwork on the box was pretty attractive and the blurb had some very impressive credentials. The film stars Mark Hamill as Tasker with Bill Paxton as Matt Owens. Other cast highlights include F. Murray Abraham, Ben Kingsley and Robbie Coltrane amongst others.
Also the crew behind the camera was fairly impressive as well. Slipstream was directed by Steven Lisberger who had previously directed the 1982 sci-fi cult classic Tron. The film was produced by Gary Kurtz who worked on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.
The soundtrack was written by Elmer Bernstein which amongst other films composed the soundtrack for Ghostbusters and there are several points in this film where you can easily make comparisons between the two.
The video packaging clearly impressed me as a teenager because I bought a copy. After I got home and finally watched the film I remember being very disappointed.
Quite randomly, something reminded me of the film recently and I thought I would give it another viewing today, more than twenty years later.
So with such an impressive list of credentials why is this film rarely spoken of?
Problems first started behind the camera when Gary Kurtz was experiencing a messy divorce that cost him his profits from Star Wars which was being used to finance Slipstream. This led to several problems, one of which was that the film never had a US theatrical release.
Another spin off from this financial situation is that the film now resides in the public domain meaning that anyone can grab a copy for free and do with it as they wish.
But what about the film itself?
Slipstream has it problems and one major issue is that the plot doesn’t flow very well. The film suffers from some very strange editing choices.
For example violent scenes are always implied with the camera cutting away at crucial moments. Done correctly this can actually heighten the violence with your mind filling in the gaps, but here in Slipstream if feels more like badly edited censorship.
Allegedly more violence was contained in the shooting original script and would’ve made the film more coherent but interviews with Gary Kurtz reveal that unfortunately these scenes were never shot.
Even normal scenes feel like they’ve been truncated with strange editing choices making you feel like important parts are missing. Despite this the film moves on a brisk pace with a running time of just over an hour and a half. Director Steven Lisberger describes Slipstream as, “a traditional road movie but with planes.”
On the acting front it’s great to see Mark Hamill playing the bad guy, Tasker. I believe he took this role specifically to get away from his Star Wars typecasting of being the good guy and it works really well. Hamill sports short blond hair with a beard to match and with his black leather get up and unique form of aircraft, he really sells the part well. It’s a shame the film doesn’t contain more of him.
Bill Paxton as Matt comes off as a friendly guy much a like a toned down version of Private Hudson, his role from 1986’s Aliens. He’s very optimistic character and never lets the situation depress him. Paxton is an actor who I always find very easy to watch.
F. Murray Abraham only appears in the last quarter of the film as the leader of a group of survivors trying to keep up the level of rich society they were used to before the planetary change. You may also recognise Roshan Seth from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom who also plays one of the members of this fake rich society.
I stated earlier in this review that there were other notable film stars such as Robbie Coltrane and Ben Kingsley but these appearances are so fleeting that you almost start shouting at the VHS box art for misleading you! Both get screen time that only just manages to reach double digits before they’re off never to be seen again.
Finally there’s the mysterious man who was captured by Tasker at the beginning of the film. He’s played by the late Bob Peck who puts in a good performance considering the kind of person he’s portraying here (I’m avoiding spoilers here but it’s very easy to work out who is).
So for a film with such a great set of ingredients both in front and behind the camera, it’s a shame that the final mix turned out half baked.
It’s not a bad film per-se and I found it quite interesting but I have no desire to watch it again. I’d love to read the original script to find out what was the original vision for this film.
Before you go rushing out to grab yourself a copy from your local charity shop, you can find this film all over YouTube due to it’s public domain license. Unfortunately on a technical note, the film is only available in a poor 4×3 panned and scanned transfer and no known widescreen copy is available. There was a widescreen Japanese laserdisc but it’s very rare and the film contains burnt-in subtitles (non-removable).
Finally, a little piece of trivia. In a bizarre move for a film considered a flop, here in the UK, the “making of” documentary which runs for twenty five minutes managed a separate VHS video release. I can’t imagine it sold many copies! This is also available on YouTube and can be watched below.