Slipstream? Or Slip Up?

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Truth be told, I spend a lot of time trying to imagine what the next big thing in Science Fiction will be. What will be the newest, coolest gadget, or the most mind boggling philosophy which I haven’t yet considered? And second truth be told, I never get very far.

Why?

Well, I believe it’s because I don’t know where we’ve been. Science Fiction is by no means a new genre of fiction which can be easily categorized and written about. It seems to me, a rather advanced discipline with perhaps more than a century’s worth of material and may be described as ‘Canon.’ And then, you have all of the supplementary material and stories which are brilliant in their own right, but are surrounded by so much other radiance, that their light is not allowed to show through. I used to spend my time looking at lists (indeed some can be found on this site) of different titles which were thought to be the most critical to understanding Science Fiction. Some titles would appear on multiple lists but mainly I found the genre to be pretty varied and it seemed impossible to cover everything. And of course, you have to keep up with the new stuff as well . . .

I don’t worry as much about the who’s who or what’s what in Science Fiction anymore, but if I have an opportunity to catch an old flick, or read an old story, I still jump at the opportunity, and pray that I’ll be wiser for it.

This leads me to the 1989 film Slipstream. I had the pleasure of watching this film the other night and despite its general mediocrity, the film stuck with me. Surprisingly, considering the films relative lack of success (never even played in theaters stateside) and its similar lack of renown (I don’t think you can even call this a cult classic), it has a loaded cast and production team. Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker!!) stars as a chilling antagonist, and Bill Paxton, the roguishly charming protagonist. Also, I didn’t know Bob Peck made any other movies besides Jurassic Park but he’s here as well, filling in the role of Existential Android. There’s a scene in which Peck dances something of a strange swing, but I think it’s safe to say: “He’s got the moves like Jagger.” Oh, and Kitty Aldridge.

In terms of production, we’ve got Steven Lisberger (1982 Tron) at the helm directing, and Tony Kayden doing the screenplay.

So, why was this film such a stinker? And why am I still thinking about it? Well, I’ll have to get back to you on the latter, but the first can easiest be described by a few elements which individually don’t put Slipstream in the bargain bin, but combined seem to keep it there to stay.

  1. Pacing: For me, this was the single worst part of the movie. In my opinion, the film has some really great action sequences and also a great many scenes which are meant to inspire reflection and consideration of different themes such as conservation, existence, humanity, etc. My problem is that I felt these ‘thoughtful scenes’ were too drawn out, and not very thought out. During these scenes, there always seemed to be a lot of talking, but not many words that made sense.
  2. Soundtrack: Not really sure how to explain my dislike for the soundtrack. I felt it just didn’t fit. There was a good mix of orchestral pieces and ‘modern’ music which I generally enjoy. However, I felt the orchestral sections were a bit overdone. Also, in the second scene of the film, a random Yardbirds tune (“Shape of Things) starts playing on the jukebox. I love the Yardbirds and I love that tune, but I guess I just didn’t ‘get it.’
  3. Lack of Originality: This is probably the portion that will bother most people who watch the film. The themes I mentioned above are covered in many other Science Fiction films and books, so to cover them again, you need to bring something new to the table. There is a good argument that Slipstream does not accomplish this, but I wasn’t bothered by it much, if at all. Peck’s character, an Android, must deal with something of an existential crisis as he begins to feel human emotions even though he isn’t human. His immortality and invulnerability make him something akin to God but somewhat flawed. There are a few scenes in which Matt Owens (Paxton) discusses the Android’s sleeping habits. He even says something like “Do you count electric sheep?” If this is supposed to be a nod to Blade Runner, it isn’t subtle. I think there is a little irony in the fact that Mark Hamill would star in a film that covers much of the same ground as Blade Runner which starred Harrison Ford, Hamill’s co-star in Star Wars.

Really, those were my only big problems. Lots of other reviewers have much more to say (and a much harsher tone to say it in), but I feel that any other problems, I can easily look past. Despite the things I mentioned above, I still genuinely enjoyed the film. I won’t tell you to rush out and by the DVD right away, but if you see it on the shelf somewhere, it’s worth the seemingly low price you’ll pay for it.

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