Thursday, September 28, 2017

Slipstream (1989)

Dystopian futures aren’t always explained that well in movies.  A writer has only a few hours to tell a story and they may not want to waste a lot of their time on things like long-winded historical monologues.  Take Slipstream.  In the beginning of the movie, we get a voiceover explaining that there was a cataclysmic event called Convergence.  It’s not explained what it was other than to say it was technological and that it ruined the Earth’s weather systems.

Now, the surface of the planet is subjected to intermittent winds that make life there difficult at best.  Present-day nations don’t exist any more.  Instead, there are isolated communities all over the place.  Some are primitive.  Others are strange.  Due to the new environmental conditions, people travel by plane.  Those that can navigate the winds do what’s called riding the slipstream.

The narrative starts with Byron on foot being chased by Will Tasker and Belitski in a plane.  They capture him by hitting him with grappling hook and pulling him off a cliff.  He lands unhurt.  They then take him to a diner where they meet Matt Owens.  Matt is you’re typical local lowlife that deals in items that are of questionable legal standing.  He has a grenade and a parachute that he offers to Tasker, who then identifies himself as a law-enforcement officer.

Matt is happy to give up the grenade in exchange for not being arrested.  He sees an opportunity, though, when he comes to find out that Tasker and Belitski are basically bounty hunters and that Byron has a nice price on his head.  (Byron is wanted for murder.)  He then kidnaps Byron and escapes, but not before being hit with a dart.  Tasker tells Byron that it’s poisoned.  What Tasker doesn’t mention is that it also implanted a tracking device.

So, Matt takes Byron off to see all of those strange cities that popped up.  The first stop is a place called Hell’s Kitchen, although I don’t know if this is a reference to the area in New York or if it’s just a coincidence.  Either way, Byron is able to heal a kid with cataracts.

Byron and Matt then travel some more and get lost.  They wind up in a city where the residents worship the slipstream.  The dying leader tells Byron that he was part of the problem that brought down society.  His followers then tie Byron to a kite and leave him flying in a storm.  When Tasker and Belitski show up, they reveal that Byron is an android.  They help Byron get down.  When Tasker is lost in the storm, Belitski lets Matt and Byron escape with the help of a woman named Ariel.

Ariel takes them to her home city, which is a buried museum.  She knows that they can help.  Byron admits that he did, in fact, kill someone, that person being the person that owned him.  (If I’m reading a few lines correctly, it was a mercy killing.)  He also has a dream of a promised land for androids at the end of the slipstream.  Not long after, Tasker and Belitski catch up with Matt and Byron one last time for a final confrontation.

One of the problems that I’ve had with post-apocalyptic movies is that they either oversell or undersell the apocalypse.  This tends towards the undersell end of it, but not to where it’s distracting.  The actual end of civilization isn’t as important to the story as you might think.  Instead, the story focuses on Byron and Matt trying to stay ahead of law enforcement.

The movie almost seems like a TV show.  Some movies I’ve seen seem like a backdoor pilot.  This seems more like someone had an idea for a TV show and decided to write the first few episodes as a movie.  I could see the slipstream as being the plot device that ties together each episode with Matt and Byron going from city to city, dealing with some moral issue in each episode.  With Tasker and Belitski chancing them, it would sort of be like the A Team or The Incredible Hulk.  They’d be forced to move on at the end of each story.

I probably would have watched this as a TV show or miniseries.  There’s a lot that’s not really explained, like exactly what Tasker and Belitski are.  They keep saying that they’re the law, but the term is vague enough that it could mean a lot of things.  We also don’t know the exact nature of Byron’s crime.  He’s said to be guilty of murder, but that also has some room for interpretation.  These are things that could have been explored in a longer format.

I think that’s the big problem with the movie.  It’s basically one big chase scene in slow motion.  I don’t think it’s even mentioned where Matt was supposed to take Byron to collect the bounty.  (It’s also not clear what the exact amount is; only that it’s assumed to be large.)  It seems like Tasker and Belitski were working for the equivalent of a national government, so Matt would probably have known where to go.  However, he initially seems interested only in staying ahead of those chasing him.  I think that the movie could probably stand a remake, either as a TV series or miniseries.  Even if it’s as another movie, the story could do with a few more details.

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