Deneb does Millennium [Time Travel Week]

“Drop your hankie. Wiggle your behind. You’re the woman, Louise; you figure it out.”

The Scoop: 1989 PG-13, directed by Michael Anderson and starring Cheryl Ladd, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Joy, and Daniel J. Travanti.

Tagline: We’ve been expecting you.

Summary Capsule: Commando stewardess kidnapper from the future meets working schlub from the past, thus threatening the timeline. Who says romance isn’t complicated?

Deneb’s Rating: 3.5 laser-pointer ashtrays out of five.

Deneb’s Review: Well, it seems like yet another theme week has rolled around, and once again I must desperately search my noggin for something, anything, that will qualify. Fortunately, this time I got lucky – the moment I saw the theme, I said to myself “aha – time travel! I’ve got just the thing!” That thing being, as you’ve probably guessed by now, a little something called Millennium.

Now, Millennium is a pretty obscure little flick, and if you’ve heard of it at all, it’s probably been accompanied by the critical equivalent of a shrug. Most of the reviews I’ve read of this thing range from “medium bad” to “OK”. No one hates this movie, but few people seem willing to recommend it, either.

Are they right not to? Well, read on and decide for yourself.

As the movie starts, a passenger jet is in the process of flying to… well, somewhere or other; it’s never said. The point is that it’s flying, and then all of a sudden, due to a rather startling mid-air collision, it’s not flying anymore.

The resulting chaos ends in a messy crash-landing somewhere outside Minneapolis, which results in the deaths of all on board. Naturally, this results in an investigation of the crash site by the FAA, headed by one Bill Smith (Kris Kristofferson). He’s a pretty grizzled character – he’s seen more crashed airplanes over the course of his career than most people will see in their entire lifetimes, and he doesn’t expect this one to be different from any other.

He’s wrong there, though. It quickly becomes apparent that there was something weird going on onboard that plane. For one thing, every timepiece recovered from it is running backward. For another, there’s a cockpit recording of the co-pilot screaming about the passengers being “all dead and burned” a minute before anyone would have been killed. Furthermore, one Dr. Meyer (Daniel J. Travanti), an award-winning physicist, keeps poking his nose into thing, looking for some sort of anomaly that he won’t tell them about. He’s not exactly making a nuisance of himself, but what with everything else that’s going on, his presence is not exactly welcomed.

All in all, it’s a rather worrying situation. Thankfully, Bill’s got a pleasant distraction – one Louise Baltimore (Cheryl Ladd), an airport ticket agent who’s been hanging around the edges of things. She’s a tad on the odd side, but she’s beautiful and engaging, and the two of them get along pretty well. So well, in fact, that Bill starts seriously considering taking some time off to spend it with her. This looks like the beginning of a bee-yoo-tiful friendship.

That is, it does until she up and vanishes. Bill is sorely puzzled by this, but he’s got his job to do – there’s a crash to investigate. You know, for anomalies and stuff. Like, say, this random futuristic device he’s just found in the wreckage. Gee, I wonder what it BZAP BZAP AARRGH.

So while he’s lying there, having been zapped into semi-consciousness by the thing, a team of female commandoes show up to retrieve it – and hey, there’s Louise! In a fancy paramilitary jumpsuit, sporting a different hairstyle, and clearly never having seen him before. She and her crew beat feet through a glowing hole in the air, leaving Bill alone and very, very confused.

OK, so what’s going on around here? It’s simple – sort of.

It seems Louise is actually from the far-distant future, where, as usual, things really suck – thanks in this case to the cumulative result of hundreds of years of war and pollution. It’s mightily depressing, but luckily those wacky future folk have a project to keep them busy – namely, going back in time and bringing people back to the future. They do this in a specific manner – they infiltrate airplanes that are about to crash. Then they replace all the people who were going to die with exact duplicates, and back home they go to dystopia-land. (Just why they’re doing all this isn’t revealed until the climax, but it’s clearly of vital importance to the human race’s survival.)

Now, there is a reason why they do it this way instead of just snatching folks off the street. By taking people who would have normally died they avoid creating paradoxes, something they are deathly afraid of. See, every paradox creates something called a “timequake”, enough of which will ultimately destroy their time period entirely – and while life in polluted anti-paradise is no picnic anyway, they can’t allow themselves to be destroyed before their project is completed.

So by leaving that zapper dealie-bop in the plane to be discovered, guess what Louise has just done? Yep, created a whopping big paradox with the possibility to develop into an even bigger one – and the fact that Bill (from her perspective) knows her even though she’s never met him before is just liable to make things worse.

It does, however, give her a loophole to exploit – since it’s confirmed that they will meet, she can go back and try to fix things. If she can stop Bill from searching the wreckage, she can prevent the paradox from occurring and fend off the timequake – maybe.

Yeah – big maybe. Remember, we’ve already seen the probable outcome – not to mention there’s still that wacky doctor guy lurkin’ around. And then there’s the fact that she seems to be falling in love with him (uh, Bill, that is).

How does it all wrap up? How many licks to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? (I.e, find out yourself. And if you learn the answer to the latter, tell me.)

So what do I think of Millennium, then? I think it’s OK.

Don’t get me wrong; I can certainly see why people have quibbles with it. The production design for the future sequences, for example, looks like it was made on a very low budget, and it features some of the least convincing robots I’ve ever seen outside of Z-grade ‘50’s creature features. While the primary actors are all reasonably competent, the secondary ones are pretty uninspired, and while I personally had no problem following the plot, I can see why some folks would find it confusing (not to mention a certain last-minute plot development that is completely contradicted by something said just minutes before – that’s sloppy editing). Furthermore, the ultimate plan of the future people, while nice and idealistic and all, just struck me as out of place in an era so grimly downbeat. You’d think it’d be a bit more pragmatic than that. The original source material had more or less the same ending, and yet it didn’t feel out of place at all. What went wrong?

That being said, however, none of these things are really deal-breakers for me. I mean, it’s not the movie’s fault that the budget was small, and the set designers did a passable job with what they had to work with (and, for the record, the special effects are actually fairly high quality). Goodness knows I’ve seen worse. And personally, I like the plot, even if I have quibbles with the ending. It features a unique twist on the time-travel subgenre that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else – I mean, combining time travel and airline disasters? Whodathunkit? (Speaking of which, the airline sequences themselves are quite exciting, so that’s another mark in the movie’s favor.)

And whether or not you’re convinced by the future presented here, it certainly sticks in the head. We never see very much of it, but everything we do see conveys an impression of “wouldn’t want to live there”. Whether it’s the worn-down industrial machinery or the creepy “Council” being kept alive in bits and pieces in tubes, the whole thing conveys a general impression of being on the wrong side of the chronological tracks. It is undoubtedly cheap, yes, but it works in the same way as old-style Doctor Who works – it may not be convincing as a literal representation of something, but you get what they were trying for, and that’s good enough. If I can buy the episodes where an adorable plus-sized rat puppet is supposed to be a hideous sewer monster, I think I can buy this, thank you.

(There’s one further detail about this future that I should mention – the smoking. See, due to the rather dirty air quality in the year 3000, its residents aren’t used to the cleaner air of centuries past – hence, when Louise and her fellow operatives go back in time, they have to smoke like chimneys every chance they get in order to breathe comfortably. Yes, you read that right – they have to chain-smoke in order to stay healthy.

I’m honestly not sure whether this is meant to be a pro or anti-smoking statement. Let’s see if a cheesy simulated voiceover can throw light on the situation. “Hey there, smokers! Worried about your health? Get hassled by others about your habit? Why not take a quick trip to the future? There no one will bug you, and you’ll have to smoke just to stay alive! Yes, visit the year 3000, a smoker’s paradise!”

…Nope, still not gettin’ it.)

Er, anyway. Let’s move on to the actors, an easy thing to do, as there aren’t that many of them worth mentioning. Cheryl Ladd does a pretty good job as Louise, although – and this is really more of a personal thing, so, uh, disclaimers, I guess – I had a bit of a difficult time accepting that her character had to figure out how to be sexy during her mission. I mean, good grief, in or out of character, she’s Cheryl Ladd! She was one of Charlie’s Angels, for Pete’s sake – you’re not going to be able to convince me that a woman that good-looking needs to teach herself desirability. That being said, it’s certainly funny, and she’s convincing as someone both in and out of her element – i.e, on the one hand, these sorts of missions are her job, so she’s not going to be a total doofus (“A car? You call it a car? But where’s the rockets? MADNESS!”), but still, she’s infiltrating a time as far removed from her own as we are from ancient Rome, so there’s bound to be a few awkward moments. And when she is in her element, she works fine as a futuristic commando-type. Kristofferson doesn’t really have a hell of a lot to do in his role, but since all he’s required to do is be convincing as a gruff-but-likable guy who really could use a vacation one of these days, he pulls it off pretty well. Daniel J. Travanti is believably eccentric as Meyer, and Robert Joy is nicely snarky as Sherman, Louise’s deadpan robot helper who gets all the best lines.

So overall, do I recommend Millennium? Basically, yes. If you’re willing to overlook a few flaws in the script and general low-budget-ness, I’d say it’s worth checking out. At any rate, it’s far more interesting than its reputation suggests.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some time-travelling of my own to do – forward a few minutes, to the point where I decide it’s time for a snack. I’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way, of course, but hey, everyone’s got to start somewhere…

"Now, then, students, this rare specimen is called a 'man', a creature nearly wiped out after the great Gender Wars of 2993. Questions? Hmm? Oh, that? It's called a 'beard'. And before you ask, no, he did NOT use it for scrubbing floors."

Intermission!

  • The movie is based on Air Raid, a short story by John Varley. He later adapted it into book-length form as the ‘official novelization’ for the upcoming movie.
  • Considering the emphasis on Louise having to smoke like a demon while on missions, she doesn’t actually smoke all that much during the movie. I mean, the original story features her sucking down six ciggies at once as soon as she arrives in the past – you’d think she’d be played as a serious nicotine fiend.
  • During the sequence where Bill and Louise’s date is replayed from Louise’s perspective, there are certain slight but obvious differences in timing, pronunciation, etc. that clearly indicate the sequence was filmed twice with the same dialogue. I don’t understand why they did that – if they wanted to emphasize that this was the same thing from different perspectives, why not simply film it once from two different angles? It would have seemed more authentic.
  • If that pet canary has to be kept in an air-chamber-cage-thing to survive (or so it’s implied, anyway), then just how was it bred? Canary-breeding in a purified–oxygen environment seems like an awfully expensive indulgence for a society that’s having to struggle to keep itself existing in the first place. Perhaps it was rescued from some point in the past?
  • Dr. Meyer’s house is filled with clocks. This may be a reference to The Time Machine and Back to the Future, movies which also featured scientists with clock fixations.

Groovy Quotes:

Louise Baltimore: Your mother was a cash register.
Sherman: And she turned a tidy profit, too.

Reporter: Dr. Meyer, do you have any idea what caused this crash?
Dr. Meyer: One of Newton’s laws, I suspect – the one about gravity.

Louise Baltimore: Polly wanna chemical-free sterilized cracker?

Sherman: Pick him up, my dear.
Louise Baltimore: How?
Sherman: Drop your hankie. Wiggle your behind. You’re the woman, Louise; you figure it out.

Bill Smith: Tower clear you for that takeoff?

(Escalator stops)
Louise Baltimore: Well, we could be stuck here for hours; maybe we’d better get acquainted.

Sherman: It is not necessary to destroy your soul in this job, Louise, but a certain amount of violence will be done to it.

Louise Baltimore: Watch that first step – it’s a killer!

Bill Smith: All this just seems pretty far removed from your physics lab.
Dr. Meyer: Maybe scientists should leave the lab more often – they might learn some things.

Louise Baltimore: Where’s my free will?
Sherman: Did you lose it? I will look around for it.

Bill Smith: You’re right up there in the top ten on my weird list, lady.
Louise Baltimore: If you knew me better, I’d be number one.

Sherman: How are you on the idiom and history?
Louise Baltimore: I know it like the back of my hand.
Sherman: Who was the US President?
Louise Baltimore: Johnson. No, wait, uh, he was assassinated by… Vito Corleone?

(Louise is driving wildly)
Bill Smith: How long have you had this car?
Louise Baltimore: Oh, uh – forever.
Bill Smith: You must be the luckiest woman in the world.

Female Council member: Our work is done. I move we adjourn.

Louise Baltimore: There was a little problem.
Sherman: Those words will be engraved in the annals of understatement.

Sherman: This is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Blade Runner
  • The Terminator
  • Any good airplane disaster movie
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