The Navy, time travel, and other hazards to your health.
Based on a supposed true story, The Philadelphia Experiment is a quintessential sci-fi mid-'80s movie, standing in rank with The Last Starfighter and Back To The Future. Anchor Bay has released this 1984 time travel adventure co-produced by John (Halloween) Carpenter in its original widescreen presentation.
Facts of the Case
It's 1943 in Philadelphia, and the Navy is conducting a top-secret experiment to make their vessels invisible to enemy radar. A group of men gather in a harbor to perform the final experiment on a test ship. But at the peak of the test, something goes wrong as a portal through time is accidentally opened. David (Michael Eddie & The Cruisers Parè) and Jimmy (Bobby Di Chicco), two men caught in the experiment, are thrown (oops!) 41 years in the future to present day 1984 (Orwell, eat your heart out).
There among "arcade machines" and rock 'n' roll, they meet David's soon to be love interest, Allison (Nancy Robocop Allen), a woman who slowly starts to realize that these two really are telling the truth when they say they haven't a clue what a "yuppie" is. Soon they're on the run from the Navy, the police and time as they try desperately to find the time portal and close it before it's too late for them AND us!
I knew there were reasons I never joined the Armed Forces.
I was excited when I received a screener of The Philadelphia Experiment for review. One of my favorite themes in a movie is the world of time travel. All my friends know that Back To The Future is my favorite film of all time. I just think the idea of the old "fish-out-of-water" concept is great, especially when it comes to placing someone in a different time period. I had assumed that I'd seen most of the big time travel movies produced (especially in the '80s). I'm not sure how The Philadelphia Experiment slipped under my radar. I had heard of the film, but assumed it was something much different than what it is.
To my surprise, it was not all that I had hoped it would be. The Philadelphia Experiment starts out promising, taking two men from 1943 and placing them in the mid-'80s. However, it slowly started to lose steam when it became more of a buddy/road trip movie than a "fish-out-of-water" film. There were times when the two men did the typical flabbergasted looks at things both strange and new to them (such as when rock 'n' roll plays on the radio), but these scenes were few and far between. Instead, the film focused more on stopping the experiment then dealing with their misplaced years.
Now, it could be this just wasn't my cup of tea. I'm sure there are many fans out there of this movie that think it's right next to sliced bread. I, however, was not overly impressed.
The portrayal of David by Michael Parè is about as exciting as watching paint dry. He seems to be stoned most of the time, and for a guy from 1943, it was as if he'd adopted a late 1950s punk attitude. I haven't seen any of his other films, but if this was the character he's played in most his films, I can see why "household name" wasn't in his Tarot card reading. Nancy Allen does an all right job as Allison, but like Parè she is less than thrilling. In fact, when I think about it, I can't recall a time when I saw a movie that had two characters with LESS chemistry between them. Courtney Love and Rush Limbaugh would have more sparks together than Michael and Allison did. I also didn't buy the love story aspect of the film. Why would someone who is "kidnapped" fall in love with her captor just because he is from a different time period? Especially when David is not a very interesting or overly personable fellow.
The supporting cast does a decent job, and it's nice to see Stephen Tobolowsky ("Ned Rierson" from Groundhog Day) appearing in this film. I will say that it was interesting to see some of the characters 41 years older in the 1984 portion of the film, but that's still not enough to sustain the film as a whole. The Philadelphia Experiment would have benefited if there had been more focus on the main characters interaction with their new surroundings than with outrunning the Navy.
Many of the effects in this are typical '80s special effects, certainly meager by today's high standards. When they show the inside of the time portal, we see the ship and a part of the town that was sucked in with the two men. Because of limited special effects technology at that time, you can easily tell that these are two mattes put together (with outlines around the ship showing like a beacon in the night). Often movies from the '80s do fine with cheesy effects (Weird Science comes to mind), but this is not the case with The Philadelphia Experiment. Sadly, the effects do more to hinder the story than helping it.
Anchor Bay presents The Philadelphia Experiment in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The transfer looks good, though a bit of grain was detected throughout. There were a few instances where colors seemed to be a bit soft, but otherwise Anchor Bay has done a fine job of putting The Philadelphia Experiment on DVD.
Audio consists of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, sounding in very good form. Music and dialogue were all mixed well with the special effects, neither drowning out the other (at least from what my well tuned ear could hear). A good mix for an older film (over 16 years old, so for that we'll give it a break).
As for extras, all we get is one theatrical trailer presented in a widescreen format. It looks good (as opposed to scratchy, full frame trailers often seen on older releases). It's a fun watch (as are most '80s movie trailers). I dare say that it's more fun to watch the trailer than it is the movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, it looks like I mixed all my feelings in the above "evidence" section, so I don't have a lot more to say that's negative about the film, except that it just didn't live up to my expectations on what a time travel movie should be. I think that if The Philadelphia Experiment had a better cast and a more interesting script it would have been…well, it would have been a completely different movie. And I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.
Also, as usual, just a trailer does not an extras section make. Maybe a commentary track or some kind of interview, perhaps? Oh well…
I would like to go on record as saying that The Philadelphia Experiment is not a particularly bad film (even though I may make it sound that way). It was really just not something I enjoyed all that much. Maybe if I'd been in a different mood I would have been more enamored with it. There are PLENTY of movies (especially '80s movies) I love that other people think are terrible, so you may actually like The Philadelphia Experiment.
While my opinion is not flattering, this may be the type of movie that you fall in love with. I found many flaws in the story, but then again, I think Ski Patrol is hysterical, so don't take my word as scripture. A fine rental if you're in the mood for time travel adventure with a love story. With a price tag of around $24.99-29.99, I can't really suggest this as a good buy (unless you love it).
FYI: There is a sequel, The Philadelphia Experiment 2, that I haven't seen and, as of this writing, has yet to be released on DVD.
Judge Patrick finds The Philadelphia Experiment guilty, but I have this feeling there is reasonable doubt among my peers. Court is dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Theatrical Trailer
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