In what has to be the near future, it is hinted that an ecological disaster is in the process of occurring, and apparently the military has taken over the operation of society. A secret government facility, just about to be turned over to the military, has invented time travel. However, the scientists have decided not to tell the military, which believes the facility is working on something completely different. The scientists at the facility have come up with their own plan: they intend to send a group of young people to the future, past the eco-disaster, to start civilization anew when the ecology has recovered. It’s an interesting idea, and one I haven’t seen used in this way, but it’s not fully logical. Do the scientists know how things will unfold? Have they taken all contingencies into consideration? These questions are not addressed in the movie, but the answers are certainly ”no”.
As the eco-disaster and the military dictatorship are encroaching on the facility, the scientists have to speed up their plan. There are only about a dozen people in the project, including the scientists themselves. Apparently, if you’re over a certain age (20? 30?), using the time machine will cause organ damage. Some of the adult scientists use it anyway. The dozen people who reach the future are, on the face of it, too few and too divided to create a new civilization. They split up into two groups; one stays at their camp site by the time machine, and the other heads for a site 500 miles away to hopefully start a colony there. The main character, Karen (Kelly Bohanon), goes with them at first, but when she thinks she is pregnant, and the father was one of the ones who stayed behind, she heads back to the base camp. She wants very much to have a baby, but, sadly, the effects of the time travelling seem to seriously undermine the original plan. At greater and greater risk, the few ones left at the base camp keep returning to the past to get increasingly scarce supplies. And after the time machine suddenly stops working, the whole group goes into dissolution and despair. And then the machine starts working again…
The end has a jaw-dropping twist which in retrospect is actually both logical and fitting, and makes the overall plot hold up quite beautifully.
This all sounds pretty good, don’t you think? Cool and complex ideas, presented in a way that forces the viewer to think hard about what is going on, fitting the pieces together bit by bit. And the movie also has that rarest of beasts: a pretty cool ending. This is proper and intelligent science fiction, and with good production values it could have been an unmissable genre classic.
Sadly, Idaho Transfer probably does not live entirely up to the expectations I may have instilled in you. Much of what is referenced above is mere inference. Although I certainly believe it to be correct, many of these details will not be apparent to all viewers as the story often skips ahead with little or no explanation of what is going on. A challenging story is not a bad thing – in fact it is very refreshing – but parts of this movie’s narrative are very unclear. Low on production values, it is a nearly no-budget movie with pedestrian locales and acting that is often terrible and at best barely adequate.
Early on, for instance, Karen reveals to her sister that she has been raped, but the sister doesn’t react to it at all, seeming to think that this is perfectly normal and nothing to comment on. In several scenes, the acting is so bleary-eyed and monotonous that one suspects the cast of being on drugs.
As the movie progresses, however, Bohanon’s performance improves and ends up being nicely convincing. And it is to the movie’s credit that all sorts of throw-away remarks turn out to have important plot significance. All in all, it has to be admitted that the movie does a lot with the meager means available to it, turning its weaknesses into strengths by expecting its viewer to fill in a lot of blanks – which is a sign of very competent directing. It is Peter Fonda’s directorial debut, and it is satisfyingly subtle and well-wrought.
On the other hand, the movie also has boring bits, wastes time on protracted sequences that do little to advance the story, and is generally very unflashy, which is a shame. A flashy, big-budget version of this movie – if they kept the complexity of the story intact – could be absolutely amazing. As it stands, it is a very interesting study in the complexities of a good time-travel plot, and the enthusiastic sci-fi target audience will want to rewatch it in order to pick up more details. It is like a good short-story successfully adapted into a full-length (if very low-budget) movie, and it has a plot that is interesting enough to make this movie a minor classic in its genre. By those interested in science fiction and time-travel, it should be seen. But brace yourselves for an underwhelming experience that will only grow and blossom as you think hard about it after it has come to a shocking end. As I analyzed it, my rating jumped from an initial 6 out of 10 to a 7, and then to an 8. I still think it’s a shame the production values are so shabby, though.
Idaho Transfer is a movie I’ve had recommended several times, and very much wanted to see. I am not disappointed. I have it as part of the ”100 Sci-Fi Classics” Region 1 DVD set, and although I haven’t seen many of the other movies in this set yet, I am pretty sure that Idaho Transfer is definitely in the top-10, probably even the top-3, of movies in this set. Sadly, the picture quality is below average, and the logo of the distributor appears repeatedly on-screen which is very annoying. Other than that, it was a very nice and cerebral experience that all genre fans ought to treat themselves to.
Director: Peter Fonda
Cast: Kelly Bohanon, Keith Carradine,Caroline Hildebrand, Kevin Hearst and others
Runtime: 86 min.