Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

MILLENNIUM (1989)

MILLENNIUM POSTER

In Millennium, Kris Kristofferson plays a character named William Smith (excuse me, Willennium?), but you can call him Bill. It’s his job to investigate plane crashes, and his current case has some interesting wrinkles. For starters, all the watches found at the crash site are running backwards. To take his mind off of things, he sleeps with a flight attendant named Louise (Cheryl Ladd). Oh, and then he accidentally shoots himself in the face with a laser which is promptly stolen by Louise and her bejumpsuited cohorts after popping out of a time-hole. What a day!

THE STORY:
Before I dig in, I’ve got to mention that I’m getting some flak for my review of Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann. People are claiming that it might be kind of stupid, but it’s a fun little movie. For my money, it’s boring as hell because it runs out of ideas beyond “dirt bike go back to horse time.” To me, Millennium is far more deserving of the Stupid But Fun Award because its goofiness comes from an overabundance of ideas, not a lack of them.

Many movies just stop at “plane crash.”

So the movie opens with the events of my introductory paragraph, and it sets a very low-key tone. You are eased into thinking that you’re going to be watching some sort of noirish supernatural mystery, like an episode of The X-Files, perhaps. Then, without warning, a giant-ass glowing ball zaps the audience a thousand years into the future, and it is bugnut cyberpunk Star Wars insanity. I respect the kind of sci-fi world that immerses you up to your eyeballs and doesn’t explain shit.

Pictured: shit.

This craphole of a future, it turns out, is totally pulling a Freejack on people from the past who would have died in airplane crashes, except this time they need them to reproduce. See, future pollution has made everyone sterile, so they have to disguise themselves as flight attendants, kidnap these would-be corpses, and run tests on them immediately to see if they can release them into the wild to hump up a new society.

Remember to grab Don Draper!

If it sounds like I’ve given too much away, holy hell, there is so much more to this story. And no, it doesn’t all make sense. Their time travel rules seem to pick and choose between mutable and immutable timelines, merging into something I’m now and forever calling “immutabullshit.” Still, they manage to weave such interesting concepts into both sets of rules that my mind was completely willing to jump through all the requisite hoops (before ultimately catching on fire). Yes, it’s dumb, but parts of it are so engagingly dumb. It’s another great candidate for the remake pile.

THE ACTING:
So I guess Kris Kristofferson is a singing person? I know nothing of this Earth noise you call “musicianing,” but some people I talked to about this movie mentioned that a country singer has no place in sci-fi movies. Still, check his IMDb profile. He’s not exclusively a musician who occasionally acts; the guy has over 100 gigs under his belt. I didn’t think he was terrible here. Not exactly a commanding presence, but, you know… beard.

Oh, sweet Jesus, I can’t look away.

Cheryl Ladd worked fine for me as a future lady with future stuff to do, but the chemistry between her and Kristofferson is off. I think I can blame the script for this, though. They deliver an awful lot of cheesy lines when it comes to their “relationship,” which, really, is just a one-night stand that got complicated. Tell me with a straight face that I’m “the best thing in a thousand years” and see if I take you seriously.

Because I will take you. Seriously.

You know who rocks this shit, though? Robert Joy as Sherman, the robot who preps Louise for her missions.

Look at this badass.

Yes, he’s only in this movie because Star Wars was a big hit. Yes, he’s practically C-3PO. No, I don’t care about any of this. He’s amusing without being over-the-top, he’s not too cold but not too heartwarming, and he was clearly programmed by a screenwriter who doesn’t understand household witticisms.

Sherman might be my new favorite robot.

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Not great, not terrible. Pretty standard eighties stuff. I think the make-up and set design are fantastic, so they help sell the effects a little better.

“Wait, now where did we shoot the blue portal?”

They use a little holo-window to look into the past. No idea why it can’t be a regular computer screen, but I like it.

I bet all that glowing on the sides helps.

One particularly cool scene is when the time team has to send the entire back half of an airplane through the gate to complete their mission.

Okay, what does this look like on the other end, and how is it staying in the air?

This laser thing looks pretty stupid, though.

Not helping the hilarity: dipshits shooting themselves in the face with it.

OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:

  • There is an idiotic scene in the future where Louise tosses a cigarette in the air and a laser instantly disintegrates it, all of which is the set-up for a joke where she throws a butt over the railing at a restaurant in the past. This painfully hacky stretch for a fish-out-of-water joke aside, is the best way to handle waste in the future really to blast it with hot beams of light that go off without any warning? I can see having a little chamber for trash that closes off and then zaps it into Magic Future Energy or whatever, but, I dunno, what happens if you toss somebody their wallet? If it’s only set for cigarettes, why such a specific product? I have so many questions.

“Yeah, lemme see that list of questions–” *zap*

  • Level 2 spoiler: There’s a portion of the movie that you get to see over again thanks to time travel, but now you have additional information as to why certain things are going on. It has many effective “a-ha!” moments, but the problem is that scenes like this only work with immutable travel, and Millennium clearly has mutable ripple effects known as… time quakes. It’s kinda bullshit.

Yeah, what exactly are you bracing yourselves for?

  • Okay, this one is an extra super spoiler and you should totally skip ahead a section, but I love it so much that I have to mention it: this is the first movie I’ve seen with a Time Travel Hail Mary. When it looks like their time machine might have just been uninvented, fuck it. Everybody in! We’re cranking it forward to Whenever the Hell A.D. before it stops existing. That is pure awesome.

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Louise and her crew report to Coventry (Brent Carver), some weird zombie-looking guy in a wheelchair who gives them their missions and rips them new time-holes whenever they screw up. At one point, he goes to town on Louise for leaving shit behind and messing up history. I’ll count it because he’s as confused as the screenwriters.

“A paradox, Louise! You’ve changed the past! I know damn well we can’t change the past!
It catches up with us! We change!”

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I know in my heart that this is supposed to be a bad movie, but dammit, there’s so much good here. I was as pleasantly surprised by this as I was by Time After Time. More so, in fact, because the cover made this look completely awful. It dragged me into its world so completely and sincerely that I just had to go along for the ride. If you’ll allow me to accurately hate on the cheese basket that is Timerider, then you have to meet me halfway and give the similarly corny Millennium a chance the next time you see it for a couple bucks at the video store.

NEXT WEEK:
The Time Machine (1960), The  Time Machine (2002)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.