Friday, March 29, 2013

Idaho Transfer (1973)

          If you didn’t know that Peter Fonda once directed a sci-fi movie, you’re not alone, because Idaho Transfer is among the most obscure items in his filmography. Released to little fanfare in 1973 and subsequently relegated to the public-domain slag heap—most available prints of the movie are cruddy second-generation copies—the movie is little more than a footnote to the Easy Rider star’s career. And while it’s true that Idaho Transfer is not the sort of movie that generates much excitement on the part of the viewer, seeing as how the film is leisurely and meditative, the picture has some meritorious elements.
          The story revolves around Karen (Kelly Bohanon), a mixed-up young woman who joins her older sister, Isa (Caroline Hildebrand), at a remote research facility run by the girls’ father, George (Ted D’Arms). George has created time-travel technology and determined that the Earth is racing toward an ecological disaster, so he’s “transferring” young people back and forth to the future. In the future, the young people are laying the foundations for a settlement that can rebuild the human race after the apocalypse. Screenwriter Thomas Matthiesen adds all sorts of inventive flourishes to this wild premise; for instance, the notion that 20th-century environmental damage is destroying the kidneys of mature adults explains why persons past the age of 25 can’t participate in the time-travel experiment. Matthiesen also flips the story on its head partway through, when several young characters get trapped in the future and must fight for survival in a realm plagued by zombie-like radiation victims.
         Although this might sound like the setup for an action story, Fonda presents Idaho Transfer as a lyrical parable. Spotlighting inexperienced amateur actors and striving for a naturalistic feel, Fonda uses a supremely restrained approach—most scenes involve characters casually discussing their extraordinary circumstances. (Composer Bruce Langhorne’s plaintive score accentuates the unimaginable tragedy of outliving one’s own species.) This laid-back approach to sci-fi doesn’t really work, per se, since the movie could have used a lot more adrenaline, but Idaho Transfer is an interesting counterpoint to the overwrought melodrama found in most movies exploring similar subject matter. After all, wouldn’t wandering mostly uninhabited wastelands be a quiet existence? Fonda’s cast generally underwhelms, though Bohanon seems comfortable onscreen and Keith Carradine pops up for a couple of scenes as a minor character. It’s easy to admire what Fonda set out to accomplish, and every so often his cerebral/spiritual take on the sci-fi genre connects in a moment of sad poetry.

Idaho Transfer: FUNKY

1 comment:

robin said...

You're far too easy on this Idaho Transfer, which has some of the worst acting I've seen: complete amateurs delivering lines with no conviction. The pacing is terrible and plot muddled. The sets are boring: the first scenes look as though they are set in a particularly dull office building. There are far too many scenes of young women taking off their clothes. Worst of all (maybe) There is not a single young person to identify with; indeed, the main character is whining and obnoxious. It seems to be an anti-youth film, like so many produced in the USA, especially those that show the decadent side of the hippie lifestyle.

Nonetheless, there is something compelling in Idaho Transfer that a competent director might have enhanced. I admit to being completely surprised by the final scene, which came literally out of nowhere to reinforce both the ecological message and the theme that young people really are a waste of space.