Idaho Transfer – USA, 1973 – reviews of post-apocalypse sci-fi film

“The future is a great place to visit…”

Idaho Transfer is a 1973 American science-fiction feature film about a group of young researchers who travel into the future to stave off an impending apocalypse.

Directed by Peter Fonda (actor in Ghost Rider; Spasms; Race with the Devil; Open Season) from a screenplay written by Thomas Matthiesen, his only credit. The movie stars Kelly Bohanon, Kevin Hearst, Caroline Hildebrand and Keith Carradine (Hex).

Review:

In a government installation, twelve young people are assisting with a time-travel project. Long-term bunkers have been established in part of the United States, and explorers can teleport to them at some point in the future, collect data and return. What they witness is not encouraging, with barren lands, blackened wastes, and only rudimentary wildlife and weeds.

With the project becoming politically unpopular and threatened with closure, the youths decide to go rogue. They gather backpacks and supplies and relocate permanently to the future, intending to repopulate the devastated Earth. But the challenge proves heartbreakingly beyond the small group’s ability.

Idaho Transfer is one of the very scant directorial efforts of the late actor Peter Fonda (who does not appear in the film but recorded an on-camera introduction for a later VHS tape release on the MPI label). The movie arrived in the midst of many trendy doomsday-scenario Hollywood films, of varying quality, production values and success, from Silent Running to The Ωmega Man to Soylent Green (even the quasi-documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle) promising viewers nothing but Bad Times Ahead.

Bad times were ahead, mostly, for Fonda’s film, as the releasing company went out of business. Idaho Transfer, though resurrected on later home-video, still remains largely unseen, and is oft-criticized in the annals for its non-professional cast and Spartan-minimalist approach. Still, all things considered (including the ecological-collapse angle), it has aged gracefully.

The filmmaking team made good use of what was obviously meagre funding and bleak real-world sets. The mechanical time-machine hardware and effects (a twitchy jump-cut) are nothing to be ashamed of. Unlike more cherished 1970s fellow-traveller sci-fi cult films done with limited resources, such as A Boy and His Dog and Dark Star, Idaho Transfer never overreaches its grasp, and no ragged edges conspicuously show.

Fonda’s style suggests he took some notes from Michelangelo Antonioni or the Eastern European faves of the festival circuit, with long cuts emphasising the landscapes (a dead locomotive is especially striking) and natural sound.

While much critical toxin has been directed at the actors – only one of them, Keith Carradine, went on to a substantive career – they seem to quite suited to playing just what they are supposed to be, a bunch of overly idealistic student interns and callow lab assistants who have gotten in over their heads and don’t really know what to do next.

And when Carradine announces the failure of their mission, as dispassionately as if he were reciting soil-sample collections, it is somewhat appropriate. Perhaps Idaho Transfer is best seen as the sci-fi follow-up to Fonda’s famous turn in Easy Rider. Where, as disillusioned motorcyclist-nomad Captain America, he sums up the nation, as well as the hopes and dreams of the 1960s-protest generation, with a simple, “We blew it.”

There is a rather bizarre twist ending, cruel in the fashion of some of the harder-edged episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone TV programme, that seems to make little sense in light of what has gone before, and which drives the environmentalist message home rather obviously. But it nonetheless fits.

 

Time-travel buffs may note that, as in the Terminator films, it appears necessary here for characters to disrobe, down to underwear or less, before making their miraculous leaps across the years. Possibly to avoid biological contamination, or for reasons of physics. Or, maybe, to give viewers looks at the long-limbed unknown starlets in bras and panties, although Fonda’s matter-of-fact approach (and possibly the casts’ discomfort) makes it look more like a chore than genuinely titillating.

This reviewer found Idaho Transfer snuggled in Mill Creek’s formidable 50-movie Nightmare Worlds DVD box set of public-domain or cheaply obtained features, many of them lower-resolution prints in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, all the better to cram two features on one side. Hopefully, better scans and perhaps a Blu-ray issue will one day exist – if not now, then in our ecologically devastated future. Just don’t ask Keith Carradine to fetch it.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES & MANIA

Charles-Cassady-Jr-as-Pinhead-Hellraiser

Other reviews:

“Well-intended but emotionally flat message film directed by Peter Fonda.” John Stanley, Creature Features

“It’s not even so much the story itself that is the problem; it’s more the fact that the direction and the acting seem so lifeless; everyone talks in a rather uninvolved monotone, the characters don’t sort themselves out, and after awhile the dreariness just starts to wear.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

” …the whole film is about nasty surprises once it reaches its final third as the plot twists itself into something approximating a thriller, then a horror movie as Karen is attacked and then transports herself into the far future to escape […] if Idaho Transfer doesn’t quite convince, then it’s an interesting try.” The Spinning Image

Cast and characters:

  • Kelly Bohanon … Karen Braden (as Kelley Bohanon)
  • Kevin Hearst … Ronald
  • Caroline Hildebrand … Isa Braden
  • Keith Carradine … Arthur
  • Dale Hopkins … Leslie
  • Fred Seagraves … Doctor Lewis
  • Ted D’Arms … George Braden
  • Joe Newman … Cleve
  • Susan Kelly … Nurse Nora
  • Meredith Hull … Jennifer
  • Roy B. Ayers … Elgin (as Roy Ayers)
  • Judy Motulsky … Judy (as Judy Motolsky)
  • Kim Casper … Anne
  • Debbie Scott … Joanna
  • Devin Burke … Michael

Filming locations:

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho

Technical details:

86 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono

Trivia:

Retitled Deranged for some VHS releases.

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