• U.S.

Cinema: Terminal Station

3 minute read
Jay Cocks



Here is a cautionary tale of the future with none of the usual trappings of science fiction: no oozing monsters, no batteries of blinking, beeping machinery. Instead, we have a very deliberate and closely controlled film graced with a slow, severe beauty that makes its quiet edge of panic all the more chilling.

The action of Idaho Transfer begins during what one character calls “an eco-crisis” that threatens to make America barren and kill off its population. At a Government project somewhere in the Idaho countryside, a scientist is supposed to be working on material transfer—the transportation of physical objects into the future. But he has got rather ahead of himself and discovered a means of moving people forward in time. He shares the secret of his time machine only with a staff of young people, which includes his two daughters. Because these young staffers are the only people whose bodies are still resilient enough to withstand the physical rigors of the time trip, the scientist elects to send them off into the future as a vanguard and last hope of humanity.

It sounds at first Like pure youthful egotism: don’t trust anyone over 25 to save the world. But Director Fonda and Scriptwriter Matthiesen are getting at something different. For all the kids’ youth, energy and commitment, they do not do much better than their elders.

They wander the blasted landscapes of the American future, bickering among themselves, sifting through the ashes of a vanished civilization for some ember to kindle a new world. They do not find one, but instead end up bitter, divided and confused—failed ancestors of a race that will remain unborn.

This is not to say that the vanguard is wiped out. There are survivors, and of an especially dangerous kind. They share with their progenitors a blind, suicidal faith not only in science, but also in the righteousness of anything that is called progress. They bring about a horrifying but crazily logical ending that turns the future into a forbidding present tense.

Besides collaborating with Dennis Hopper on Easy Rider, Peter Fonda has directed one previous movie, a fine, elegiac western called The Hired Hand (1971). Like that earlier effort, Idaho Transfer has a grave, lovely feeling for the contours of the countryside. There is also, as in The Hired Hand, a simple, quite ravishing musical score by Bruce Langhorne, which mixes acoustic instrumentation with electronic effects. The scores of these two films alone should establish Langhorne as one of the best young pop musicians in the country. He is, hands down, one of the best film composers.

Idaho Transfer could have been shrill and preachy in its ecological warning, but Fonda keeps it in check. The movie has the spareness of a classroom documentary, which lends it a nice tone of satire but also often undoes it. The cast, with one exception, is nonprofessional, and their uncertainty and clumsiness with lines not only underplays the drama of the script, but sometimes undercuts it altogether. Vacant-eyed, the actors mumble the dialogue as if reading the instructions on a medicine bottle.

With professional actors, or with nonprofessionals of greater empathy, Idaho Transfer could have been better. As it is now, though, the movie stands as an ambitious experiment, and a worthy one.

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