The Philadelphia Experiment (1984 movie) review…

The Philadelphia Experiment (1984 movie) review after the break…

The Philadelphia Experiment (1984 movie) review…

To paraphrase a renowned film director, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

There is no “right” way to discuss an event marked by some as an urban legend and by others as indisputable fact. Belief is a powerful human emotion that all humans eventually fall susceptible to; Everyone believes something to be true, even if it isn’t. It is merely human nature that, as one gets older, everyone needs a certain amount of identity. The concept of identity is composed of many factors, including physical, intellectual and opinions. Opinions, like cement, eventually harden over time regardless if the individual is correct in their analysis of the facts leading up to that opinion, be it religious, spiritual, economical, political, historical or otherwise.

“The Philadelphia Experiment” is one of many stories that some call “Urban Legend” while others call “Fact.” Is it true? Is it false? That’s beyond the scope of this review. If you think that “The Philadelphia Experiment” happened, good for you. If you think that “The Philadelphia Experiment” is a crock of siht, good for you as well. This article concerns itself with the review of the movie, “The Philadelphia Experiment,” and not the validity of the actual tale itself.

“The Philadelphia Experiment”(TPE)  is a 1984 movie about two World War II sailors who are unknowingly part of a scientific experiment that goes awry. Their ship, the USS Eldridge, is equipped with an experimental system designed to evade radar but, unfortunately, the system malfunctions and the ship disappears entirely. Two sailors manage to abandon ship before they are irreversibly caught on board but they find themselves in an even more precarious situation when they realize that they’ve been transported not only 40 years into the future but also to a seemingly unrelated location in the American Southwest. Yet even while temporarily free from their unusual situation, they find themselves hounded by “modern-day” authorities and must use a contemporary woman as their guide through early 1980’s America, all while suffering from an unusual condition that inevitably brings them back to the phenomenon that placed them into the future originally.

As a movie, TPE isn’t exactly compelling even when compensating for the fact that it is now considered an “older” movie. Make no mistake – There are several classic movie conventions on display in this effort, none of which enhances the enjoyment unless one thrills in using such movies as an excuse to exercise their inner “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” For instance, the convention of the innocent woman caught up in a grand adventure is rarely involving and here is added with a threadbare effort. Quite simply, Nancy Allen’s character makes no sense – She’s never given a compelling reason to ally herself with two seemingly rogues who have an absent-minded excuse for their follies. Are we led to believe that women are truly that gullible? At least back in the early 1980’s.

In fact, there is little in TPE that compels the viewer to continue watching. Why shouldn’t the two soldiers find the nearest military base or police station instead of hiding? Is it because of the helicopter that fired upon them earlier? Why did the helicopter fire on them at all? Why didn’t any of the townspeople that was also teleported escape? If they did escape, wouldn’t that have “balanced out” the fact that the two sailors were in the future and stop the escalating “time storm”? If bits of the ship landed where the town vanished, shouldn’t bits of the town have landed where the ship vanished?

The main concern with this film was that it was filmed with early 1980’s film making in mind, meaning that there had to be a relationship, there had to be a deadline of sorts, there had to be a storybook ending, all to appease a mentality at that time for what constituted a complete story. As a result, the story has no where it can go where other films of similar type have gone. Are there moments of “fish out of water” where our sailors are overwhelmed by the future? Yes. Unfortunately, the film isn’t allowed to travel in that direction. Are there moments of visiting living family members and friends? Yes. Unfortunately, the film fails to capitalize on a beautiful potential storyline of where one older modern-day friend looks at a friend from his youth back when they were both young. Instead, the film is fully devoted towards a conventional resolution of “We must correct this time-space distortion” rather then concentrate on the consequences of this bizarre event.

By following a conventional storyline, the film robs the viewer of many tantalizing possibilities. There’s no “Biff goes forward in time and steals the history of sporting events” in this film. There’s no “Let’s try to alter the events of World War II with knowledge from the future” in this film. What about the entire town that disappeared? Nothing from them? Imagine people from the future suddenly showing up in the past? Imagine if our hero, after resolving the time-space distortion, comes back to “modern day” only to find it irreversibly altered (a la “Planet of the Apes” style)? Why wasn’t there a time-space distortion in 1943, where the ship vanished? What about that storyline?

TPE is ultimately a lackluster time-travel effort that certainly hasn’t gotten better with age. There’s nothing new in this movie that modern-day viewers haven’t seen before and better. That’s too bad, considering the immense potential that a film with this setting has. Movies ultimately need to be good stories to succeed; Even documentaries need to be made in a compelling fashion if the source material is too dry to tell in a conventional manner. TPE is hamstrung both by a lackluster “real-life” event as well as a conventional early 1980’s method of conveying that event. Taking those two elements together, it’s no wonder that “The Philadelphia Experiment” is a failure.


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