IDAHO TRANSFER (1973) – This film, directed by Peter Fonda and starring mostly unknowns, deals with time travel and post-apocalypse themes. It was retitled Deranged for its DVD release. I have no idea why.
Not so long ago Idaho Transfer was regarded among us fans of bad movies as a So-Bad-It’s Good example of the way so many 1970s sci-fi films were presented as if they were being deep and innovative when in truth they were just reworking ideas from old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits episodes but dragging them out to unbearable length.
Here in 2021 Idaho Transfer has fallen so far off the schlock charts that it’s unknown to many viewers. However, it is STILL one of the best So-Bad-It’s-Good examples of pretentious yet shallow 1970s sci-fi films. While this story might have made a decent episode of a half-hour anthology series it is excruciatingly stretched out to 86 minutes.
THE PREMISE: In the movie’s present-day (1973) a group of scientists in Idaho have been using their federal grant money to try developing a teleportation/ matter transfer device for the government. Along the way, however, they realized that they had accidentally invented a machine that transports people and objects through time instead of space.
Without sharing the new direction of their research, the scientists start to send some of their team on brief jaunts into the future year 2029. They learn that sometime soon some form of disaster will render a large part of the continent and possibly the world barren and uninhabited. Not even radio transmissions can be picked up from anywhere.
From these expeditions into the future the group has decided to make multiple trips to that post-apocalyptic time period and try to revive civilization.
COMPLICATIONS: The type of time travelers that can be used becomes limited, however, as the multiple trips have proven that the process causes kidney damage and other problems for any human subjects who are much over 20 years of age. Willing young students must go into the future as pioneers, since people in their 20s and older soon die after traveling in time.
Before the scientists and their proteges can finish making all the trips to the future necessary to transport enough people and supplies to that time period, the government gets word that the grant money is being used for different research that officials were kept in the dark over. The army is sent in to disassemble the time travel device and confiscate all of the scientists’ equipment and notes.
With the device now disassembled in 1973 the dozen pioneers in the bleak future are stranded, unable to return.
SPOILERS: The 12 members of the expedition try to carry out what work they can with the limited means at their disposal while grappling with their own mounting despair over their plight. Eventually they discover signs that there may actually be some human survivors on Future Earth after all and investigate further.
The humans they do find are VERY mentally deficient and are clearly not “rebuild civilization” material. Our main characters plan to keep some of the expedition’s members close to their subterranean shelter headquarters while others spread out to reach the west coast hoping to find improved conditions there. Assorted hostile conditions begin to whittle down the numbers of the separate groups.
The team closer to the underground shelter housing the time travel device gets an ugly shock when they discover that the rigors of the time travel process have negatively affected even THEIR young bodies. They – and presumably all the other time travelers – are sterile, meaning humanity is staring extinction in the face no matter how much “rebuilding” they try to do.
The group headed for the coast comes across a stalled, abandoned train full of corpses in body bags, stacked like cordwood. While this hints at death camps and a post-apocalyptic genocide, such notions are just a red herring.
Eventually, back with our Last Girl near the underground shelter, in sheer desperation she travels a few more decades into the future since returning to the past is not possible. Upon arrival she goes exploring and eventually encounters a civilized, obviously intelligent pair of spouses and their child. The trio is driving a futuristic looking car, but our heroine is too exhausted and strung out mentally to communicate calmly with them.
They assume she is one of the simple-minded outcasts and feed her into the fuel machine in the back of their car. She dies screaming and as the father, mother and child drive on, their conversation makes it clear that Future Earth consists of an Elite who live in luxury while using the dead bodies of the “unfit” as fuel for their cars, trains, etc. (The packed bodies on the train from earlier were obviously supposed to be like wood stacked to feed into train engines of the past.)
The movie ends with the child in the car expressing fears that when there are no more of the unfit to use as fuel, the Elite may start preying on each other for fuel. So, yes, this is basically just a fuel-oriented twist on “Soylent Green is people!” Or a fuel-oriented twist on the end of A Boy And His Dog.
Idaho Transfer is chock full of hopelessly dull walking scenes and poorly written dialogue delivered by untalented actors. (Keith Carradine is the only name actor in the movie, and he has such a small role that he never gets to shine.) Overall, the movie suffers from that whole “Weird = Deep” approach that makes so much 1970s sci-fi laughable. The way time travelers have to sit like Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore at the pottery wheel in Ghost is hilarious!
And the dullness of the walking scenes is exasperating. Try to picture how boring something like Planet of the Apes would have been if all but a few minutes of that film had been Charlton Heston and his pal walking through the rocky desert region and exchanging small talk all the way up to the Statue of Liberty finale. Without additional events there’s no way that would deserve an 86 minute run time, either.
Yes, on the plus side, Fonda presented the tale without the gunfights and explosions that fill up a lot of post-apocalypse films but there is just too little story here to justify the length of this production. I will repeat my statement that, as an episode of an anthology series Idaho Transfer would probably be hailed as a
classic pretty good episode but paying audiences in 1973 deserved a fuller, more fleshed-out story. +++
FOR MY REVIEW OF SIX-STRING SAMURAI, A POST-APOCALYPSE SAMURAI FILM/ SPAGHETTI WESTERN, CLICK HERE.