The Birthday Series: The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

Droids-Birthday-Series-1984There’s nothing worse than trying to write a review about a dull, average, boring film. A bad film gives you plenty of topics to talk about, and a review can often be therapeutic as it allows you to clarify in your own mind why you didn’t like it. Good films are easy as well, but tend to be less complex than bad reviews. The reasons for its success are usually simpler. The film is fun, entertaining, emotionally satisfying, challenging or whatever other base reason gives you the jumping off point to create a review that encapsulates your positive attitude towards the film.

philadelphia-experiment-posterWhy am I blathering on about this you ask? Well, ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ isn’t a particularly bad film. But it’s definitely not even close to being a good one. It’s the worst kind, because it falls smack bang in the middle. It’s one of the most stunningly average films I’ve seen. It’s an astonishing accomplishment that a film based around time travel could be the least interesting film on my birthday list. I’m writing this review from memory, taking cues from Wikipedia, because I watched the film over a year ago and will go to great lengths to avoid having to sit through it again.

The-Philadelphia-Experiment-02It’s Philadelphia in 1943, and two US Navy sailors David (Michael Paré) and Jim (Bobby Di Cicco) are stationed to the USS Eldridge. When an experiment to make the ship invisible to radar goes wrong, David and Jim are sucked through a time vortex, landing in Nevada in 1984. They encounter hostility from the inbred locals who take issue with the fact that Jim shoots lightening bolts at their precious space invaders game and escape by carjacking Allison (Nancy Allen). They take Jim to the hospital, where he promptly vanishes into thin air. Allison hangs around, despite numerous opportunities to escape David, who’s a mumbling weirdo. They get chased by government goons for a bit, and then end up at a high tech laboratory where David must venture into the unknown, with nothing short of the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. Or something like that. Even Wikipedia is useless when it comes to this movie.

Bloody hell I was bored by this movie. It’s a fairly intriguing set up, and could have made for a suspenseful entertainment. Credited to four writers, the story could’ve gone anywhere. It’s based on the alleged naval experiment carried out in 1943 (much in the same way that ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ was inspired by the Battle of Los Angeles in 1942.), which automatically carries interest. But once the film is underway, with David and Jim in 1984, the film goes nowhere, with only a few nominal attempts to exploit the fish out of water aspect (they comment on Coke cans). The film drags along in a seemingly never ending series of tedious scenes that fail to develop anything interesting and then ends in a fury of special effects.

The-Philadelphia-Experiment-04I really hate films like ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’. Not because it’s hateful. It’s not. It’s because it takes a concept with huge potential, what would seem to be a reasonable budget, and does absolutely bugger all with it. It’s such a waste of time. Director Stewart Raffill doesn’t help proceedings with his lazy pacing. There is absolutely no effort made to build a scene, or to give the film momentum. Each scene just grinds into the next, and when they kidnap Karen Allen, you have to wade through the dire “romantic” subplot that the film dutifully plays out. The romance storyline is so lifeless it makes the rotten corpse of HG Wells look like Robin Williams in his coke days.

And when the film finally arrives at a scene that could be considered interesting, such as when David and Allison go to the home of Jim, who apparently vanished safely back to 1943 and trotted home like nothing happened. Jim’s now an old man, and I felt as though a good, solid scene, with a confrontation between the old Jim and the young David, was on the cards. But the movie didn’t seem to know what to do and the scene fizzles. Jim refuses to see them, and has his wife send them away. That’s it. Nada mas.

The-Philadelphia-Experiment-01The ending is a fury of special effects, as David ventures back into the time vortex to repair something or other on the ship. I’ve forgotten why. The forgetting began approximately 32 seconds after I pressed stop, lasting 3.8 seconds in total. A new record. So the ship is still stuck in the vortex and is causing Extinction Level Rain Clouds on the horizon in Nevada. I mean these are really nasty looking clouds. Batten down the hatches, little Billy and Mary-Jo! A storms a comin’! I guess David fixes it and ends up back in 1943 in good ol’ Phili, home of the cheese steak, a busted bell and The Fresh Prince. Now, I’ve been to Philadelphia, and have to say, the cheese steak was a disappointment, the busted bell is exactly what it sounds like, and I did not see any Prince’s, Fresh or otherwise. I did run the Art Museum steps like Rocky of course. That’s about the best thing I can think of that I did in Philadelphia. Can’t say I recommend it.

Hang on. I’ve digressed here. What was I talking about? Right. A boring, crappy movie. Well, the actors don’t bring anything of interest to the film. I’m befuddled by the appeal of Michael Paré. He clearly can’t act. At least, not in anything I’ve seen him in. Here he mumbles and moans and is generally unlikeable. Bobby Di Ciccio is a little bit more interesting, purely because he doesn’t appear comatose, but his screen time is limited. Nancy Allen is given nothing to work with, and isn’t a good enough actress to make something from nothing. The highlight of the film is Stephen Tobolowsky, because he’s a naturally offbeat actor. And I was intrigued by the fact that he hasn’t changed in thirty years, apart from losing the unwinable battle against hair loss. Seriously, why do men opt for the comb over? Who do they think they’re fooling? I’m lucky enough to have a full head of hair, but if I were a nude nut, I’d like to think I wouldn’t delude myself by sweeping my sideburns over my head. Have I digressed again? It’s that sort of movie.

The-Philadelphia-Experiment-03‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ is a total waste of time. It’s a waste of the crews time, the actors time, the viewers time, and most importantly, it’s a waste of my time. In my research, which I faithfully conducted for the purposes of this review, I discovered the film had, for the time, the quickest cinema to VHS turnaround ever. It was released at the cinema in August and was on VHS by October. Which is astounding since films in those days used to take at least six months to get to VHS. I also discovered that it was once offered to John Carpenter, but he counter-offered ‘Escape from New York’ (and remains listed as Executive Producer). I’m intrigued to know how much better a Carpenter version would be, but I’m very pleased that he did ‘Escape from New York’ instead. Because this film stinks and that film is awesome.

In lieu of zero changs, this film receives my first use of the Orangutan of Despair, because it’s despairing to witness such flagrant misuse of the awesomeness of time travel.


NOTE: I only discovered this tonight when I was looking for the films poster, but look at that dvd cover! Shamelessly pimping John Carpenters name on something he had very little to do with. 


Mission: Impossible Droid Protocol continues…


For Droids a jolly good fellow!

2011 – Captain America: The First Avenger

2010 – ? (I’ve just realised I haven’t done one for this year!)

2009 – The Collector

2008 – The Midnight Meat Train

2007 – Hot Rod

2006 – Bon Cop Bad Cop

2005 – The Dukes of Hazzard

2004 – The Manchurian Candidate

2003 – Gigli

2002 – Signs

2001 – Rush Hour 2

2000 – Hollow Man

1999 – The Iron Giant

1998 – BASEketball

1997 – In The Company of Men

1996 – Chain Reaction

1995 – Babe

1994 – Clear and Present Danger

1993 – The Fugitive

1992 – Buffy The Vampire Slayer

1991 – 1989 – Mini-Reviews of Slacker, Young Guns II and Lock Up

1988 – The Blob

1987 – The Lost Boys

1986 – Flight of the Navigator

1985 – Weird Science

1984 – The Philadelphia Experiment

1983 – ?

1982 – ?

1981 – ?

1980 – ?

1979 – ?

1978 – ?


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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

35 responses to “The Birthday Series: The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)”

  1. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    My memory of this film is that it wasn’t abysmal but held very little interest for me. I certainly didn’t hate it, but it just sort of sat there, and I don’t recall much of anything about it–most of what you say above felt completely new to me. I enjoyed the sequela little bit more, which dealt with alternate realities, although it wasn’t exactly stellar either.

    You ever see The Final Countdown?

    • Droid says :

      Yeah, I don’t hate this film. I hated having to review it though. It sucks, and it’s tedious, and it’s fresh out of ideas, but it’s not hateful. It’s not ever worth watching though.

  2. Just Pillow Talk says :

    Man, this sounds like a snooze inducer. I’m certainly glad I missed out on this.
    How can there have been a sequel?

    Isn’t the Final Countdown the one with the battleship?

    • Echo the Bunnyman says :

      sequel was put out by the fine people at Trimark/Vidmark (the folks who gave us Warlock and Leprechaun!) and was DTV if I remember correctly.

      It’s crap, but it’s more interesting crap, dealing with the Pare character accidentally causing the Nazis to get tech that allowed them to win the war and alter history. Not super original, but decent. His son goes back into the alternate timeline looking for him.

      Yea, Final Countdown is the one with the battleship and Martin Sheen.

    • Droid says :

      You haven’t missed anything. Don’t bother.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      It wasn’t a battleship it was an aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, in The final Countdown. Corney movie but still very watchable and entertaining.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        Doh! Right you are Xi, aircraft carrier. I can even envision the poster and still agreed battleship.

        I haven’t seen it in ages but it used to play TNT regularly backin the day and I’d always the catch the same bits.

        My memory is it was a fun but silly little movie.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        yeah The Final Countdown use to be on permanent rotation on TNT in the 90’s

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        I saw many a fine but forgotten B-mpvie on TNT back in the day. They were also fond of playing The Car and your aforementioned Streets of Fire, along with Dennis Quaid’s Enemy Mine.

  3. koutchboom says :

    HAHAH I saw the name John Carpenter! and I’ve been going through his films slowly (actually watched They Live last night) and I was like??? Jesus how have I never heard of this. THIS is a John Carpenter presents sort of thing.

    • Droid says :

      It’s not even that. It’s not like it was released as “John Carpenter presents” like The Goonies and The Berg. It’s just some numbskull doing the dvd cover obviously saw the name and stuck it on the dvd cover.

  4. tombando says :

    Pare he was in Eddie and the Cruisers and Houston Knights. An 80s face, nothing special. Never saw this, i remember when it came out, though.

  5. Xiphos0311 says :

    The movie was a complete waste of a interesting if BS premise. In fact they took the original Philadelphia experiment story and mixed it with a subsequent time travel fable based on the tall tale of the USS Eldridge.

    They should have stuck to the original fable of the Eldridge disappearing from the Philly Naval yard and reappearing at Norfolk ship yard then coming back to Philly with most of the crew dead with some fused to the the bulk heads and decks. The two sailors that didn’t go mad would have been chased by Feds and maybe they could shift out of phase or something like allegedly what happened to some of the “surviving” sailors of the Eldridge. That would have been a cool flick.

  6. Continentalop says :

    I liked the Philadelphia Experiment but I really liked the Final Countdown (the movie, not the song). But it has been years since I have seen either so I can’t promise that either one has held up.

    Otherwise nice review Droid.

    • Droid says :

      Cheers, Conti. One thing I will say about it, is that the special effects, probably passable for their time, are downright awful. Some really bad blue screen (as in the shot of Pare at the bottom). I don’t think it would hold up if you watched it again today.

      • Continentalop says :

        That is why I try not to watch movies I loved as a kid.

      • Droid says :

        Depends on the film I think. It’s certainly true for some movies. But a movie like The Goonies or BTTF holds up perfectly well today. But then a movie like Flight of the Navigator for example, is squarely aimed at kids. It doesn’t hold up for an adult, but I bet a kid watching it today would love it.

      • Just Pillow Talk says :

        I dunno if kids today would like Flight of the Navigator…is there a dog pissing on the navigator or parents talking about the little kid whacking off?

      • Droid says :

        Well, I’m talking about kid kids. Like sub-10 year olds. Not Transformers over 10’s. Kids that don’t think it’s “uncool” to like a movie like Stuart Little or Babe.

        Kids today still like good movies every now and then don’t they?

      • Just Pillow Talk says :

        I’m not sure…my kids are still way too small and it doesn’t seem like my nieces and nephews who are older watch movies. Very strange, now that I think about it. I don’t recall them talking about any movie they’ve seen.

      • Droid says :

        That is strange. Although I didn’t spend a huge amount of time watching movies when I was a kid. Not a great variety anyway. I had a small number that I watched a lot. And they were the main one’s really. Indy, BTTF, Star Wars etc. I didn’t really start getting into movies until I was in my mid teens.

      • Just Pillow Talk says :

        Not that I saw many movies in the theater, but I did see a couple each year, the big blockbusters..but I certainly watched movies on tv, particularly the Saturday/Sunday night movies, like the Trek movies or Bond ones.

      • Droid says :

        Yeah, that’s probably why I haven’t seen any of the Trek or Bond films. I didn’t watch them growing up.

      • Just Pillow Talk says :

        The Bond films were ALWAYS on ABC Sunday night movie, and I remember the first couple Trek films on a lot too. I believe Close Encounters would be on a lot too.

      • Droid says :

        The Bond films were always on. Trek not so much. And I’ve caught bits and pieces of probably all the Bond films at some stage. But I’ve only ever seen, start to finish, Dr No and the films from Goldeneye onwards.

        I plan on doing them on a film a fortnight kinda thing at some stage.

      • Just Pillow Talk says :

        The quality of course is across the spectrum, from very good to downright awful, but most are entertaining to some degree.

        If I pass one on the tv, I’ll also stop and watch a bit of one.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    Hmmm… It’s been awhile since I saw this but I do not recall it being quite so terrible and certainly not worthy of a despair monkey.

    This film came up in conversation at work a few weeks ago when we were discussing mad myths and whatnot and all of us shared the same conclusion on ‘Philly Ex’ – interesting, but a load of balls all the same.

    I’d have to see it again to be sure though.

    Good stuff, R2.

    • Droid says :

      Ta, Wolf. I think the film totally deserves the little despairing monkey. It has a hell of a lot going for it, including a silly set up to what should be a fun story, but it completely wastes it! Boo to this movie!

  8. Jarv says :

    Crap film this, and a complete waste of time travel.

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