Trying to translate heady sci-fi concepts into mainstream entertainment is always a risky proposition. There’s always the temptation to dumb things down to achieve a bigger box office gross, which is dangerous if the source material is going for esoteric and heady intellectual concepts. Millenium is an illustration of the aforementioned risks, a film whose intellectual and commercial ambitions are so far apart that the finished film has a Jekyll and Hyde persona.
Millennium begins with a mysterious plane collision. Investigator Bill Smith (Kris Kristofferson) is called in to determine what happened. As he sifts through the wreckage, he comes in contact with Louise (Cheryl Ladd), a mysterious and beautiful airport employee who encourages him to abandon his work. What he doesn’t know is that Louise has actually come from the future to cover the tracks of an elaborate time travel operation going on in a decaying future. In short order, the plot goes into elaborate narrative loops as the future attempts to tinker with the past, which results in changes in the future, etc., etc.
The result doesn’t work and yet it’s a fascinating film to watch. The script was written by John Varley, a major cult name in science fiction, and he’s packed it with fascinating concepts. For example, the film has a section of story repeated from two different vantage points a few years before Quentin Tarantino popularized this idea and the purpose of the time travel is fascinating. However, all these interesting ideas are married to bland characterizations that seem dumbed down for multiplex purposes and the second half of the story gets bogged down in hokey “love conquers all” pandering.
The rest of the film is dominated by this kind of schizoid unevenness. Kristofferson and Ladd try their best but are hopelessly miscast in a science fiction film while there is an interesting performance by Daniel J. Travanti as a quirky scientist with a personal interest in the plane crash. Michael Anderson’s direction shows the slickness and confidence of a veteran filmmaker but he never quite figures out his tone and roots his visuals of the future in weird, distinctly late ’80s “rock video” concepts.
Thus, Millennium is a mess – but it’s an intriguingly odd mess that is never dull and is just professional enough to keep you going.
Blu-Ray Notes: this title was recently released by Scream Factory on a two-for-one blu-ray disc with R.O.T.O.R. The transfer looks pretty good, capturing the film’s muted color scheme and glossy photography well. The 2.0 Stereo track is presented in lossless form and offers a nice, crisp presentation of a vintage mix. Extras consist of a trailer and an alternate ending that uses a different shot for the film’s coda.