The Philadelphia Experiment (2012)


1984’s “Philadelphia Experiment” is well regarded, but it’s a bit on the bland side, if we’re being honest – although they did blow up an entire city block in Utah for real for one of the stunts, which is pretty cool.  Honestly, my memories of it are very fuzzy and while, if I were a real serious pro movie reviewer, I’d have rewatched that too to give you, dear reader, all the comparison insights, I’m not a real serious pro movie reviewer, so I didn’t. If you can imagine a stereotypical mid-budget big studio “fantastic” action movie of the 1980s, chances are it’ll be fairly close to what that was. 2012’s version, on the other hand, has SyFy levels of money so has to concentrate itself a little more tightly and is the better for it.


It also feels a little like a reunion for SyFy Channel series “Sanctuary”, with two of the main cast also being main cast on that show – Emilie Ullerup as coffee shop worker / hacker “Molly Gardner”; and Ryan Robbins as Government super-genius and good guy “Richard Falkner”. Or you could say the same thing for adventure/soap “Arctic Air”, with Ullerup again and John Reardon as her boyfriend, local Sheriff’s deputy “Carl Reed”. It’s perhaps safer to call this an example of a movie full of Canadian TV all-stars, with lots of those faces you’ll remember from big US shows that film in Vancouver (or just big Canadian shows, like the two above, “Continuum” and so on). It’s got a heck of a strong cast for a SyFy release, really, with Malcolm MacDowell, long past the era he’d appear in literally anything (remember “Cyborg 3”), clearly owing one of the producers a favour; and Michael Pare, star of the original “Philadelphia Experiment”, here playing the evil Government lady’s main goon. Poor old Michael Pare, eh? While he’s still in regular work, it looks like he really annoyed someone in Hollywood around 1990 or so, because if you can spot a film that you remember from after then, that he had anything other than a cameo in, you’re a better person than I.


So, the movie. The Army is working on secret invisibility research, and it looks like Falkner has cracked it, disappearing the car of evil Army / government lady “Kathryn Moore” (Gina Holden, a regular in ISCFC-reviewed movies, I’m sure she’s delighted to hear) then bringing it back again. But, of course, the device goes wrong – the number, a measurement of the level of “Teslas”, keeps going up and up and suddenly, appearing on an airstrip 15 miles outside Philadelphia, is the USS Eldridge, fresh from 1943! Turns out the official story (that the “experiment” was a complete failure, if it happened at all, and the ship was eventually renamed and decommissioned before being sold to Spain) is bunk, and the ship just went missing.


The only survivor is  “Bill Gardner” (Nicholas Lea, “The X Files”), and they make a very sensible decision with him, as soon as he gets off the boat (he basically swaps positions with Deputy Reed, who investigates it and gets sucked in). In time travel movies, unless the entire thing is going to be about culture shock, it’s best not to dwell on those aspects too much, because we’ve seen them a million times before. So Gardner looks baffled by a modern street and the cost of a cup of coffee, but otherwise very sensibly keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t run down the street screaming “what year is this?” A very well-acted little bit from Lea there. It turns out he’s Molly’s grandfather, and the two of them eventually meet up, with the great sadness of finding out what happened to his wife, 70 years ago.


Now, that 70 years is important. Ullerup was 28 at the time of filming, which would make her mother unusually old to have had her only child; but while that’s odd, it pales in comparison to the next odd thing. On the run from Pare, they go to find one of Bill’s old buddies who worked on the project, Morton Salinger (MacDowell). Now, if he was a scientist back in 1943, he’d have been at the very earliest, say, 25 at the time? So Malcolm MacDowell, a spry and young-looking 69 years old, is supposed to be at least 95. Small potatoes compared to the often insane continuity errors we deal with here at the ISCFC, but worth pointing out I think.


As the action ratchets up, the Army get extremely evil, and the race across the country – the ship disappears and reappears all over the world (destroying Sellafield in the UK at one point), with Falkner trying to help out the Gardners at the same time as being held basically at gunpoint. When he complains early on about not having the right information about the Eldridge to do his experiments, Moore tells him “we gave you all the information you needed to know”. I’m going to say there’s a zero percent chance of that line ever being true, if it’s ever uttered in any movie. Oh, and it turns out Bill has got superpowers, as he was genetically fused with the power of the experiment when it happened, or something. He can send out electrical shock-waves with his mind, which is pretty handy, but only when he’s getting his ass kicked (in other words, not when it’s inconvenient to the plot).


It’s a bit daft, of course, but it’s a lot of fun, made by people who weren’t afraid to take bits out of the original’s plot if it was a bit dull or didn’t work too well – I personally enjoyed the lack of a tedious romance, as Bill just wanted to get back to his wife who he left, to him, a fortnight ago. Emilie Ullerup is really good, and ought to be in much bigger films than this; Nicholas Rea also seems a bit too classy an actor to be in this (although he hams it up well when he’s firing energy bolts at people). It’s stacked with decent actors, mostly fine special effects and a story which knows where it’s going (by no means a given).


Rating: thumbs up