Movie Review: Idaho Transfer’s environmental message still resonates today

Capt. Xerox August 5, 2021 141 No Comments

Idaho Transfer

Climate change is an existential crisis for mankind, but transporting people into the future probably wouldn’t be a great idea because it’s not going to solve the problem, but will instead just strand them in a time when things are worse than they are now. And yet, that’s the central premise of Idaho Transfer, a curious time travel movie from the 1970s that was directed by famed actor Peter Fonda.

The film opens with a young man and a woman tagging snakes in a desolate landscape. Perhaps they are scientists, we think, then one of them sits inside some kind of underground bunker, takes off her clothes and vanishes. The next thing you know, she’s in a different room and putting her clothes back on.

We soon learn that this is a time-travel experiment that is transferring people between the now and the future. The clothes removing gimmick is because people can’t wear metal when undergoing the transfer. The side-effect is viewers get to ogle young bodies, mostly female, at frequent intervals throughout the film.

Early on, some of the characters give info-dumps to tell us what’s happening. That’s how we discover that the machine transfers people exactly 56 years into the future, but only to a specific place in the Idaho desert where a second transmitter has been installed. At that location in 2029 they have observed that nearby towns are abandoned and there are no radio signals or plane traffic.

One of the female actors explains to her sister how the technology works and that they are telling the government that they are working on a matter transfer experiment, but not telling anyone they can time travel. They intend to secretly send young people into the future without telling the government agency that is funding them in order to start a new society to bypass the “eco-crisis.” Oh, yes, the actress is doing this after the two of them have just transferred so they are standing around in their panties and not much else which is certainly one way to focus your attention.

Not long after, things go horribly wrong. There’s a terrible accident and one of the characters is killed. There is a hasty exodus to the future by a bunch of young folk and soon after their arrival, the transfer machine stops working. They are stuck in the future and have to figure out what to do next.

The latter part of the film deals with different groups of characters roaming around a depressing future Earth where they only find remnants of how things used to be. The filming location of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho adds to the bleakness of the movie.

During their wanderings, there are lots of philosophical discussions by not-very accomplished actors which I suppose adds some verisimilitude to things, but it can be awkward to watch at times. For example, the young sister seems intent on getting pregnant in order to get the repopulation of the planet going so she’s constantly making moves on one of the characters, but he keeps deflecting her advances because no one has told her that the time travel transfer actually has rendered them all sterile.

The sketchy performances might be attributable to the fact that the only established actor in the cast is Keith Carradine. Of the 24 other names listed on the cast, 22 were acting in their first film and only three of them would ever go on to appear in another.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the rest of the movie, but it definitely has a twist ending in the last scene that is reminiscent of “Soylent Green is people: You’ve got to tell them!” It’s probably the most divisive part of the movie and you’ll either love or hate it.

Supposedly, this film was released theatrically in 1973, but for only a limited time as its distributor went bankrupt during the first week the film was released. It only resurfaced in 1988 when it was released on video.

It’s a low-budget movie with an interesting premise, low-key performances, stark cinematography and dialogue that’s rife with groovy 1970s dialogue. While it’s probably not the masterpiece that some of its most fervent fans consider it, Idaho Transfer is certainly a thoughtful science fiction film for fans of the genre who are looking for something a little outside of the ordinary.

Click here, if you want to watch Idaho Transfer.