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Slipstream is a 1989 post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure film. The plot has an emphasis on aviation and contains many common sci-fi themes, such as taking place in a dystopian future in which the landscape of the Earth itself has been changed and is windswept by storms of great power. There are also numerous sub-plots, such as free will and humanity amongst artificial intelligence.

Slipstream was directed by Steven Lisberger, who had previously directed the cult classic 1982 science fiction film Tron. The executive producer of Slipstream was Gary Kurtz whose prior list of credits include Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Crystal, Return to Oz, and American Graffiti.

Slipstream reunited Gary Kurtz with Star Wars star Mark Hamill who portrays the central antagonist in Slipstream and had previously portrayed Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Other stars of Slipstream include Bill Paxton, Bob Peck and Kitty Aldridge, and there are also cameo appearances from Robbie Coltrane, Sir Ben Kingsley, and F. Murray Abraham.


Slipstream takes place in an undetermined point of the future in which Man's abuse of the natural world has finally paid him back. A voice over at the beginning of the film explains that a doomsday event has occurred, referred to as the "Convergence", which is sometimes a term for a supervolcano. Exactly what the causes of this natural disaster were are unclear, although pole shift hypothesis is strongly hinted at and would seem the most likely explanation. It is stated that many parts of the world were flooded, whereas others were buried under cataclysmic earthquakes and rapidly shifting continents, leaving the land a bleak wasteland of high windswept plateaus, deep valleys, towering mountains and canyons of razor-sharp rock (panoramic aerial views of Cappadocciamarker, Turkeymarker, are used for such shots.) However the worst part of this apocalypse was not geological but meteorological; the atmosphere churned with such ferocity that the jet stream expanded to the planet's surface and swept it clean of human civilization with winds far surpassing anything ever seen before, even the strongest hurricanes. Cities and entire nations were blown away like leaves in a strong gale.

Many bizarre communities have survived in the valleys and caves, some regressing to primitive states, others embracing advanced technologies. Many are isolationist and some are blighted by marauders. Ironically though, transport is no longer possible at ground level due to the atmospheric conditions, but only for skilled pilots in the air and by travelling in the direction of the fierce winds and moving with the flow in the same way a canoe may follow the river currents; this is known as "riding the slipstream". As such, the remnants of society have become airborne and reside on high precipices or beneath the howling slipstream. Flying in airplanes, biplanes, gliders, gyrocopters, zepplins or hot air balloons is now the main, if not only, form of long distance transportation. It is stated that nobody has ever been to the ends of the slipstream, as the extreme turbulent atmospheric conditions at the ends of the slipstream make human survival impossible.


The film opens with a mysterious man, later referred to as "Byron" (portrayed by Bob Peck) running down a canyon, being harassed by an airplane. Byron takes refuge from his pursuers on a precipice overlooking the canyon. The plane lands and its occupants, two obsessive law enforcement officers named Will Tasker and Belitski (Mark Hamill and Kitty Aldridge), chase the man on foot. They shoot the fugitive through the arm with a grappling hook. The fugitive looks at his arm, but doesn't seem injured, only intrigued. Tasker pulls on the rope now connected to the fugitive. He tumbles down the side of the canyon, but once again is not harmed. Immediately after his fall, the fugitive recites the words of famous World War II aviator and poet John Gillespie Magee, Jr., "I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth - put out my hand and touched the Face of God.", from the poem High Flight.

They take the man prisoner and fly to a busy civilian airstrip (not unlike Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) where he stands beside them, handcuffed, as they eat in the airstrip's diner. A roguish young wanderer and hustler, Matt Owens (Bill Paxton), makes a pass at Belitski and she nearly breaks his arm. Owens tries to sell contraband grenades to Tasker. It is then revealed that Tasker and Belitski are part of the remnants of a law enforcement agency, trying to keep the peace in what is left of society. Byron is wanted for murder, and they are bringing him to justice. Tasker seizes Owens' weapons Later, as the cops are preparing to leave, Owens forces them to give up Byron and flees in his own plane, but not before Belitski shoots him with a dart, both poisoning him and planting a tracking device in his body. Owens then flies off "downstream", planning to turn Byron in to the authorities for a reward. Belitski and Tasker are in hot pursuit.

Owens and Byron land at the home of a cult of people that worship the Slipstream and have recently been under attack by bandits. After Byron heals a boy who was born blind, Owens knows that he is more than what he appears to be. It is then revealed by Byron that he is an android. When the wind cult finds out about Byron's abilities, they tie him to a massive kite, and let the wind decide what to do with him. The bounty hunters arrive in the middle of a windstorm, and Belitski and Owens are forced to work together to get Byron down. Belitski then allows Byron and Owens to get away (or as she says, she is just giving Owens a head start), along with another visitor to the valley, a woman Ariel who has become very attached to Byron.

Ariel takes them to her home. She grew up with a group of hedonists, who inhabit an underground museum. Byron and Ariel develop feelings for each other and spend the night holding each other among an African Savannah exhibit. Owens gets drunk and has a one-night stand with a sexy, but depressed local girl. Later that night, Owens and Byron have a heartfelt talk, in which Byron explains more of his past, that the man he killed was his master, although an educated man, Byron was little more than a slave to him and in killing him, he freed both of them. Byron also excitedly tells Matt that he actually slept for the first time had a dream. In fact he was more exited about that than having sex, showing his innocence. And he dreamt the special place he was heading, to which Owens is won over and tells Byron he is cutting him loose and setting him free, and that he is now able to make his own decisions and find his own way in life. Byron is overwhelmed and unsure what to do with his new found freedom and asks Matt is he free to stay as well, to which Matt says yes and Byron whoops for joy. Meanwhile the committee elders debate on what to do with the outsiders, as they do not wish for more outsiders to come in their wake.

Indeed they do. Tasker and Belitski track the trio to the museum, which they storm. They kill the gate guards and some of its inhabitants. Tasker after bashing the curator, forces the rest to seek out Byron. Taken by surprise, Byron and Owens (who has just managed to persuade him to join him as an equal), Byron is seized and Owens floored. They leave and Belitski faces him holding a gun. Shooting him in the chest Owens punches her, almost knocking her out, but when she explains it was the antidote to the poison he realises his mistake. Instead of killing her, he handcuffs her to a bed while he sets off after Tasker with Belitski's shotgun. The two do however flirt a little, although Belitski still resists his advances.

In the lobby Owens gets the drop on Tasker, but his aim is poor and his first shot goes wide. Byron won't let Owens kill Tasker and stands in his was as Owens shoots. Tasker then shoots Owens in the shoulder. Ariel doesn't want a shootout, but picks up a gun near her to protect Byron and fires at Tasker. Tasker shoots and kills her. Tasker, for the first time, when he sees Byron's reaction regrets his action, but it is too late as Byron cradles Ariel as she dies in his arms. Byron finally lets go of his passive nature and sets out to kill Tasker. Tasker now knows he is in trouble. Matt Warns Byron that he'll lose if he goes after Tasker and Byron says "I already have." Tasker now has a grieving, vengeful and almost invincible android after him, no longer passive and subservient, and having made it back to his plane retrieves an assault rifle and shoots at Byron, to no effect. Tasker tries to flee in his plane, which Byron manages to jump and hold onto, and then smash his way inside. Eventually, Byron relents to actually committing murder, using his free will for good and forgiveness, and attempts to control the plane with wires as the steering column was damaged in the altercation. However, Byron is unable to fully control the plane, and as it banks it just clips a mountain top which causes it to crash in a fiery ball of flame. Tasker's second last words are that of John Gillespie Magee, Jr., "I have put out my hand and touched the Face of God," the same poem which Byron first recited to him, and is relieved that he believes at first that they will make it. Tasker is killed in the crash, but Byron, being an android, is blackened and burned but otherwise unharmed. He relents his anger and returns to the museum to find that Belitski and Owens have developed a budding romance. The film ends on a sanguine note. Byron hikes off by himself to look for some of his own kind he knows is far West, at the ends of the ocean, high up above the canyons, at the far ends of the slipstream, while Owens and Belitski leave to open their own airstrip with Matt's dream of the hot air balloons, filling the sky.

Cast and characters

  • Mark Hamill as Will Tasker, a self-proclaimed lawman, although his profession seems to be more akin to that of a bounty hunter. Tasker sports blond hair, a blond beard, a dirty gray cardigan and a black leather trenchcoat. Tasker is a great pilot and his plane of choice is the lightweight yet durable and powerful Optica OA7. Tasker is also an expert marksman and quick on the draw and can eliminate a group of moving targets in moments. He also utilizes gadgets such as grappling hooks. Tasker has a firm conviction for the rule of law and order but at the same time is fairly emotionless, merciless, and cold and calculating, and ruthless and efficient in his pursuit of his quarries, and is in fact a master tracker. He does however seem to have a kind of sense of honor, and grants those he kills with last rites he reads from a bible after shooting them. He will also only open fire after an opponent resists arrest, although in such circumstances will not hesitate to do so. Tasker is the closest thing to an antagonist in the movie due to his moral ambiguity. Throughout the movie his primary target is an enigmatic man who is referred to as "Byron" (Bob Peck) who is a rumoured murderer. The part of Will Tasker was a notably different role for Hamill who had previously portrayed Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and was worried of being typecast as the naïve young hero in sci-fi films.

  • Kitty Aldridge as Belitski, Her first name is not given. Tasker's younger and pretty female companion, is perhaps a rookie and his protégé. Belitski shows more sympathy towards their hunted fugitives then Tasker. At first she comes across as a hard-ass, but eventually falls to Matt Owens' charms and is taken in by his plans for the future enough to give up her life as a bounty hunter.

  • Bill Paxton as Matt Owens, a character not so dissimilar from Harrison Ford's character Han Solo in Star Wars, is a low-level smuggler and small-time arms dealer, yet a pilot with unrivalled skill in the cockpit and an overall roguish charm with women. Having been brought up around aircraft in the mountain passes, Owens plans to settle down one day and legitimately open his own airstrip. However upon hearing that there is a large bounty on Byron's head, Owens is overtaken by greed and kidnaps Byron from Will Tasker's custody so that he can turn Byron in himelf and claim the large reward personally.

  • Bob Peck as Byron, a mysterious business suit-wearing fugitive attempting to evade Tasker and Belitski across the wilderness. For the first half of the film the character remains nameless, and on more than one occasion willingly, peacefully and passively gives himself up to the authorities. The character comes across as a well-spoken gentleman, dances like Fred Astaire and often recites poetry, and whilst reciting Lord Byron at one point it is mistakenly assumed that his name actually is "Byron" by the fairly ignorant and not very well-read Matt Owens and the name sticks, or "Byro" as a shortened version. The character's real name, if he even has one, is never revealed. Further adding mystery to Byron's character is the fact that he is strong enough to break free of metal handcuffs if he wishes to, but chooses not to on many occasions. Also, Byron is able to perform almost miraculous operations without the proper surgical tools, such as curing cataracts in a blind boy and restoring his sight, and also fixing gadgets which have not been operational for centuries and building fully functional aeroplanes from junk overnight. Byron also appears to have regenerative qualities and is invulnerable to any kind of harm or injury, even after falling down a canyon, being impaled, being shot or blown up. It is later revealed that Byron is an android who killed his elderly master by snapping his neck upon his master's own request as an act of euthanasia or mercy killing, and this is the "murder" that Byron is being hunted for. Byron feels sorrow and guilt for the act. His artificial intelligence is capable of growing and Byron is capable of overriding his own programming and utilizing free will and feeling emotion, although he is scared to do so. This free will eventually manifests itself in the desire to commit an actual murder, the same crime he has been hunted for, in retaliation for Will Tasker's murder of Ariel, a woman whom Byron had begun to develop feelings for. Towards the end of the film Byron falls asleep for the first time and has a dream of finding more of his own kind in the perilous mountains at the end of the Slipstream, where he believes more androids to exist, and which at the end he goes off to find.

  • Eleanor David as Ariel, a woman who joins Owens and Byron in the valley and leads them to the hedonistic underground museum. Byron, despite being an android, quickly develops emotions for Ariel. Ariel sacrifices her life to save Owens, when she stands in front of him as Will Tasker prepares to shoot him. In retaliation, Byron decides to go off and kill Will Tasker as vengeance, but relents in the end.

  • Robbie Coltrane as Montclaire, a portly associate of Matt Owens in the mountain caves and apparent rogue whose favourite place appears to be a jacuzzi. Montclaire along with his entire party are put under arrest by Will Tasker in the woods for carrying contraband, and when they resist, they are all shot dead by Tasker and Belitski.

  • Sir Ben Kingsley as Avatar, the elderly leader of a highly superstitious wind-worshipping cult who see the slipstream as the manifestation of God. Avatar has a particularly nasty test for Byron, which involves him being put into the "Wrath of God", or tied to a kite which is then flown in the Slipstream overnight. Avatar is killed in conflict with unseen marauders.

  • F. Murray Abraham as Cornelius, the curator of a vast, preserved, underground museum, who wishes to keep it secret from the outside world and is wary of outsiders despite the fact many of his own are hedonistic.

Releases, box office and reception

Slipstream had a short cinema run in the United Kingdommarker, where it was considered a flop, and Australia, where the film grossed just $66,836 during its entire theatrical run. The film was never released in theaters in North America and enjoyed only moderate VHS sales. A DVD version of Slipstream, without any special features, was released on March 9, 2004. Fans awaiting a director's cut have been disappointed after legendary producer Gary Kurtz said in an interview that the script was originally much more violent, but that these violent scenes that would have made the plot more coherent were never even filmed.

It has also been released as a DVD double feature by "Destra Entertainment - Payless", the other feature being 1967's "In the Year 2889."

The film currently has a "rotten" score on rotten tomatoes of 20% by "T Critics," however site reviewers, rate it at a better 50%.

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