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Peter’s Retro Movie Review: The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

by Peter Nielsen

”In 1943 the U.S. Navy conducted a series of tests to render allied ships invisible to enemy radar. The results of these tests have never been made public. The final test, which resulted in the project’s termination, has come to be known as… The Philadelphia Experiment.”

This is the text with which the movie opens and you have to agree with me here… If that’s not an “attention-grabber” I don’t know what is! It also claims to be based on actual events, which makes it even more intriguing. How much truth there are to these claims though, is an entirely different story and no matter how much the U.S. Navy tries to deny it, there will always be those who yell CONSPIRACY. I just take it as the basis for a damn good sci-fi thriller and a great “What if…” story.

David and Jim are two sailors assigned to the U.S.S. Eldridge during the above-mentioned final test. At first everything seems to be ok, but things very quickly start to go wrong. I’m not even going to try to describe the device which is used in the experiment, but when smoke starts to emanate from it, I’m just going to assume it’s starting to overheat or something.

The experiment in progress...

The experiment in progress…

Weird lights start to appear all round them and total chaos soon follows onboard the vessel. Unable to turn the equipment off, Jim and David decide to jump overboard, but instead of hitting the water they hit… nothing!

They fall through some kind of weird vortex and land in a deserted village, but no sooner has it appeared, when it suddenly disappears again. Strange lights appear in the sky and starts chasing them.

It turns out to be a helicopter, but since Jim and David come from the early 40’s they have never seen anything like it before. It opens fire on them and they have to run for their lives and barely escapes. The next day they arrive at a diner, but when Jim accidentally destroys some arcade-games they again have to run.

Falling through time and space.

Falling through time and space.

There’s a weird storm raging outside and it’s somehow affecting Jim through lightning and electricity, and that’s how the arcade-games gets zapped. The owner of the diner draws a gun on them, demanding payment for the wrecked machines.

In order to get away, they hijack a car, but since they can’t drive one with an automatic transmission they also have to kidnap the driver. Her name is Allison and it’s through her they learn about their whereabouts and also that they’ve somehow travelled 41 years into the future.

Allison is played by the lovely Nancy Allen (Dressed to Kill, Robocop) and is just an average person on her way to a job-interview when she’s caught up in this larger than life “event”.

Jim is played by Bobby Di Cicco (Night Shift, Splash) and David by Michael Paré (Streets of Fire, Eddie and the Cruisers). Mr. Paré may not be the finest actor ever lived, but I like him and always have, don’t ask me why.

Where the hell are we, man... and when?

Where the hell are we, man… and when?

The storm is getting worse by the hour and with it Jim’s condition. After a freak car-crash they’re taken to a hospital where Jim, in a violent outburst from the storm, dissolves in some sort of weird energy-light. Allison and David have to run from the hospital chased by the Military Police, who are very keen on getting their hands on him to ask him a few questions.

The same man who was responsible for the experiment in 1943 is now conducting a similar experiment in 1984, but this time they try to make a village invisible. His name is Dr. James Longstreet and is played in the “present” day by Eric Christmas (The Changeling, All Of Me). His assistant Barney is played by another familiar face, namely Stephen Tobolowsky. Just look him up! The man has more than 200 titles credited to his name.

Together they discover that the two experiments are connected and that the freakish storm is a vortex in the space-time continuum, created by these same experiments. It’s growing at an alarming rate and threatens to suck everything in and eventually destroying the world.

Allison and David

Allison and David

Guess who the only one to save the day is? Yup! Of course it’s David! He has to go back to the U.S.S. Eldridge and shut down the device onboard it. Allison doesn’t like that at all, since she has fallen for him and doesn’t want him to go, but we all know it’s inevitable.

The Philadelphia Experiment was directed by Stewart Raffill who’s also done The Ice Pirates and Mac and Me for instance. The executive producer was none other than John Carpenter and I’m actually going to be so bold as to take for granted that you all know who he is… Right?

I’m not 100% sure about this, but I think I watched this in the theater when it was first released. What I am 100% sure of though, is that I watched it together with my good friend Michael. You know? My childhood friend who now lives in England? We have since seen it a couple of times on VHS, but prior to this viewing it’s been many years.

I remember thinking it was an awesome movie at the time and the big question was if it would hold up this time too. The answer is quite simply, yes indeed it did. It held up very well! The effects are a bit dated of course, but the plot is interesting and The Philadelphia Experiment is, as I stated in the beginning, a great “What if…” story! So, if you haven’t seen it before, I would definitely recommend you to check it out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

So, until next time, my friends… Please tell me what you think! Come on now… Don’t be shy!



About Peter Nielsen

Peter was born in Denmark in 1968, but moved to Sweden at the age of six, (not by himself of course), and has lived there ever since. He’s married and has five children, so spare time is somewhat of a luxury. His main interests in life, apart from his family, are long walks, books and movies. Any movie! He has preferences, but he’s not particular as long as it's good or... so bad it's good... he just LOVES MOVIES!

6 comments for “Peter’s Retro Movie Review: The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

  1. Michael Gilstrap
    November 12, 2012 at 8:54 am

    FYI: Michael Paré was also in 21 of 43 episodes of ‘The Greatest American Hero’ TV Series as Tony Villicana which was where I saw him first … before The Philadelphia Experiment.

    I liked The Philadelphia Experiment a lot … haven’t seen it in about twenty years

    Just checked and woo hoo … The Philadelphia Experiment is on [US] Netflix ….

    • Peter Nielsen
      November 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

      Hi Michael
      Thanks for commenting and, yeah… “The Greatest American Hero” was actually where I first saw Mr. Paré too. 🙂 I still think that’s a great show, btw!

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