Reviews

'The Philadelphia Experiment' Is So Bad It's Almost Good

If you're going to develop a drinking game around this film, don't make a rule about drinking a shot every time you see electroplasma effects on the screen or you'll be falling under the table before it's half over.


The Philadelphia Experiment

Director: Paul Ziller
Cast: Nicholas Lea, Michael Paré, Emilie Ullerup, Gina Holden, Malcolm McDowell
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Studio: Rainbow Pictures Inc.
Release Date: 2013-06-11

There are so many ways a film can go bad—the acting may be wooden or hammy, the script overly conventional or riddled with improbabilities, the cinematography pedestrian or overly precious. It's the rare film, however, that manages to combine all these aspects at once. For that achievement, I must give The Philadelphia Experiment my grudging admiration.

The film's premise is based on a long-standing hoax or urban myth claiming that, during World War II, the U.S. Navy carried out experiments in Philadelphia intended to make a destroyer escort, the U.S.S. Eldridge, undetectable by the enemy. Somehow, the story goes, military scientists hoped to find some way to apply Unified Field Theory to bend light so as to render the ship invisible and/or undetectable by radar—and depending on which version you believe, may have succeeded not only in making this rather formidable ship disappear, but also in causing it to be transported through space from Philadelphia to Norfolk, Virginia, and forward and backward in time.

All this is just about as credible as the supposed UFO that landed at Roswell in 1947, but as the starting point for a science fiction film, it's perfectly fine (and in fact, it's already been treated in at least two such films, the 1984 The Philadelphia Experiment and the 1993 Philadelphia Experiment II). Unfortunately, the execution of this premise comes up short in the 2012 The Philadelphia Experiment, which appears to have been made, with apologies to Errol Morris, fast and cheaply, resulting in a film that quickly spins out of control.

It doesn't start out too badly, particularly for a made-for-TV movie (originally airing on the SyFy channel) directed Paul Ziller, who specializes in such endeavors. The story begins with Dr. Richard Faulkner (Ryan Robbins) gloating to his boss, Kathryn Moore (Gina Holden) that he's succeeded in developing that superspecial technology he's been working on. Because she's such a disdainful bitch, and to prove how much of a badass he is, he demonstrates said technology by making her car disappear.

Ah, but he never thought about the possible unintended consequences. In this case, the electrons stirred up by his little demonstration (accompanied by great quantities of electroplasmic CGI, an effect of which you will quickly tire) also reawakened the slumbering Eldridge, which makes an unexpected appearance on the runway of a remote Pennsylvania airport. One crew member, Bill Gardner (Nicholas Lea) is still alive (and hasn't aged since the ship disappeared), and by the strangest of coincidences this airport is near his home town, where his granddaughter Molly (Emilie Ullerup) lives and works. She waits tables in a coffee shop, but is also an ace computer hacker, which not only comes in handy later in the film, but might convince the easily persuaded that her character is about something other than long blond hair and really tight jeans.

Unfortunately, things quickly become absurd. Bill and Molly head out to find Morton Salinger (Malcolm McDowell), who led the "real" Philadelphia Experiment in the '40s, and don’t notice that he's looking remarkably spry for a guy who, unless he was a regular Doogie Howser, would have to be at least in his 90s by 2012. The evil Richard and Kathryn try to hunt them down, they try to rescue Molly's fiancé, who has been sucked inside the ship, and there's lots of fast cuts and CGI to keep you from thinking too hard about anything. I will give the film one thing—it made an attempt at a clever, sentimental ending, although I felt so pummeled by the rapid pace of the illogicalities which came before that it didn't make much of an impression on me.

For all my criticisms, I have to admit that The Philadelphia Experiment is actually sort of fun to watch, in the way that bad movies sometimes are. It moves so quickly that you don't have time to get too annoyed at any of its many absurdities, and the actors are certainly easy on the eyes. I do have one piece of advice: if you're going to develop a drinking game around this film, don't make a rule about drinking a shot every time you see electroplasma effects on the screen or you'll be falling under the table before it's half over. You'll have more luck raising a toast each time you hear some pseudo-scientific gobbledegook, while if you reserve your shots for the appearance of nonwhite characters, you'll end the film almost completely sober.

There are absolutely no extras included with The Philadelphia Experiment (honestly, they could at least have put together a little featurette about the supposed historical event and the two previous films), but the visual and audio transfers are fine. The cinematography by Michael C. Blundell has one peculiar aspect—throughout the film, whether a scene takes places indoors or out, the lighting gives everything that radiant look that you sometimes get outdoors just after it rains—but the slight oddness thus created is appropriate for the story.

3


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.