Don't Forget...Stay Out Of The Adult Bookstore: Blast From The Past (1999)

Here I sit again contextualizing a film from 1999, which is proving to be one of the most profoundly important years in cinema, post-New Hollywood.  I was originally turned onto this year as being key cinematically by the dynamic duo over at Battleship Pretension, and was a bit hesitant to fully embrace their argument, particularly considering that at one point they delved pretty deeply into the genre films of the year, I realized there was likely some legitimacy to the argument.  Especially considering that it was the year that established The Wachowski's, as well as David Fincher as important directors with The Matrix and Fight Club respectively.  However, it was also a year where more cult heavy directors took stabs at new cinematic engagements, with David Lynch offering the Disney produced masterpiece The Straight Story while David Cronenberg reworked the themes of his classic Videodrome to consider game based virtual realities in the criminally under appreciated  Existenz.  With a decided push towards the dark the occurred this year, highlighted by Takishi Miike's Audition, it is a bit surprising that I would consider completely altering my top ten list to include a comedy, particularly one whose critical reputation is far less established than all the previously mentioned films.  Yet, when I watched Blast from the Past earlier today I found myself genuinely laughing and engaging with a satire of such excellent composition as to remind me of my previous love for Clueless.  There is a lot to like about Blast from the Past, so much so that I was initially hesitant to praise the film since it appeared to purely be a result of my loving of minor parts and not the collective whole of the film, but given a few hours to let it sink in I am certain that it is a justifiable feeling one that I am certain would find a consensus were people who initially dismissed the film to revisit it with a decades detachment.  Indeed, it came out in a year of cerebral and mentally challenging films, therefore, it is no surprise that a highly idyllic, bright, yet no less critical film would be pushed to the wayside.  Blast from the Past is both highly nostalgic for a simpler time culturally, while also being incredibly forward looking in thematic issues and considerations of who can occupy cinematic space.  Also, it has Christopher Walken, which means it is elevated by default.

Blast from the Past begins in a kitschy version of the 1960's where the real fears of the Cold War linger over America proving particularly dire for Calvin Weber (Christopher Walken) and his wife Helen (Sissy Spacek) who have, under the paranoid direction of Calvin, built a whole fallout shelter their home, one that essentially doubles as a recreation of their home.  During a party, an announcement of possible threats from Cuba lead Calvin and Helen underground to wait out the night, hoping to avoid an imminent bomb drop, yet when a helicopter crashes within the vicinity of their home, a mechanism locks the couple inside their shelter, programed to remain closed for 35 years, wherein any threat of radiation poisoning would be avoided.  This would not be that large of a problem, were Helen not expecting a child within days.  Trapped underground, Helen gives birth to Adam (Brendan Fraser) who proceeds to spend the next thirty five years of his life living completely detached from the world.  When the seal is finally broken, Calvin ventures forth into an America that is far from what he remembers, riddled with crime, transvestites and an adult book store.  Panicking he returns underground and suggest that the family reseal the shelter, but Helen disagrees noting that they need supplies and that Adam needs to be able to experience a world outside of the fabricated domestic space, one of skies and oceans.  The desire is met indirectly when Calvin falls ill and Adam is sent to the surface for supplies.  Hoping also to find a girlfriend while above ground, Adam moves into mid-nineties California hyper-idealistic and wide-eyed.  Within moments he attempts to dump off a ton of rare baseball cards hoping that the money will afford him the ability to purchase the far more expensive items on his mother's shopping list, which includes alcohol and pipe tobacco amongst other things.  While on his quest he meets Eve (Alicia Silverstone) a young woman whose desultory lifestyle runs counter to Adam's idealism, however, their seemingly impossible bond forms an immediate friendship, one that is navigated by Adam's hopes of finding a partner and her assurance that she is anything but what he is looking for, particularly since she fears he is mentally unstable, not realizing their is validity to his seemingly being stuck in a time capsule.  As things unwind, it is clear that Eve cares for Adam and that his wild stories are all but so, leading to their undertaking of bringing aid to Adam's parents, while also delicately dealing with the fact that the two are not ready to move into a post-Cold War world.

The movie plays up on cultural divisions with such restrain and focus it is a surprise that this did not fair better in the cult comedy circles.  While it does jump through some of the clear racial and gender issues a person from the era would face, it plays more on cultural cues and social etiquette differences, both as a means to suggest that the contemporary American society is far from ideal, while also reminding viewers that the fifties were rife with their own issues, clear nods to "the problem that has no name" occurring with the character of Helen.  Similarly, it paints a future where non-normative bodies are excepted, a reality that is still yet to exist, perhaps director Hugh Wilson using this a a mirror to cause viewers to consider how far their personal views on "otherness" stand from the wildly conservative Calvin.  Indeed, because it realizes that to fall too heavily on a single cultural difference, Blast from the Past approaches many cultural differences within a relatively short film, dealing with the state of religion and self-understanding in regards to the fifties, where Adam's mind frame places unquestioned value on the lord's name with blind faith, while on the surface people are so lost and disillusioned as to believe that the Weber's are some sort of second coming and thus spiritual gurus.  More humorous than this, however, are the suggestions that perhaps many of the issues an individual navigates in the world half a century apart are really not too different.  Both Adam and Eve are attempting to navigate their worlds to find the ideal other, momentarily assuming that this shared bond cannot occur between one another.  Characters like Eve's friend Troy (Dave Foley) exist as cultural commentators who possess on the spot observations of the individuals within the film who lack an understanding of their own feelings and inhibitions, perhaps playing somewhat problematically into the "gay character as magical conscience," but no less so that Sex in the City would have been doing at the time.  The closing moments become heavily idealistic, but given that the film does not possess hefty stakes or high intensity action this is fine and helps to make the closing conversation between Adam and Calvin, paired with the sudden invasion of Eve's voiceover not absurd, but appropriate, because it suggest that while the present is not perfect, it is certainly more productive than living in the past or fearing for the future.

Key Scene:  Brendan Fraiser and Nathan Fillion fight in this movie, it may not be the best scene, but it was certainly my favorite.

This DVD is super cheap, it is worth blindly buying.  I am fairly certain you will not be disappointed.

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