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Anchor Bay presents
The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

"This wasn't supposed to happen. This is a mistake."
- David Herdeg (Michael Paré)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: November 19, 2000

Stars: Michael Paré, Nancy Allen, Eric Christmas, Bobby Di Cicco
Other Stars: Louise Latham, Kene Holliday, Joe Dorsey, Michael Currie, Stephen Tobolowsky, Gary Brockette, Debra Troyer, Miles McNamara
Director: Stewart Raffill

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 01h:41m:13s
Release Date: September 19, 2000
UPC: 013131123494
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Stewart Raffill's 1984 feature, The Philadelphia Experiment, was one of the few sci-fi films released that year that I actually saw in theater. In the wake of the previous year's final installment in the Star Wars trilogy, anything vaguely billed as science fiction was needed to fill the void. Based on actual reports of an incident during the testing of a new radar jamming system during World War II, The Philadelphia Experiment examined some interesting concepts about time travel.

Dr. James Longstreet (Miles McNamara/Eric Christmas) has developed a device that will render the Navy's fleet invisible to radar, and help turn the tide of the war. Dubbed The Philadelphia Experiment, the Navy plans to test the device by cloaking a destroyer. David Herdeg (Michael Paré, Eddie & The Cruisers) and Jim Parker (Bobby Di Cicco) are the sailors put in charge of operating the machine on board the ship, but when the test gets underway, not only does the ship disappear from radar, but it vanishes completely. On board, the crew are experiencing a strange phenomena, but Herdeg is unable to shut the machine down. Instead, he and Jim jump overboard, however they find themselves in an even stranger situation passing through some kind of vortex, eventually ending up in the middle of a desert, and being hunted by a helicopter. Unable to determine where they are or if they are being tested as part of the experiment, the pair make their way to a diner, where they come to the conclusion that something is terribly wrong. When a freak electrical surge causes several nearby video machines to explode, the pair end up taking Allison Hayes (Nancy Allen, Carrie) hostage as they flee the scene in her car. Miss Hayes soon learns that these men are at the center of something strange, as they seem completely alien to the time and place they are experiencing, though she has serious doubts about their story until Jim begins experiencing more unexplained symptoms. As Longstreet witnesses the results of his experiments, he has to devise a way to correct the situation he has created, while army members under his advisement hunt down the fugitive Herdeg and his companion. Herdeg's flight from capture leads him to the realisation of who and where he is, and he has to decide whether he is better off in this world or his old one.

Reports about the actual event that inspired the film range from the bizarre to the fantastic. In July of 1943, US naval destroyer, the USS Elmbridge was brought into Delaware Bay outside of Philadelphia to conduct experiments on a magnetic field generator that the navy hoped would help the US fleet evade enemy mines. There is speculation the experiment also included trying to mask vessels from enemy radar and perhaps even from sight. According to legend, the ship vanished from visibility, and was reported seen simultaneously in Norfolk, Virginia, with crew members appearing and disappearing, in forms this film covers near its conclusion.

The premise of the film is certainly interesting, and the special effects were pretty decent for their day. The choice of cast and the direction style however make the film play more as a TV show than a serious feature film. Michael Paré's acting is fairly wooden and forced, which isn't helped by a script that seems to be written for television. Many scenes are overacted with little regard for the emotional continuity of the film. There are also several parts of the picture which make no sense, especially the character's behaviour, even after the film ends. Though this may seem to be too critical, it only lends to a less than fantastic, though watchable film.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay has delivered The Philadelphia Experiment in a 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer. The image is extremely clean though somewhat soft, with some film grain evident. No signs of edge enhancement are present, and colors and black levels are well presented. Another fine delivery.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Anchor Bay presents us with a new 5.1 Chase Surround mix, which is full range and free of any defects. Though the surrounds are primarily only active during the action sequences, the presentation works well, and is free of distortion or excesive hiss. A Prologic two channel mix is also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Extras are fairly slim here, though we do get the film's widescreen theatrical trailer on the disc, which contains a ton of spoilers. The insert booklet features the poster artwork, plus an essay on the events inspiring the film.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

While hardly a science fiction masterpiece, this time travel adventure is certainly worthy of a rental. Though the effects are feature film quality, the Saturday morning acting and direction leave a bit to be desired. The presentation here, while devoid of many extras, is certainly respectful in quality, and certainly more than I would have expected.


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