Film Reviews:

Philadelphia Experiment II

(Stephen Cornwell, US, 1993)

Coming almost ten years after the original film, this sequel seems like a strained attempt at filling video shelves more that packing-in cinema audiences. Having said that I am something of a fan of The Philadelphia Experiment and had been interested in catching up with this follow-up for some time. The plot is an update on the original idea of experiments into radar invisibility. But instead of taking part in the 1940s, the experiment at the centre of this film takes place in the 1990s. It uses the stealth bomber as the subject of the tests, and with recent revelations by the US government that the multi-billion $ aircraft actually looses its radar 'invisibility' during heavy rain (!), this is an inspired contemporary approach. Acoustic tracking technology is given as the reason the 'Philadelphia experiment' is dusted down since the idea of straight-forward radar invisibility is redundant.

David Herdeg from the first film (portrayed by a different actor here) is in financial trouble and reluctantly takes up a offer to work again with the US Navy. Officials review the original experiment (cue clips from the earlier film) and begin to set up a modern counterpart. Needless to say that things don't go according to plan and the two experiments 'join' over the fold created in the fabric of time and as a result the 1990s test subject - the stealth bomber - arrives in 1943 and into the hands of the Nazis. The Germans then use the stealth 'plane to drop a nuclear weapon on Washington, the US surrenders and the Nazis win the Second World War. Herdeg arrives back in 1993 but it is an America that exists after 50 years of German occupation. Can he reverse the effects of the experiment and reorder the historical events of the last half century?

No surprises as to the outcome and getting there sometime feels lethargic but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised by the film. PE II's strongest asset is the basic idea behind the screenplay. Regular readers of this site will know I'm a sucker for time travel stories and this film uses the paradox idea to its extreme and having the Nazis win the war thanks to stealth technology is quite a cool move (as was depicting a black stealth bomber decked out with scarlet and white swastika logos!). The direction isn't anything special but there is some interesting jump cuts and editing techniques that add an air of menace at times. There's also some welcome humour - the best example being when a Nazi officer is trying out different pieces of music (Wagner or Strauss?) to accompany a propaganda film about the 'peace' that has lasted for 50 years. The CGI-based special effects are good enough but the vortex sequence (where time begins to stretch) used here looks like a cheap compromise compared to the impressive sequences in the first film. If you've a soft spot for The Philadelphia Experiment then I'd recommend checking this out. Keep your expectations down and you might feel quite satisfied with the result.

Rob Dyer

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