This film is a hardcore memory movie, and I mean that with a capital H!
Back in the mid-80s we had only 45 channels, and only two pay cable channels, HBO and Showtime, and it took roughly a year for any theatrical flick to hit cable. My Science Project came out in the summer of 1985. I was sixteen years old, and I saw it on cable the following summer.
It was a Sunday, my best friend, Gerry Lee, was away vacationing at Lake George, and he was supposed to be gone for a few more days, maybe a week. The afternoon was getting dark indicating a thunderstorm was rolling through. I love thunderstorms. I was in the living room watching My Science Project. The phone rings. It’s Gerry! He told me he came home early and he too was watching My Science Project. I started praising the impressive effects of the Tyrannosaurs Rex. For a mid-80s flick it’s the best looking live action dinosaur committed to film. I was thrilled to hear from him. We talked some more about the movie and when it was over we decided to hang out. In the summer this meant bike ride. We met half way on this stretch of rural road. I remember hearing rumbles of thunder as I rode to meet him, and being excited and terrified I might be caught in the middle of a thunderstorm out on my bike.
It was a great day, punctuated by the discovery of a new, great movie, a pending thunderstorm and a great friend. I think we headed down to his house and I want to say I slept over, but I just can’t remember. What sticks in my mind the most was the darkening day, the movie I was watching, Gerry’s phone call and me hauling ass on my bike to meet him.
I have just now finished watching it, a movie, I must stress, I haven’t seen since that summer day, and I’m happy to state it still holds up, for me anyway. It is a little weird, though, to see it through the eyes of a forty-seven year old. At this age I focused on different things than I did back when I was a seventeen. Back then it was just a really cool science fiction adventure with great effects where the main characters were teens. Speaking of that, to my middle aged eyes now, the actors they used look way too old to be portraying high school teens, and the scene where John Stockwell asks Danielle Von Zerneck why they never got to know each other the last fours resonates on a more poignant level now and makes me think about that chick I had a crush on in grade school. Lisa was her name, and that crush reached its height in 7th and 8th grade where the most evolved it ever got was to where she and I attended a lot of the various dances Junior High periodically held, but she chose to ignore me all through high school, except for that one and only time she spoke to me on the bus three months or so before graduation where she asked me how I liked being a senior?
This is one of the reasons I love reviewing “memory movies,” the best ones certainly make you reminisce on an almost profound level of those most treasured times of child and young adult hood.
My Science Project is a tale about two high school students, Mike Harlan (John Stockwell) and Brooklynite, Vince Latello (Fisher Stevens), who’s the most colorful character in the movie and the one with a lot of the best lines delivered in that equally colorful New Yorkian panache. Yeah, Vince is the cool one. Along the way they pull into their orbit two other students, Ellie Sawyer (Danielle Von Zerneck) and obvious science nerd, Sherman (Raphael Sbarge). All of them are on the eve of their graduation, but only Mike is on the cusp of maybe not getting that diploma all thanks to his car loving mechanic mentality that won’t allow anything science related to enter his mind. And this is a big problem because he’s got a science project to turn in to his ex-hippie science teacher, Bob Roberts (Dennis Hopper), or he don’t graduate!
So he and Ellie head off to the local Government junkyard where they stumble upon a hidden underground bunker and just the thing Mike can use to pass off as his project. We already know this weird glowing sphere is basically an alien engine, because in the 1957 set prologue a crashed UFO is brought to this same facility and by the orders of President Eisenhower its dismantled and parts stored away.
This “alien engine” feeds on energy and the more energy it absorbs the more it “works,” and what does that mean? It means aliens have the ability to time travele (like we didn’t already assume that) and this is the tech that allows them to do that. The first experiments Mike and Vinnie put the engine through in the shop at school shoots them forward two hours. The next experiment they put it through is in the presence of Bob whom they think can figure out what it is. Oh, and he does too. Jacking it into the outlet on the table where it now has unlimited access to electricity really gets this mother humming. Clouds and streams of alien energy emanate out from it that ignite Bob’s excitement and with it coursing through his body he knows it’s some kind of alien technology able to break through space and time (aka a time machine). Bob suddenly vanishes, though and all hell breaks loose as the engine starts to suck energy from the town’s electrical grid.
Time for Vinne, Mike and Ellie to leap into action and cut it off before it gets to the local power plant, this means following it’s current at a mega-high rate of speed in Mike’s car as it travels along the power lines out on the desert freeway. They manage to stop it using dynamite Mike’s father sells at their local hardware store. Really?
Richard Masur has a small role. Anyone who’s a fan of The Thing (1982) will know him as Clark, the dog handler, and to a lesser extent Cory Haim’s father in the teen comedy, License To Drive (1988). He’s a local detective investigating the disappearance of Bob Roberts and the dynamiting of an electrical tower out in the desert. And the night hasn’t even gotten started yet. All would have been fine had Sherman not walked into the classroom and found the engine. Mike sent Ellie there to retrieve it and bring it down to the police station after he and Vinnie got arrested and suspected in the night’s events. But Sherman decides to plug it back in and now we’re all royally fucked.
Leaving it plugged in so it can keep sucking energy will eventually crash the time space continuum, plus Ellie is now trapped in the school and since she’s Mike’s love interest now she must be rescued. Of course equally pressing is to turn that fuckin’ engine off, or there won’t be a “reality” to date Ellie in. Vinnie and Mike escape the police station and meet up with a shell-shocked Sherman at the school. Time and space are converging making the inside of the building a collage of random colliding time frames, from ancient Rome to the Vietnam war to bumping into mutants from a post apocalyptic future. It’s all there plus a cavemen they kick in the nuts and to the aforementioned T-Rex that’s the money shot of the movie. Along the way they nab M-16’s from the Vietcong to combat the laser happy mutants and the T-Rex.
Yes, of course this movie has a happy ending. Ellie is rescued and the alien engine is turned off, but all the “relics” and pieces of bygone eras it brought in are still strewn about the school. An epilogue would have been nice. I mean what do you do with that kind of shit in our “ reality,” Open up a museum? More than likely the most plausible epilogue would involve the government showing up, confiscating all of it and putting a lid on it by blaming hot air balloons, or something.
I wish they had the Siskel And Ebert review of this on YouTube. Ebert mentioned John Stockwell mumbles through this whole flick. Yeah, he does. I remember having to turn the TV up and wondering why Stockwell’s dialogue was so low. Actually it sounds like most of his performance was looped. Speaking of Stockwell, if you’re a Gen-X’r the mere mention of his name should bring to mind this movie and Christine (1983).
Anchor Bay first released My Science Project on DVD way back in 1999, then it was re-released in 2004 by Disney. Both of these versions are now out of print. Neither of those two releases had anything in the way of extra features, not even a trailer. It’s about time this little “period piece” of a gem got the blu-ray treatment, and it did, from Mill Creek Entertainment this past Tuesday!
I never bought the previous DVDs so I can’t compare this transfer to them, regardless I was very pleased how it looked!
There are no extras on this disc.
Buy it here at Amazon!
I forgot The Tubes had done the movie’s theme song, which can be heard during the end credits. God, I miss the 80s!
This is a flick I wish had extras, like, say, a cast commentary, if that ever happens in the future I will be there, until then Mill Creek’s blu will tide me over just fine and it should for you too. Peace out.