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Film / Blast from the Past

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That's some nice foot popping there, Alicia.

"Oh, my lucky stars! A negro!"
Adam, on meeting his very first African-American

Imagine spending all your life in a fallout shelter, completely devoid of contact with the outside world. Now imagine that, after many years, circumstances force you to say goodbye to your former home.

No, this isn't that one video game; it's Blast from the Past, a 1999 romantic comedy written and directed by Hugh Wilson and starring Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone.

The film begins in 1962. Like many Americans at this time, Dr. Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken) and his pregnant wife Helen (Sissy Spacek) are a little caught up in the tension of the Cold War; Calvin, a brilliant but off-kilter physicist, has built an elaborate bomb shelter under the backyard of their suburban Los Angeles home and stocked it with 35 years of supplies. When the Cuban Missile Crisis presents America with a very real and immediate threat of nuclear war, the Webbers move into the bomb shelter. As fate would have it, a fighter jet crashes onto their property while they're down there, destroying the house and leading the neighbors to presume the Webbers dead. Calvin—convinced that the explosion was the result of a nuclear missile, and lacking communication with the outside world due to having left the radio above ground—locks the vault door, sealing them inside for 35 years. Shortly afterward, Helen gives birth to a son named Adam.

Fast forward to The '90s (more specifically, 1997), when the vault unlocks. While Adam's parents diligently spent decades teaching him everything they could think of, this proves woefully inadequate for getting around in a radically changed surface world. Cue major culture shock when first Calvin and then the now-adult Adam (Fraser) venture out into the world to determine the state of "post-apocalypse" civilization.

Once it becomes clear that some people have indeed, umm... survived the blast, Adam sets out to gather supplies and find a (non-mutant) wife, so he can return to the shelter and seal it up again. Along the way, Adam meets a cynical young woman named Eve (Silverstone), who—after initially being seriously weirded out by him, and despite not knowing the details of his background—comes to see him as an eccentric but basically harmless young man. She agrees to help Adam with his goals, works with her gay housemate Troy (Dave Foley) to acclimatize him to the current times, and gradually finds herself falling for him.

This film provides examples of:

  • The '50s: Even though the first scene takes place in 1962, these tropes are still in full effect as The '60s politically and culturally began with events in 1963 and '64. This informs the Webbers' entire lifestyle... for three decades. Unsurprisingly, Adam emerges from the shelter acting like a character from Leave It to Beaver.
  • The '90s: As Roger Ebert points out, this movie turns Pleasantville on its head, casting a decidedly unflattering light on modern life as seen from the perspective of a traditional nuclear family.
  • Adam and Eve Plot: Played With. Calvin and Helen name their son "Adam" as they assume he will have to repopulate the Earth with any healthy female survivor he can find after the apocalypse. As it happens, he does find love with a woman named Eve, but the apocalypse never actually happened.
  • After the End: Parodied: The world is fine, but the Webbers-who have been isolated for the past 35 years-think that the apocalypse has happened due to how different society is from how they remember it.
  • And Starring: Alicia Silverstone gets this honor.
  • Apocalypse How: The Webbers believe that at least a class 0 has taken place, as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Adam may be a kind hearted manchild, but he's also a very good boxer, as Eve's ex boyfriend finds out. In Adam's defence, he did warn him.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The conversation in French between Adam & Sophie doesn't have any subtitles, but the actors sell it well enough that the audience knows that she's flirting with him before Eve cuts it short.
    Adam: Vous parlez Francais? (Do you speak French?)
    Sophie: Oui! (Yes!)
    Adam: Moi, Je parle un peu Français (Me, I speak a little French)
    Sophie: Oh, you speak beautiful French! J’ai habite à Paris un an (I lived in Paris for a year)
    Adam: Paris, C'est la ville des lumières, n'est-ce pas? (Paris is the city of lights, isn't it?)
    Sophie: Oui! (Yes)
    Adam: C’est le pays d’amour. (It is the land of love)
    Sophie: Bien Sur (Of course)
    Adam: C’est bien que je vous aie recontree parce que je n’ai pas eu la chance de pratiquer. (It's good that I met you or else I would not have had a chance to practice)
    Sophie: Si tu veux, nous pouvons pratiquer beaucoup de choses...ensemble (If you want, we can practice many things... together)
    Adam (uncertain): Ou-oui? (Ye-yes?)
  • Born After the End: Played with. The Webber family believes Adam is this, because they've been living in their underground fallout shelter since the Cuban Missile Crisis, unaware that there wasn't actually a nuclear apocalypse above ground.
  • Britain Is Only London: A variation. Troy assumes that Anchorage is the capital of Alaska, partly because it is the largest city in the state, but doubtlessly also because it was the only Alaskan city he (or the audience) could think of. Adam corrects him by pointing out that the capital of Alaska is Juneau.
  • Cargo Cult / God Guise: One forms from a group of homeless people around the elevator and the Webber family after the father's dramatic appearance. Reinforced when the dramatically appearing man from the underground sends his only son to Earth.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Adam was shown being trained in boxing by his dad from a young age, thus when he accidentally pissed off Eve's ex-boyfriend the guy tried to attack him and he effortlessly defends himself and even apologizes for doing so.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: The entire Webber family, justified by having lived underground for 35 years. Mr. Webber, on the other hand, seems to have been one even before the "catastrophe".
    • He even starts pacing out a new fallout shelter at the end of the movie, despite knowing that the world is no longer under threat of nuclear war.
  • Compound-Interest Time Travel Gambit: It's accidental, and the "time travel" is 35 years of isolation, but the vintage baseball cards and blue chip stock certificates sure do become useful.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The entire plot of the movie pretty much hinges on the fact that a runaway fighter jet just so happened to crash into the house of the one guy on the block who happened to have a fully-stocked fallout shelter and was currently in the throes of over-reacting to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Calvin's fallout shelter has enough supplies to support a family of three for decades, and can grow vegetables and even fish.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Dr. Calvin Webber made a fallout shelter in his backyard with his own hands and prepared it to the gills and is highly patriotic and paranoid (one of the things that two police officers investigating the crash site hear about him that make them label Calvin as "crazy" is that the man loved to drink warm Dr. Peppers). He also eventually becomes obsessed with staying inside of the fallout shelter no matter what, starting with wishing to take an extra minute to pray before opening the door and then deciding to believe the crap-sack neighborhood he emerges to is a post-apocalyptic wasteland and then finishing off with him not believing that the Cold War is truly over and the Russians have just up and surrendered and starting to make plans to dig a new fallout shelter on the backyard of his new home by the time the movie ends.
  • Cold War: Mr. Webber's obsession with this gets the plot moving.
  • Cunning Linguist: In the growing up montage, we see Adam correct his father that today wasn't the Latin test, it was the French test. And then they make a joke about it in German.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Eve, especially early on.
  • Death Glare: Eve, at the awesome dancing scene.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The narrative initially follows Calvin and Helen. Adult Adam doesn’t show up until about thirty minutes into the film, but is the main character from that point forward.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Adam happily greets a black mail carrier as a negro. He meant no offense, but as things had changed quite a bit since 1962...
    • When the neighborhood ends up torn down and a malt shop is built overtop the fallout shelter, the bartender thanks his mom for the job and happily shares that he was getting $1.15 an hour.
    • Adam's main contact in the surface world is a young lady named Eve Vrustikoff (Alicia Silverstone). Dr. Webber asks whether her name is Russian, and he's relieved to hear that it's Ukrainian.note 
  • "Eureka!" Moment: An in-universe example, when Mr. Webber spends decades trying to explain baseball to his son, who utterly misses the point of it all, until he finally watches a game.
    Adam: Oh, I get it! Because he must!
  • Expy: Dave Foley has admitted that his performance as Troy was a direct copy of his Riley character from the "Steps" segment in his series The Kids in the Hall.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Adam and his family, not seeing the changes that occurred happen gradually, suffer from a certain amount of culture shock when introduced to the modern world. Adam's particularly shocked at household computers.
  • Fish out of Water: Adam's excuse for seeming so unfamiliar with things, is that he's visiting L.A. for the first time. From Alaska.
  • Fleeing for the Fallout Shelter: When news of the Cuban Missile Crisis hits, Calvin and Helen sprint for it... with Helen carrying a partially cooked pot roast in a Dutch oven. As luck would have it, a plane crashes into their house while they're underground. Thinking the Russians are attacking, Calvin activates a time-lock, trapping them for 35 years while they wait for the nuclear fallout to dissipate.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Had that jet landed on any other house in the neighborhood, the incident would have been a tragedy and little else.
  • Free-Range Children: Hard to be "free-range" when one is raised in a family-sized bunker.
  • The Future Is Shocking: Having spent the past three and a half decades in a bunker cut off from the outside world, the Webbers are caught off-guard by how radically the world has changed and chalk it up to a nuclear apocalypse.
  • Game of Nerds: Eccentric physicist Calvin Webber is naturally a baseball fan.
  • Genius Ditz: Adam was raised in a fallout shelter where the only two people he has ever known were his mom and dad. Both, however, raised him on an expansive education ranging from science and history to boxing and dancing. When he arrives in the real world he is completely overwhelmed by the complexities of society and can't even figure his way around town, yet he speaks multiple languages, can fight and dance, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of facts that have been consistent since 1963.
  • Gold Digger: Averted. Eve notes that at least she fell in love with Adam before she learned he was rich.
  • Green-Eyed Epiphany: Eve only starts admitting her attraction to Adam after seeing him on the dance floor with a couple of other women, immediately waving him off after the dance is finished and telling him they weren't right for him.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In-universe with the exchange below.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Gay?: Troy. Dave Foley plays him slightly effeminate, but the only real way we know he's gay is because someone says so (leading to a hilarious moment):
    Eve: He (Troy) is gay, by the way.
    Adam: (thinking Eve means that Troy's happy) Well, good for you.
    Troy: (slightly confused) Thanks. We do try.
  • Hellish L.A.: When Calvin first leaves the bunker and sees modern Los Angeles, a blighted neighborhood filled with gangs and prostitutes, he thinks he's in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
  • Improperly Paranoid: Played for Laughs with Dr. Calvin Webber. It's pretty obvious that being constantly paranoid is his only state of mind and if he can't feel paranoid about something he would probably be even more crazy.
  • Innocent Bigot: See page quote.
    • Inverted with the above quote, with his misunderstanding make him seem more open minded.
  • Innocent Swearing: When the time lock opens in the shelter and Adam asks if they can go right up to the surface.
    Calvin: No, son. Now is the time we must be at our most cautious. We wait for night.
    Helen: Oh, shit! (immediately covers her mouth)
    Calvin: (scolding) Helen Thomas Webber, maybe we have been down here a little too long. (to Adam) Pardon her French, son.
    Adam: "Shit" is French?
    Calvin: Well, it's archaic French... it's... uh... a 16th-century colloquialism meaning... roughly, good.
    Helen: (playing along) Your father's right.
    Adam: Well, then... Shit!
    Calvin and Helen: Heh heh. (sigh)
  • Ironic Echo: A few days after the plane crashed, Calvin tries to reassure a claustrophobic Helen by saying the shelter is just like home, but she responds in an exasperated voice: "No. No! Calvin, this is different! Believe me!" At the end, when Adam walks them through the house he commissioned for them in country, Calvin nonchalantly says that it's just like the shelter, only for Helen to excitedly point to the open sky and happily responds: "No. No! Calvin, this is different! Believe me!"
  • Manchild: Adam is a borderline example. He is intelligent, and can take care of himself, but is socially awkward and rather naive.
  • Mistaken for Apocalypse: First, the Webbers mistake a crashed airplane for a nuclear explosion. Second, during the Webbers' time in the vault, their neighborhood had degenerated; that along with tattoos, piercings and punk clothing unfamiliar in the 1960s, makes Calvin think that the majority of surface dwellers are "mutants."
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Played for laughs when Calvin encounters a transgender hooker after emerging from the bunker for the first time. He believes the hooker is implying that modern humans are hermaphroditic mutants who can shapeshift between sexes when necessary. The hooker is actually just offering whatever "services" Calvin might be into, and can do male or female given client preference and money.
  • Only One Finds It Fun: After the plane crashed onto their house, Calvin enjoys the fruits of his labors since he built the bomb shelter to his specifications. Helen, on the other hand, quickly becomes claustrophobic, and develops a drinking habit. Adam goes along with this only because he was born in the shelter, and doesn't know any better.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Eve goes back to her ex-boyfriend because she's upset with Adam for lying about his background. Though Adam's quick skills chased him away. More angry with Adam, Eve left the club.
  • Precision F-Strike: We get one from the mother, who is all too eager to head back to the surface. Its precision comes from being the first kink in the perfect atomic family image.
    Adam: Do we just go on up?
    Calvin: No, son. Now's the time we must be at our most cautious. We wait until night.
    Helen: SHIT.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: At the start of the film, the Webbers are hosting a dinner party when news of the Cuban Missile Crisis breaks. Dr. Webber sends their friends home and goes into the fallout shelter with his pregnant wife. Shortly after this, a jet crashes into their house. Had he continued the party, everyone would have died in the crash. The only thing he didn't prepare was an alternate exit or a bypass in case the manual locks were damaged.
  • Sassy Black Woman: The mail carrier Adam meets whom he calls a "negro".
  • Serendipitous Survival: The Webbers survive a fighter plane accidentally dropping down on their home because Calvin brings them down to the fallout shelter to wait out the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Sole Surviving Scientist: Played for Laughs. Calvin thinks he's one but the reality is very different.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Pleasantville, another Fish out of Temporal Water comedy satirizing the values of The '50s versus The '90s that came out the year before. While Pleasantville subverted '50s nostalgia by having modern teens enter a '50s sitcom universe and making it more liberated through their influence, this film plays it straight by dropping a young man raised with '50s/early '60s values into the modern world and presenting him as more morally upright than the people he interacts with.
  • Straight Gay: For the era, Troy is less campy than many other gay characters. Though there are some very downplayed Camp Gay quirks what with attending the gay ball game, I Love Lucy and "Y.M.C.A.".
  • The Unreveal: Calvin asks that Helen never learn the truth that there was no nuclear war, since... well, judging that she's become an alcoholic after being locked in a shelter for thirty years for no reason, it's clear that she'd never forgive him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The social worker/psychiatrist disappears after Adam crashes into her parked car.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Troy gives one to Eve for trying to send Adam to a crazy house.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: In a variation as one of the final gags, Dr. Calvin Webber more like absolutely refuses to believe that Communism fell and the Cold War ended just like that, without a single shot fired, and about thirty seconds after Adam explains it to him Dr. Webber starts making plans for a bomb shelter for his new home.

"Leave my elevator alone."