Follow TV Tropes


Film / Slipstream (1989)

Go To

Across a land shaped by earthquakes and environmental change flees Byron (Bob Peck), a fugitive who is more than he appears. He is pursued by Will Tasker (Mark Hamill) and his partner Belitski, two bounty hunters flying the permanent world-encircling wind called the Slipstream. Enter flyer/trader Matt Owens (Bill Paxton), who steals their captive and takes Byron on a journey through a world torn between a dying past and the evolving future.

Directed by Steven Lisberger (TRON) and produced by Gary Kurz (The Dark Crystal). Music by Elmer Bernstein.

Not to be confused with the 2005 or 2007 movies also called Slipstream, or with the Slipstream Genre.

This movie has the following tropes:

  • Accidental Misnaming: The android recites some poetry, then states who wrote it: Byron. Owens thinks he's introducing himself, so refers to the android as Byron from then on. No-one ever bothers to correct him, so it's also a case of No Name Given. Whether this is because the android never had a name, or prefers not to use the name his master gave him, is not revealed.
  • Action Girl: Belitski
    Tasker: I saw that girl fight a rattlesnake once. She got in the first two bites.
  • After the End: This movie however does more than just crib off Mad Max in its Worldbuilding.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Did Byron kill his master in a Robot Rebellion, or was he just doing what he was told to do as always?
  • Armour-Piercing Question: Owens asks Belitski if Tasker ever loved her. A convenient interruption prevents her from having to answer.
  • As the Good Book Says...
    • Byron quotes from the New Testament book of Revelation as they fly over a landscape altered by the Convergence. "And I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the first Heaven and the first Earth had passed away."
    • Tasker quotes, "He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind" from the Hebrew Bible. He's not referring to the Slipstream, but the consequences of pissing him off.
  • Badass Longcoat: Tasker and Belitski both wear longcoats in contrast to Byron's tuxedo and Owens' rocker-boy outfit.
  • Battle Couple: Implied in the relationship between Tasker and Belitski.
  • Beard of Evil: Tasker has a moustache and beard, which has the added advantage of altering Mark Hamill's young Skywalker look.
  • Become a Real Boy: Byron develops emotions after sleeping with Ariel and is more excited over the fact that he fell asleep than that he slept with Ariel.
    Tasker: The rest of us only pretend to be perfect, and have to settle for being human. He tries to be human, and has to settle for being perfect.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Owens and Belitski.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Byron placidly goes along with being captured until Tasker shoots Ariel. Already implied in his Back Story when he killed the "defenseless old man" who was his former master.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Played realistically; Tasker fires at Owens and the shotgun Owens is holding just happens to get in the way of the bullet.
  • Bounty Hunter: Tasker and Belitski are both part of a law-enforcement group in the Settlement, but considering we never see the Settlement in practice they look more like this.
  • Brick Joke: With them both crammed into his ultralight, Owens comments that Bryon looks smart enough not to attack the pilot in mid-flight. As Tasker discovers, he is that crazy if you piss him off enough.
  • Bros Before Hoes: Owens gives Byron his freedom, but isn't happy when he decides to stay with Ariel in the Museum instead of leaving with him to help set up an airship factory.
  • Buzzing the Deck: Owens shows off the Scenery Porn and his Ace Pilot skills by flying low and dodging through canyons even when no-one's chasing him. At one stage he does a loop through a waterfall, and is disappointed that Byron doesn't call for someone to Bring Me My Brown Pants.
  • The Cameo: Ben Kingsley plays Avatar, the leader of the Wind Worshippers, while F. Murray Abraham is Cornelius, the head curator of the Museum. There's also Robbie Coltrane in one of his earlier roles as the smuggler ambushed by Tasker.
  • Cool Airship: Owens dreams of founding an airship company, and the movie ends on a montage of colourful and strangely-shaped balloons, implying that he got his wish.
  • Cool Guns: Tasker uses a long-barrelled Desert Eagle, and Belitski a SPAS-12 shotgun. Owens has a Webley revolver when snatching Byron. In the final conflict Tasker shoots Byron with a semi-automatic sniper rifle of Kalashnikov type (a Valmet?)
  • Cool Plane: Tasker flies an Edgley EA-7 Optica light observation aircraft. Owens uses a CFM Shadow ultralight. Various other ultralights and balloons are seen, as due to the Slipstream aircraft have become the main choice of transport.
  • Cult: Avatar leads a cult that worships the wind and regards the Slipstream as Gaia's Vengeance for humanity's abuse of the environment.
  • Culture Chop Suey: Handwaved as cultures being thrown together by the earthquakes that tore apart continents. Never mind how that kind of upheaval would kill everyone on Earth.
  • Cut the Safety Rope: With Tasker waiting below to kill him, Owens decides to cut the kite line and take their chances. He stops when Belitski follows him up the line, but cuts it once she gets a good grip on the kite. Tasker tries to snag the kite with his Grappling-Hook Gun but this just drags the wreckage on top of him.
  • Defector from Decadence: Ariel was born in the Gilded Cage of an Underground City whose inhabitants have lost themselves in luxurious hedonism; afraid of the outside world, preserving art and literature that celebrates heroic deeds and ideals that have nothing to do with anything they're actually doing. She left the Museum and joined the Wind Worshippers, but after their leader dies Ariel lures Byron to the Museum, believing that his skills and technology can revitalize their community. Aghast as he is by her act, Cornelius himself agrees that his help is badly needed and they must start confronting the world head-on.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Belitski is really not impressed when Owens tries chatting her up, and puts him down rather painfully. She gradually warms up to him however.
  • The Determinator
    • Tasker spends months pursing Byron down the Slipstream where there is no organised law enforcement, and continues to enforce the law even when his own partner thinks it's pointless.
    • After Tasker kills Ariel, Byron goes in pursuit, shrugging off a rifle bullet to the chest and being pulled into the engine, to smash his way into the cockpit.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Byron responds to having his arm impaled by a Grappling-Hook Gun, or being tied to a kite in winds that would kill any normal man with mild fascination — a combination of his lack of emotions combined with a Constantly Curious nature.
  • Do Androids Dream?: Literally; Byron is overjoyed to have his first dream. And as he used to have long philosophical discussions with his master, he's already wired to ponder issues of whether he has a soul.
  • Dramatic Shattering: Ariel falls through a display cabinet after being shot.
  • Due to the Dead: After killing the smugglers, Tasker prays for the dead while Belitski builds a rock cairn over their bodies. He then insists on typing up an incident report despite Belitski protesting that it's meaningless.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Byron has only done what he's told all his existence. When he's set free, he starts to Freak Out over his new emotions and begs Owens to tell him what he's supposed to do now.
  • Exact Words:
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Owens brags to his friends that his Meal Ticket is right here—then discovers that Byron has walked off.
  • Fanservice: There's a love scene on a candle-lit four-poster bed between a shirtless Owens, and Amanda in a Black Bra and Panties.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Owens grows to like Byron and eventually decides not to turn him in for the bounty, even if it means forgoing his dream.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: Given the antiquities stashed within, the Underground City appears to have been built for this purpose. The trope is subverted because the curators have long since lost their sense of purpose; terrified of the savage world outside, they've become lost in ennui, preserving things simply because it's what they are familiar with rather than for the benefit of human civilisation.
  • Forceful Kiss: Owens to Belitski after he handcuffs her to a bed. She hits him during the act, then warms up to it.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: The Opening Narration and the cultists both believe that the titular Slipstream is this.
  • Greasy Spoon: The tent on the airfield where Owens meets Tasker and Belitski, with obligatory flirty waitress and cook serving food of dubious origin.
    Waitress: This isn't rabbit; this is squirrel!
    Chef: (chops off squirrel's head) Now, it's rabbit.
  • Goggles Do Nothing: Averted; during the storm flying goggles are used to keep the dust out of their eyes. Belitski also has Night-Vision Goggles.
  • Green Aesop: Humanity damaging the ecology caused the Slipstream. Perhaps the earthquakes were a contributing factor to the apocalypse rather than Gaia's Vengeance, but that's not made clear.
  • Hand Cannon: Tasker's weapon is a long-barrel Desert Eagle.
  • Her Boyfriend's Jacket: Amanda puts on Owen's jacket, finds a pistol in the pocket and goes to mock-shoot him before he snatches it off her.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Tasker is firmly convinced that his efforts to enforce law & order prevent the scum of the Earth from taking it over, but in the climax we see him beating, threatening and killing the civilised inhabitants of the Museum, despite them having their own laws and governing council.
  • Hostile Weather: The cultists tie Byron to a kite in the windstorm to let the Slipstream judge him. Owens, Tasker and Belitski nearly get killed trying to rescue him.
  • I Can't Dance: Averted; Byron can really cut a rug, and is happy to show Owens how to do a Dance of Romance.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Byron is described as a fugitive looking for a friend in the Opening Narration.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Owens snogs Amanda while dancing with her. Byron gives him a Disapproving Look, then kisses Ariel's hand. And then bends her over for a Big Damn Kiss.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Owens scoffs at the idea that he's been poisoned, then starts coughing, which he insists is just the dust from the storm.
  • Improvised Zipline: To rescue Byron from the kite, Owens clips himself to the kite line and opens his parachute, letting the high wind carry him up.
  • Interrogation by Vandalism: Tasker shoots a marble statue to force the curators to give up Byron.
  • I Shall Fight No More Forever: Belitski drops a hint to Tasker that they should retire from the endless bloodshed and open a ranch. He refuses to listen and she eventually signs up with Owens' dream of a balloon factory. So if not Babies Ever After, she at least gets Balloons Ever After.
  • Knight Templar: Will Tasker is enforcing the law in a country that no longer has a centralised government.
    "Every time a piece of human trash is put under a rockpile the world's a better place."
  • Leap and Fire: During the ambush of the smugglers, Belitski does a slide 'n' fire down a rock slope.
  • Ludd Was Right: The cult that worships the wind has rejected all technology, even when it could help them against marauders.
  • Made of Iron: Byron survives getting pulled off a cliff with his arm impaled, a shotgun blast and rifle bullet to the chest, and two plane crashes. Justified in that he's some kind of android.
  • Meaningful Echo:
  • Mercy Kill: Bryon seems to understand the concept; when he's told Tasker is dead or dying Byron just says, "Then perhaps I can make it easier for him." A later comment Byron makes (see Exact Words) implies that the murder he committed was an assisted suicide.
  • Messianic Archetype: Byron looks like a man but isn't, heals the sick, gets a Crucified Hero Shot when he's tied to the kite, and comes back from the dead (though only because he's very hard to kill). He's described as a false prophet (by Avatar), a savior (by Ariel), and God (by Tasker).
  • Money to Burn: After killing the smugglers, Belitski finds a bag of opium poppy that's worth a fortune (with the clear implication that they should sell it as a retirement package). Tasker orders her to throw it on the fire.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer made out Slipstream was an edge-of-your-seat action movie, instead of a Road Movie with airplanes. No wonder it flopped.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain
    • Tasker promises to kill Owens after he fetches Byron from the kite, so Owens has nothing to lose with a reckless escape gambit.
    • Wanting to avoid bloodshed, Byron is prepared to go quietly with Tasker until he kills Ariel.
  • No-One Could Have Survived That: After the storm Belitski stays to look for Tasker, insisting that he's tough enough to have survived. She's right.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • Byron insists they land to give medical aid to the cultists, who condemn him as a symbol of the technology that destroyed the old world and strap him to a kite to be judged by God. In fairness, Byron is entirely OK with this.
    • Byron moves to block Tasker from being shot by Owens, taking a shotgun blast to the chest. Moments later Tasker kills Ariel.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Owens is alarmed when he wakes up to find Byron's hands at his throat. Turns out Byron is checking his carotid pulse to see if he's got the symptoms of curare poisoning.
  • Oh, Crap!: Owens' reaction when the bounty hunter he's selling contraband to turns out to be a law enforcement officer from the Settlement.
  • Outside Ride: Ariel insists on coming with them, even though there's only room for two. They end up strapping Byron on top of the wing.
  • The Peeping Tom: Owens circles his ultralight around a cliffhouse where a scantily-clad woman is doing yoga in the firelight. On realising she's got an audience she indignantly pulls down a curtain.
  • Poison and Cure Gambit: Tasker shoots Owens with a dart, claiming that it holds a poison that will kill him unless he surrenders so Tasker can give him the antidote. Owens thinks he's bluffing and flees, then spends the next few days fretting that he might not have been. The dart also contains a Tracking Device, so Tasker and Belitski can follow him wherever he goes.
  • Priceless Ming Vase: An elderly curator is shown tearing pages from a manuscript for use as paper airplanes.
  • Quest to the West: At the end of the movie, Byron travels west to find the place he dreamed about where there are other robots like him.
  • Road Movie: Except using airplanes instead of cars.
  • Robosexual: Byron is inexperienced with love but clearly has no trouble with the physical act. News of this causes outrage and amusement among the curators, whereas Byron is more excited by the fact that he fell asleep afterwards.
  • Save the Villain:
    • Byron rescues Belitski from the windstorm then goes looking for Tasker, though he doesn't find him.
    • Byron goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, but Tasker quoting High Flight snaps him out of it and he tries to regain control of the damaged plane — it crashes anyway, killing Tasker but not Byron.
    Byron: In the end, he thought I could save him. I'm too dangerous to be human.
  • Self Stitching: A literal version! Byron takes an artificial hair from his head, stretches it to a long length and uses it for surgical thread (albeit on someone else).
  • Scenery Porn: To show the riven landscape from the tectonic upheaval, scenes were filmed among the Malham Rocks in the UK, and Cappadoccia in Turkey.
  • Schizo Tech: The unseen Settlement has the technology to make androids that can pass for human.
  • Short-Lived Aerial Escape: One that includes its own Hope Spot.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Byron quotes from Lord Byron's And Thou art Dead, as Young and Fair, as well as lines from High Flight, by John Gillespe Magee, Jr. His reciting the first line of Old King Cole surprises Ariel when they first meet.
    • Tasker is sardonically compared to The Lone Ranger.
    • When Byron says he fell asleep and had a dream, Owens asks if he counted electric sheep.
    • There's a Homage Shot to North By Northwest when Byron is buzzed by a pursuing aircraft in the opening scene.
  • Show Some Leg: On seeing her partner being held at gunpoint by Owens, Belitski starts to flirt with him. Owens isn't naïve enough to fall for it, but she holds his gaze long enough so that Tasker can fire a Poison Dart into his chest.
  • Sleep Cute: Tasker sleeps with his head on his partner's shoulder while she flies the plane.
  • Sleeps with Both Eyes Open: Bryon to Owens annoyance, as he naturally assumes that Byron (whom he doesn't know is an android) is planning to flee while he is asleep. After Byron sleeps with Ariel, he closes his eyes and goes to sleep for the first time.
  • Slipped the Ropes: Byron is in handcuffs which he later casually hands to Owen. The ease with which he later rips into the Optica's cabin also shows that Byron could have broken out of the Optica's prisoner cage at any time.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: Tasker when Owens is abducting Byron.
  • Suicidal Pacifism: The Wind Worshippers refuse to use technology to defend themselves, even when they're being raided by marauders with high-powered rifles.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: Byron can perform cataract surgery in the field, discuss art and philosophy, appreciate classical poetry and literature, dance like Fred Astaire and fix the air conditioning system for an underground city. He was built as a companion/carer for a Man of Wealth and Taste, and assimilated so much knowledge in the course of his duties he's good at anything he puts his mind to.
  • Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: Amanda is introduced sitting on a swing in the dining hall of the Museum.
  • Taking the Fight Outside: When Tasker shoots Ariel, even he realises he's gone too far.
    Tasker: I knew it would come to this. Let's do it.
    (He leaves. Byron gives a Death Glare and follows)
    Owens: Don't go. You'll lose!
  • Talk to the Fist:
    Cornelius: There's no need for any of this. If he's a murderer we will bring him here. But how do we know? (that he is a murderer)
    Tasker: This is all you need to know. (Pistol-Whipping)
  • Tempting Fate:
    • When Owens first flies off with Byron he brags that the bounty hunters will never catch them, when the audience already knows he's been shot with a Tracking Device.
    • Byron says, "Last night with Ariel I wanted to be able to die!" Enter Tasker, ready to oblige.
    • "No more killing, not over me!" Tasker then shoots Ariel.
    • As Byron wrestles to control the crashing plane by pulling on the control cables, Tasker shouts excitedly that they're going to make it. They promptly smash into the mountainside and explode.
  • Tracking Device: Turns out the dart Tasker shot Owens with also put a tracker into his bloodstream.
  • Turbine Blender: Subverted — realising Byron is Immune to Bullets, Tasker tries to take off instead. Byron throws himself at the Optica's windshield only to slide over the top of the cabin into the ducted fan engine. Instead of getting sliced and diced, he proceeds to rip out every wire he can reach, then tears his way into the cockpit to do the same to the controls.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Though whether Byron actually did so is ambiguous (see Exact Words).
    Ariel: Did you hate serving him?
    Byron: I don't understand.
    Ariel: Your master; did you hate him?
    Byron: You credit me with the ability to hate? He was my master.
    Ariel: Did you?
    Byron: You see... he was very wealthy, but a very lonely man. I was designed especially to be his companion, to look after him. I was all things to him: nurse, brother, father, son. At first his pupil I became his mentor, his alter ego. He thought of me as his friend but really, I was a slave to him.
  • Underground City: The Museum.
  • Voice Changeling: During some foreplay in a nature exhibit, Byron prowls through the jungle after Ariel and roars with a real lion roar.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Hell's Kitchen where Owens lives, the Cult Colony run by Avatar, and the denizens of The Museum, in order.
  • Weird Weather: The Slipstream is a permanent world-encircling wind, like the jetstream but at low level, affecting the environment and culture of an After the End future. Cults worship the wind, people live in houses dug into cliffs, and travelers use balloons and light aircraft.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Tasker gets knocked down by a taxiing aircraft, enabling Owens to escape with his prisoner. It's implied that he's going to do something fatal to the pilot before pursuing Owens, but we don't see what. According to Word of God there was a lot more violence in the original script which was cut and therefore never filmed.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Byron tells Ariel, "I'm not accustomed to being loved." When he does experience love, Byron starts to Freak Out because he's not sure what he's supposed to do with all these new emotions.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: When Belitski starts to flirt with Owens, Tasker just laughs and tells her to stop screwing around and shoot him (of course that also ensures that Owens attention is on her, so Tasker can dart him).
  • Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Byron's suit gets increasingly tattered with all he endures. He gets a nice white tux in the Museum, only to ruin it also when his plane crashes and explodes.
  • Windmill Scenery: As you'd expect, the communities who live beneath the slipstream make use of the free energy from the winds.
  • World Half Empty: Averted; while Tasker and the curators regard this post-apocalyptic world as a Crapsack World there are thriving communities evolving from the chaos, rather than a Mad Max-like descent into lawless anarchy.
  • You Can Never Leave: The curators tell Ariel that having brought outsiders into the museum, neither they nor she can ever leave. They have the decency to realise that imprisoning them is morally wrong in itself.
  • You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With
    Tasker: I don't think Mr Owens has any idea what he's up against.
    Belitski: Not even an inkling!
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me
    • Byron says that Owens won't shoot him even if he tried to escape. Owens denies it, but later admits to Tasker that he never could bring himself to kill anyone.
    • Owens gives this trope when Belitski turns up in the final act, and is outraged when she does. Turns out she just shot him with the antidote.