Posted on Monday, August 23rd, 2021 by Ariel Fisher
(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Blast From the Past
Where You Can Stream It: Hulu
The Pitch: After a plane crashes into their house immediately following a dinner party in 1962 Los Angeles, eccentric scientist and inventor Dr. Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken) and his very pregnant wife, Helen (Sissy Spacek), lock themselves in their fallout shelter for 35 years. You see, Calvin had been building this bomb shelter himself for some time because of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and had set up a system whereby, once the locks were engaged, they wouldn’t open for exactly that long. You know, to wait out the nuclear fall-out. Needless to say, the very pregnant Helen goes into labor and has their son, Adam, who grows up in the shelter (to become Brendan Fraser), oblivious to anything beyond his parents’ idea of what life was like at the time. When the 35 years are up, Adam must go to the surface in order to replenish their dwindling supplies and navigate Los Angeles in 1999 while also looking for a wife. Hilarity and copious amounts of charm ensue.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Blast From the Past is what would happen if a time capsule were given sentience. The opening credits make it clear that this is during the immense panic of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. When we’re first introduced to Helen and Calvin Webber at their very well-attended dinner party, we learn right off the hop that the Webbers are … a little different.
This isn’t the ‘60s from Mad Men. Sure, there’s cynicism, nihilism, and a palpable awareness of the stringent societal confines of the time. And yet, that’s not the focus of the film. Quite to the contrary, it’s as if Bill Kelly’s (Enchanted) story and Hugh Wilson’s (The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Police Academy, and Dudley Do-Right) script and direction intended to ask the question “why can’t we all just be a little nicer?” It rests on a very unrealistic premise — that people are so innately good or oblivious that they wouldn’t completely fall apart while stuck in a fallout shelter for 35 years, and that it could rain twice a month in LA — but it’s executed with such glee and self-awareness that it’s a complete and utter joy to watch.
Released roughly three months before The Mummy in 1999, Blast From the Past is, in my opinion, one of Brendan Fraser’s finest movies. No, seriously. If like me (and everyone else), you love Fraser’s uncanny ability to be equal parts charismatic, sweet, hilarious, and devilishly sexy at all times, this is the movie for you. Fans of The Mummy will welcome this chameleonic shift from the rogueish Rick O’Connell to the naive and incredibly kind Adam Webber. Raised by his two very traditional and distinctly kooky parents, Adam was taught to be viciously smart, impossibly kind and considerate, and remarkably talented. We watch him grow up, free from the corrupt influence of the outside world, as a malt shop is built right above them and succumbs to the ravages of time, capitalism, and, well, society.
When he finally enters the world out of necessity, he’s woefully ill-prepared to deal with anything but is so full of earnest and gleeful purpose that he manages to make it work. He’s this beacon of confidence and kindness who just always tries to do what’s right. He also falls madly in love with Eve Rustikoff (Alicia Silverstone) who has not had the luxury of growing up safely tucked away from the ills of the world — shitty parents, bad boyfriends, lousy job prospects and all — and is, unfortunately (though, rightfully) wary of his behavior.
Let’s be honest, that level of kindness and zeal like he hopped out of a Perry Como record makes him look like a psychopath. You’d run, too, if you didn’t have the film’s earlier preamble.
Nothing about this movie is realistic. It really exists as more of a bizarre commentary on how insane the world is now and how our collective nostalgia for the past is founded in a delusional fantasy. But it begs the question “what if we were all a little bit more considerate and a bit nicer to each other?”
It starts off as a weird backward version of The Shining, with Walken monitoring the various ins and outs of their fallout shelter (not a bomb shelter, there’s a difference), making sure everything is up and running while doing his best to take care of his wife and his son. Where all work and no play made Jack a homicidal maniac, in this case, it made Calvin a man with a purpose. Spacek’s Helen, on the other hand, is far less content with their confines, and nowhere near as fulfilled as Calvin. Their entire experience in the fall out shelter — 35 years followed by the threat of more time to stay safely hidden from the “mutants” up above — feels distressingly familiar as we continue to deal with lockdown after lockdown after lockdown, in what’s starting to feel like a Covid-induced Sisyphean nightmare. Some of us may see ourselves in Calvin, taking this as an opportunity to fix up our homes, get more work done, focus a little harder on the tasks you’d otherwise neglect. Others may relate to Adam, eager to see what else is going on, but also keenly aware of the need to stay safe and inside. Then there’s Helen, who I think reflects most of us; wanting to be safe and doing everything right, but steadily losing our shit because it feels like it’s been an eternity without any human contact beyond the confines of our home and, dammit, we miss our friends, want to go out, and are pissed off that for some inexplicable reason WE’RE STILL F**KING HERE!
But I digress.
It’s no surprise that Fraser has charisma to spare and exceptional comedic timing, particularly when paired ever so briefly with Nathan Fillion. His endless joy at seeing the world is downright infectious. Considering the only people he’s ever seen in his entire life are his two white parents, when he first encounters a Black woman walking down the street, your heart stops for a moment. You have no clue how he’s going to react, or what he’s going to say, but I think it’s fair to assume we’d all anticipate something hateful. But he’s just so in awe of her, and so honored to meet her, even she’s dumbfounded. His pitch-perfect line delivery in every scene is just outstanding, and the physicality of his performance is likewise. He’s a complete joy to watch, and he makes you wish for a sequel. Ideally one with more dancing. You’ll see.
Spacek’s comedic chops are on full display here, as are Walken’s. The two get to play these absurd caricatures of sheltered, traditional folks with very little understanding of the world but an immense pull towards kindness and hospitality. The stuff that Spacek earnestly does are the kinds of things both my Bubbie and my Abuelita would have said and done, like rushing to the kitchen sink to start scrubbing it because of hearing something distressing, or lamenting how hard it is to get baked cheese off of a casserole dish while you’re literally going into a fallout shelter! Ok, that one may be a bit specific, but still. Considering my Abuelita used to tell me not to walk on the kitchen floor without socks lest I get a cold, and that my Bubbie would practically run to the kitchen sink to start scrubbing if we talked about anything she didn’t like at the dinner table, I’d say it applies!
While, for me, the most inexplicable parts of the movie are that it rains twice in LA in the span of roughly a month, and Silverstone looks like her style icon was a young Shirley Temple (seriously, this was 4 years after Clueless in which she had the perfect hair, what gives?!), it exists in such a place of joy that I don’t care.
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