I love little-known science fiction movies, often made outside the Hollywood system.

Think PRIMER.

Think DONNIE DARKO.

Think IDAHO TRANSFER.

It deserves a Criterion edition, but it exists on cheaply-made DVDs with covers that look like they were slapped together in the era of flying toasters.

Damn, that’s hideous.

Made in the early seventies by Peter Fonda, who was still riding high from his massive success with EASY RIDER, IDAHO TRANSFER is very much a New Wave science fiction movies. No ray guns, no action scenes, not even a dystopian society. It’s about Karen Braden, played by Kelley Bohanon, who didn’t have a career in film after this, even though she should have. Karen is a sympathetic lead, taken out of a mental health facility and brought to a scientific installation in Idaho. What began as a matter teleportation project morphed into a time travel project. It turns out that adults (over 21 or so) can go into the future, but the process soon kills them by destroying their kidneys. Younger folks seem able to survive the trip in better health.

The travelers are sent 56 years into the future because there has been an ecological disaster, and the young people will help in recreating society. But the trips cause terrible side effects in everyone, not just the post-21 set.

This part of the movie reminded me of Wilson Tucker’s underrated science fiction novel THE YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN. Like the novel, IDAHO has a sixties/hippie/peacenik sensibility, and a sense of inevitability about catastrophe brought on by human stupidity–race war in SUN, ecological collapse in IDAHO.

Even worse.

I won’t go into the last third much, except to say it reminded me of the last third of SUNSHINE, a terrific space movie that veers off into something else in the last section. It’s a smoother transition in IDAHO, because we have seen that the time travel process can be traumatic.

The acting is acceptable. Keith Carradine would go on to a long career but he’s unmemorable here. That’s fine. This was the seventies, the Hollywood version of the sixties until the Blockbusters took over. Carradine is good enough; the idea is the thing. Watching a group of young people wander a desolate landscape, the innocent tools of corrupt adults who don’t really know what they’re doing playing with time, you get the sense that director Fonda wants us to see young adults as innocents who cannot help but be corrupted by their smarter, more sophisticated elders. It’s just going to happen; that’s life.

There are a few seventies science fiction movies that were released between 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and STAR WARS that are still remembered because of their dated charms: SOYLENT GREEN, OMEGA MAN, LOGAN’S RUN and a few others are still enjoyed by folks who saw them late at night or on Saturday afternoon TV. IDAHO doesn’t belong with those movies for a simple reason: It’s not much fun. This is a sour movie about how people screw up the environment and when they try to fix things, they screw that up, too. It’s not an action movie, or a detective-sci fi like SOYLENT GREEN. It’s a straight science fiction story, the movie equivalent of one of those quirky stories in those quirky anthologies like QUARK or ORBIT.

I haven’t mentioned the characters because there are only specters here. For an actor who directs, Fonda doesn’t know how to create people we know and want to follow. I had to check to remember the names of these people (I’m not mentioning them here because you won’t remember them, either).

But as is the case in the short fiction of Bradbury, Ballard and Zelazny, it doesn’t much matter. We were brought here by Fonda to see a serious-minded story about trying to reclaim a ruined earth, and how that doesn’t work out as planned.

Our yukky future.

IDAHO TRANSFER may not be for everyone, but I wish more people knew about it. It doesn’t deal with Hollywood flash, no explosions, though there is a good deal of tension in the second half. The ending is screwy. The first time I watched it I said, “WHAT?” out loud. But serious-minded science fiction is important to see, and I’m a seventies movie junkie. So I hope this gets a proper Blu-ray release someday, because you should see it.