Idaho Transfer (1973) — Relocating to the future apocalypse

“Just have a beautiful time like all the other junk litter in the universe, then say goodbye.”

Justin’s rating: Yet nary a potato to be seen

Justin’s review: While we are certainly well-acquainted with the boom of time travel flicks from the ’80s, I can’t recall too many from the decade previous. So it is with no small amount of interest that I took a trip with the oddly named Idaho Transfer, which was directed by actor Peter Fonda.

The “transfer” in question is the time travel technology that allows people to jump ahead 56 years to see the future. And since the process causes organ damage to anyone over 20, they send older teens. But instead of reality TV and iPads, the youths discover a desolate wasteland that’s barely starting to recover from some sort of unknown, widespread disaster.

It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of standards for being part of this team, as one girl brings her sister — fresh out of a mental care facility — into the future with a bare minimum of explanation. So instead of “Let’s go to the 7-11,” it’s “Let’s go to the far-flung year of 2026!” Then she dies, which is a bummer, but it’s not going to stop the rest of the young hippies from openly musing about staying in the future to enjoy the quiet and perhaps start repopulating the world.

The kids try to collect data to help the world avert or steel it for the unspecified apocalypse to come, but the government figures that the project’s not doing that much and shuts it down — stranding a bunch of the youngsters in this terrible future. But they don’t mind, it’s a chance to start over! It’s a great adventure! No parents around to tell them to go to bed, no taxes to pay, and nobody who owns the land! Yet too late, they find that all of the positive vibes in the world and environmental fawning isn’t going to do much in a survival situation.

I guess we can see this as reality smacking the back of the heads of pie-in-the-sky eco-idealists of the ’70s who figured if you just believed enough, anything was possible. Even large-scale terraforming with hormonal teenagers.

Idaho Transfer is an incredibly odd experience. More of an “experience” than a “film,” to be honest. For starters, it’s incredibly minimalistic, taking advantage of some alien-looking western parks to give our heroes strange places to visit while prattling on about their love of nature. Almost all of the actors are very inexperienced (although not terrible), coming across as everyday ’70s teens who just so happen to be helping out with an advanced science project.

I felt kind of hypnotized watching this. There’s a plot and characters and events, but the trippy soundtrack and National Geographic love of the outdoors makes it feel like… like a tourism video of the post-apocalypse. An abandoned car or stopped train here arrests the attention so much more than a lot of modern CGI explosions. The film grows increasingly eerie and disheartening as it goes along, with a Twilight Zone-like twist lurking right before the end credits.

What frustrated me about Idaho Transfer is that its editing doesn’t always do the best job communicating the story and even time frame. A lot of this complicated plot should have been communicated clearly, but instead it’s doled out in fragmented pieces, with some important details mumbled in scenes where the soundtrack is blasting some sort of folk tune. There are so many questions that this film raises — why there isn’t oversight or a safety team at the project, why the group of teens split up, why they can’t wear sweatpants in the transfer machine, why all of the future people are brain-damaged — that isn’t answered outside of the imagination of the viewer.

We may still laud the barebones Primer as a great way to do smart time travel on a budget, but I think that Idaho Transfer should get some props for the same. Its wonky time travel effects — which looks like a series of profile pictures rapidly flashing by — and one-way trip to a future that isn’t as nice as the end of the world should be makes for quite the memorable watch. It’s pretty neat. Y’all should see it.


  • If your job involves catching wild rattlesnakes, you need a new job
  • Those are seriously thick glasses
  • Karen gets her braces out because the transfer fuses metal to skin
  • Such a weirdly casual conversation about rape
  • All hippie hitchhikers should be picked up
  • Time travel involves taking your pants off and a weird twitchy special effect
  • The dead girl is really disturbing
  • Leave no toilet paper behind!
  • Yeah, let’s split up in the future. That way we can die faster.
  • I’m really digging this soundtrack. Very calming.
  • The teddy bear in the car
  • Trains full of people in bags can’t be a good omen
  • Transferring makes you sterile
  • Well that’s it for Arthur
  • Did she just trap herself in a bunker with a corpse?
  • The great shot when Karen returns to the past

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