Millennium is a 1989 film directed by Michael Anderson and starring Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd, Robert Joy, Brent Carver, Al Waxman and Daniel J. Travanti. The film was marketed with the tagline “The people aboard Flight 35 are about to land 1,000 years from where they planned to.”
Millennium is based on the 1977 short story “Air Raid” by John Varley. Varley started work on a screenplay based on that short story in 1979, and later released the expanded story in book-length form in 1983, titled Millennium. After four different directors, a film was finally released in 1989.
Bill Smith (Kristofferson) is a National Transportation Safety Board investigator hired to determine whether human error is the cause of a collision of two jumbo jets, both of which crashed. He and his team of investigators are confused by the words on the cockpit voice recorder because there had been no fire on board before the plane hit the ground. At the same time, a theoretical physicist named Dr. Arnold Mayer has a professional curiosity about the crash, which borders on science fiction. While giving a lecture, he talks about the time travel and the possibility of visitors from the future.
Time travelers are, in fact, visiting the present day and stealing passengers from doomed aircraft. Every incursion in to the past causes an accompanying “timequake” whose magnitude is proportional to the effects of the incursion in to the past. Each “timequake” causes physical damage in the time from which the incursion has been made. This is why they are abducting people who will not be able to impact the future any further and replacing them with copies of those who would have died. Thus, the copilot’s strange comment came because all the passengers had been replaced with pre-burned duplicates in preparation for the upcoming crash.
While on one of the missions, an operative is shot and loses a stun weapon on board a plane before it crashes. This weapon winds up in the possession of Dr. Arnold Mayer, setting him on the path to working out what’s happening. Twenty-five years later, Smith finds a similar artifact in the crash portrayed at the beginning of the movie.
Worried that these two individuals of the 20th century might change history by their discoveries, Louise Baltimore (Ladd) travels back to 1989 in order to distract Bill Smith and discourage him from pursuing his investigation further. Louise manages to gain Bill’s trust, as well as seduce him into a one-night stand, which she hopes will complete the distraction. However, because of still more errors on the part of the time travel team, as well as paradoxical events, Bill becomes even more suspicious. He soon pays a visit to Dr. Mayer. At that point Louise materializes from the future and reveals her mission to both of them. In a mishap with the stun weapon, Mayer kills himself thereby causing a major change to the timeline. Louise decides to take Bill with her to the future.
Between Louise’s recent visit and exposition in the future, we find that because of pollution, the human population of the future is no longer able to reproduce, except for Louise who's pregnant with Bill's baby; though that fact isn't revealed until the very end of the film. This is why they have been abducting people from the past and keeping them in stasis until a future time when they will be sent in to the far future. It is hoped that in this far future, the Earth will have recovered enough that humans can repopulate the planet. The recent incursion results in a force infinity timequake which will destroy the entire civilization of the “present” future — and the Gate (the time machine). It is decided that it is time to send all of the people who have been collected to the distant future before the Gate is destroyed.
Bill and Louise step through and disappear into the Gate, which takes them to another time and another place, in order to save their lives, and to fulfill a destiny much like that of Adam and Eve.
We had the first meeting on Millennium in 1979. I ended up writing it six times. There were four different directors, and each time a new director came in I went over the whole thing with him and rewrote it. Each new director had his own ideas, and sometimes you’d gain something from that, but each time something’s always lost in the process, so that by the time it went in front of the cameras, a lot of the vision was lost.
Millennium’s production designer, Gene Rudolf, had to produce a future setting that implied putrefaction and atrophy.
The largest set was the time-travel center for Louise Baltimore’s operation. Rudolf created rusted catwalks that traversed a large open space. Buildings crumbled and exposed their infrastructures. The walls were painted dull green, black, and coppery. Rudolf wanted the future to look dirty, sick, and poisoned.
Several scenes are set in the vault for the decrepit council members overseeing the time travel operation. Rudolf designed their chamber as a semicircle of seven transparent, upright cylinders—each serving as a life-support device. Four of the cylinders held actors. The others were filled with bodily organ props and medical equipment that served as the last still living remnants of these members.
To create the time-travel effects of the Gate itself, cinematographer René Ohashi produced the ghostly shimmering lights by spinning metal wheels covered in Mylar.
Since actual aircraft could not be sent through the set, miniature models and a full-size mock-up of the tail-section of a Boeing 707 were used. Optical effects were used to make the planes look as if they were entering the set.
The penultimate scene took place in a contemporary American home. Rudolf’s set was dominated by large horizontal windows. The room was filled with clocks, hourglasses and navigational equipment, in line with Dr. Arnold Mayer’s fascination with time travel.
The scenes shot in the airport terminal buildings were actually shot at Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport, in the former Terminals 1 & 2. For the outdoor shot where Baltimore (Ladd) steals the car, two-way traffic was run in front of the Terminal 2 arrivals level where it is ordinarily a one-way road.