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Sliders (1996)

[Sliders] Sliders
Universal Studios, 1996
Rated: 12 in the UK
Running Time: 1019 minutes
Directors: Felix Alacalá, Mario Azzopardi, Paris Barclay, Timothy Bond, Colin Bucksey, Richard Compton, Oscar L. Costo, Allan Eastman, Vern Gillum, Michael Keusch, Les Landau, John McPherson, Adam Nimoy, Andy Tennant
Producers: Steven Ecclesine, Les Kimber, Jon Povill
Amazon.com: NTSC DVD
Amazon.ca: NTSC DVD
Amazon.co.uk: PAL DVD
Recommended by: Greg Slade

Originally, I got interested in Sliders because it's shot in my hometown. In fact, a number of episodes were shot near the building where I was working at the time, and they liked to use some vacant space we had for extras holding. More than once, I was assigned to guard extras holding, and got to chat with the extras, who would fill me in on what that week's episode was about. (I also got to eat off the craft service truck, which serves really amazing food.) So questions of whether the show is actually any good tend to take a back seat. (Who cares? They fed me!)

Quinn Mallory is a physics prodigy who, while experimenting with time travel (among other things, he's fascinated with dinosaurs), accidentally discovers a way to travel, not backwards and forwards, but sideways between alternative histories. Thus, he can travel to a world where the U.S. lost the Cold War, and is governed by communists, or to a world where almost all men (but not women) have been killed by a biological weapon, or to a world where the mandatory retirement age is 30. Unfortunately, when he goes to show what he has discovered to one of his professors and one of his friends, a combination of events plunge the three of them (plus an innocent bystander) into a never-ending series of "slides" between worlds. All they have is a timer to tell them when the next wormhole will open, but there's no way to tell where the next slide will take them, or if they will ever get back to their own world.

Some of the alternative worlds presented are obviously played for laughs (like the world where 84% of the population have gone to law school, and you can't order fries without a note from your doctor), while others are clearly intended as warnings against following particular societal trends. Most, however, are a mixture of serious warnings and comedy. Unfortunately, the producers couldn't seem to see the potential in a series concept like this, and tended towards stories which might be visually flashy, but don't really have much to say. (As, for example, a world entirely consumed by warfare. If the whole world is one raging battle zone, then where is the ammunition manufactured?)

Besides alternative histories, one of the other recurring themes in the series is a conflict between the characters of Rembrandt and Wade, who are prepared to accept supernatural explanations for events, and Quinn and Professor Arturo, who always look for scientific explanations. Unfortunately, neither Rembrandt nor Wade have any consistent theological stance. While they may turn to a church for help (he in "The Last Days" and she in "Gillian of the Spirits"), they're just as likely (in fact, more likely) to talk about psychic powers or astrology than about God. In that sense, they're very much part of late twentieth century California culture: open to anything supernatural, but not committed to anything, even self-consistency.

Still, even if the theology is pretty nebulous, I have enjoyed seeing these shows. The CGI effects are usually pretty poor (except for the wormhole itself), but the premise is interesting, the acting is always competent and occasionally brilliant, and it's always fun to play "spot the Vancouver landmark", especially in a show which is set in San Francisco. (May, 2007)

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