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.
The movie begins in the cockpit of a U.S. passenger airliner, shortly before they are impacted from above by another airliner on a landing approach. The pilot handles the airplane as well as he can while the copilot goes back to check on the passenger cabin. He comes back in the cockpit screaming, “They’re all dead and burned!”
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 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 to repopulate Earth. A simple, but poignant, message is recited by Sherman the Robot in the closing seconds of the film. As the blast wave of the gate being destroyed vaporizes Sherman he states, “This is not the end.” The next scene shows the sun rising above the clouds, to which Sherman utters, “This is not the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning.” The message implies the philosophical underpinnings of the story in that life is cyclical and starts anew with the death of the old, the true balance of universal existence.