A U.S. passenger airliner in 1989 is about to be struck from above by another airliner on a landing approach. The pilot handles the airplane as well as he can while the flight engineer goes back to check on the passenger cabin. He comes back in the cockpit screaming, "They're dead! All of them! They're burned up!"
Bill Smith is a National Transportation Safety Board investigator hired to determine whether the collision and subsequent crash of both aircraft was due to some mechanical fault or human error on the part of either pilot. He and his team of investigators are confused by the flight engineer's words on the cockpit voice recorder, as there is no evidence of a 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 visiting the present day and stealing passengers from doomed aircraft. In the future, because of pollution, the human population is no longer able to reproduce, so teams are sent in to the past to abduct groups of people who are about to die and keep them in stasis until they will be sent into the far future to repopulate the Earth. While many people in the future are in poor health, some are healthy enough to successfully pass for 20th Century humans, and are given the best of food and care so that they can successfully infiltrate, using reproductions of contemporary clothing.
Every incursion into the past causes an accompanying "timequake" whose magnitude is proportional to the effects of the incursion. 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 affect the future any further and replacing them with copies of those who would have died. Thus, the flight engineer's strange comment came because all the passengers had been replaced with pre-burned duplicates in preparation for the impending crash.
While on a mission to 1963, a time travel operative on board a plane is shot before it crashes, losing a stun weapon as a result. This weapon winds up in the possession of Dr. Mayer, setting him on the path to working out what is happening. Twenty-five years later, Smith finds a similar artifact among the wreckage of the crash portrayed at the beginning of the film.
Worried that the 20th century discoveries made by Smith and Mayer might change history, Louise Baltimore travels back to 1989 to distract Bill Smith and discourage him from pursuing his investigation further. Louise gains Bill's trust and seduces him into a one-night stand, which she hopes will complete the distraction. It is later revealed that Louise becomes pregnant as a result of this encounter. As a consequence of further errors on the part of the time travel team and paradoxical events, Bill becomes even more suspicious. He soon pays a visit to Dr. Mayer. Louise materializes from the future and reveals her mission to both of them in the hope that they will voluntarily keep quiet. In a mishap with the stun weapon, Mayer inadvertently kills himself.
Mayer was instrumental in the development of the Gate technology that made time travel possible, so his death results in an unresolvable paradox – a force infinity timequake – which will destroy the entire civilization of the "present" future. The only course of action is to send all of the people who have been collected into the distant future before the Gate is permanently destroyed. Louise goes with Bill to the future.
Bill and Louise step through the Gate and disappear: they are transported to another time and place, saving their lives, and allowing them to fulfil a destiny to repopulate the Earth. As a cataclysmic explosion destroys the Gate and the blast wave engulfs him, Sherman the Robot quotes Winston Churchill: "This is not the end. This is not the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning."Kris Kristofferson as Bill Smith
Jamie Shannon as Young Bill Smith
Cheryl Ladd as Louise Baltimore
Daniel J. Travanti as Dr. Arnold Mayer
Robert Joy as Sherman the Robot
Lloyd Bochner as Walters
Brent Carver as Coventry
David McIlwraith as Tom Stanley
Maury Chaykin as Roger Keane
Al Waxman as Dr. Brindle
Lawrence Dane as Captain Vern Rockwell
Thomas Hauff as First Officer Ron Kennedy
Millennium took 10 years to reach the screen. One director initially attached was visual effects designer Douglas Trumbull; Paul Newman and Jane Fonda were proposed to play the leads. MGM was attached to make the film; they also had Trumbull's Brainstorm in production at the time. The death of Brainstorm's leading lady Natalie Wood led to MGM briefly pulling the plug on said film and thus halted production on Millennium due to Trumbull's involvement. The role of director then passed to Richard Rush, Alvin Rakoff, and Phillip Borsos, before Michael Anderson, best known for 1956's Oscar-winning Around the World in 80 Days, stepped in. 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.
As of July 2014, the film holds a 13% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
The original North American theatrical and VHS release of the film features a close-up of Sherman as the gate explodes, followed by a shot of the sun rising over clouds.
The International theatrical release features a much wider shot of the gate's explosion, followed by a wormhole/time portal effect. The scene then dissolves into an underwater shot of the two main characters swimming from above, followed by a view of the characters in a nude, Eden-esque embrace.
The 1999 North American DVD release contains the International version of the ending. The simpler North American version can also be found on the DVD as a bonus feature on the last page of the Production Notes, as well as is the one featured on Netflix.