Looker (1981)

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Looker (1981)

Post  BoG on Wed Jun 03, 2015 11:05 pm

What's Happening: Girls made "perfect" from plastic surgery are mysteriously killed one by one
Famous For: Crichton wrote Andromeda Strain, Westworld, and Jurassic Park
For what it's worth, Crichton also attended my high school in Roslyn, NY, graduating 26 years before I did. In 1986, as a senior who aspired to be a writer, I sought out Crichton's early work in the school's literary magazine. It was pretty good. Now to the film. Crichton deserves praise for realizing not only that plastic surgery, computers, and advertising would assume great power in the near future - but that all three would be used together, augmenting each other's influence in American society. As Crichton explains in his brief 2006 introduction to the film, he foresaw that a "culture of perfection" (image consciousness, dieting, working out, plastic surgery) was intersecting with "computer culture" and that advertising would take advantage of both. The film traces these intersections and implies, correctly if unsurprisingly, that we ought to beware of them. Albert Finney (Wolfen) plays our hero, a celebrated plastic surgeon reluctant to perform useless operations and hoping instead to found a ward for burn victims. When the doctor's patients die one by one, he finds himself drawn into a political conspiracy whose masterminds employ digital hypnotism and a strange "flash gun" that zaps people senseless.
The digital transference scene is gorgeous, and the two flash gun battles very exciting. The rest of the film, alas, lacks cohesion. John Stanley calls it confusing. VideoHound says this: "Though [its] subject matter was ahead of its time, a half-baked plot by the normally reliable Michael Crichton ultimately makes no sense." More on this after warning of MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Crichton's correct predictions come to us alongside incorrect ones. He did not foresee that media would fragment - that we would have hundreds of channels, and that Americans would actually watch less TV as they played more video games and surfed the internet. He also didn't foresee that people would find myriad ways to avoid commercials, either ignoring them, fast-forwarding them, or switching back and forth between five programs at once. The commercials in the film are supposed to be funny and satirical, but the jokes fall flat (Crichton's work is never very funny) and the satire is obvious (e.g. Spurt). Storywise, it's never made clear what the bad guys want or why they need to kill the girls. There's little sense of menace. And the music is dated and annoying. If someone less than Albert Finney had played the lead, the film might have been a disaster.

But Finney is good, and the three standout scenes mentioned above are so successful, that Looker is worth the time for interested fans. It bears some comparison to The Stepford Wives, Videodrome (1983), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Western star James Coburn plays the media mogul bad guy. Leigh Taylor-Young (Soylent Green) plays the bad guy's manipulative wife. An electronic janitor will remind you of R2D2.

Goldweber, David Elroy (2012-06-14). Claws & Saucers: Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Film: A Complete Guide: 1902-1982 (Kindle Locations 44898-44944). David E. Goldweber. Kindle Edition.
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