Plot: What’s it about?
I was extremely excited to hear that Warner Archive was adding more Eighties science fiction to their catalog. The last release they did similar to this was the excellent little sci-fi film The Hidden. That is still one of my favorite releases that they have put out. When I saw that they were releasing a Michael Crichton science fiction film from 1981 starring Albert Finney, I got even more excited. Michael Crichton has a profound impact on me as a child. When I was eight years old, the first adult novel I read was Jurassic Park. It took me a long time, but I read the whole thing. That book set me up properly to love science fiction for the rest of my life. I had never heard of Looker before, but it definitely seemed right up my alley.
The plot revolves around plastic surgeon Dr. Roberts (Albert Finney.) As the film begins another patient has asked him to perform incredibly precise surgeries according to a list that she brings in. Dr. Roberts has performed plastic surgery on four girls that bring in exact lists that will make them “perfect.” In the next scene, that model falls to her death after a bright flash potentially caused by a man with a moustache wearing gigantic glasses. The man leaves behind the doctor’s pen and a button from his coat. A police officer named Lieutenant Masters (Dorian Hazelwood) visits the doctor. He lets the doctor know that three of the girls have died under incredibly mysterious circumstances. The Doctor becomes curious about their link to a company called Digital Matrix that supplies the lists. When he asks one of his remaining patients she proclaims, “You don’t know what’s going on. This is more than commercials!” When he realizes the danger she is in he tries to get to her apartment in time. The doctor sees a flash come from the apartment and when she falls to her death in front of the doctor, he sees the man with glasses. At a cocktail party, Dr. Roberts takes a patient model named Cindy (Susan Dey) and meets the head of digital matrix, Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor-Young) and her billionaire boss John Reston (James Coburn.) Roberts decides to watch Cindy closely to keep her safe. Cindy performs a commercial according to the specs the computer supplies. The digital matrix people are forced to use some animation to fix the commercial when Cindy is unable to perform some of the exact moves needed. The girls were being altered to perfection according to a computer model used to sell products. There is more to the story, but I don’t want to spoil the rest.
This movie was right up my alley. Like The Hidden, this film does not hold up under great scrutiny. Science fiction is a hard genre because it is upended by time. The thoughts that seemed so forward thinking are marred by the technology present in the film. Only a few films have been able to maintain their futuristic ideals without losing their luster – Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Minority Report come to mind. That said, Crichton was way more forward thinking than your average science fiction writer. He could see the trends coming a mile away and could see where we were heading. Crichton in my opinion doesn’t receive the credit he deserved as a futurist simply because he was wildly popular while he was alive. Eventually there will be a re-evaluation of his work and people will be amazed at how good he was at predicting future technological developments. In this film, he gets a few things right and a few things wrong. Predicting that as a culture we would become obsessed with our entertainment to the detriment of regular relationships (in this film a television entertainment) was pretty prescient. Predicting that plastic surgery would become socially acceptable and incredibly normal was spot on. Predicting that there would be a gun that could hypnotize people was a little bit off course.
I really enjoyed watching Albert Finney in the lead role. I have lived Finney as an actor since I watched him in the classic Miller’s Crossing when I was a teenager. Finney can elevate any material and proves himself perfectly capable in this role. Susan Dey is quite pretty in the film and carries her role well. James Coburn is not given much to do in the film which is unfortunate, but I enjoy him in pretty much every role he took on.
As far as the storyline goes, it is pretty good for the first two thirds of a little cheesy and pretty over the top for the last third. The most lacking part of the film is how the villain of the film handles themself. When you watch the film, their puzzlingly stupid decisions hamper the film’s storyline slightly. None of this detracted enough from the film to keep me from having a great time.
This is a 1981 PG-rated film so be ready for a lot more nudity than most R-rated films have now. This film is very Eighties with big moustaches, big sunglasses, practical effects, and a great synth score (that is occasionally interrupted with some disruptive pop music.) It is also worth mentioning that Crichton worked with cinematographer Paul Lohman to make a film that is visually pretty dynamic and appealing.
Overall, I loved this release while acknowledging its apparent flaws. It’s cheesy and outdated but it is also fun and had big forward thinking ideas. Critically maligned and a box office failure, I am glad that I have this one in high-definition.
Video: How’s it look?
Warner Archive have provided a brand new 1080p HD transfer that was remastered specifically for this release in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The video presentation has a good filmic look. The film is a little bit grainier than the usual WB Archive presentation but that could just be a product of how the film was shot. One of the best-looking shits in the film is when they scan Cindy and these beautiful red green and yellow lights are cast on her. This scene looks excellent on Blu-ray and so do many other scenes. Crichton has some great instincts visually that he shows off in this film with help from cinematographer Paul Lohman. Overall, this is a good video transfer.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Looker’s sound design is really nice. Even though this is only a 2 channel surround mix, it felt very immersive at times. That is probably due to the excellent score by Barry de Vorzon. The score reminded me a lot of some of the great work by John Carpenter around that time. This sound mix was a pleasant surprise and will make any fan happy with the Blu-ray sound.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – The author and writer/director of the film talks about writing the film and his intentions. This track is a little dry, but it is great to hear the author talk about his ideas at length. This was recorded for the 2007 DVD release.
- Introduction by Michael Crichton – the late great author introduces the film and briefly discusses some elements of the film. From the 2007 DVD Release.
- Deleted Scene (As Used in Network Television Version) – this extended sequence actually has some value to the overall plot of the film. I don’t often recommend deleted scenes, but this one is worthwhile for fans of the film. It goes a long way towards explaining Reston’s motivations.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
Looker is a great example of what I love about science fiction. It has big ideas and a solid synth score and cinematography. It also is not fully fleshed out and the finale is a little bit of a mess. That didn’t stop me from loving this release but tempered my recommendation somewhat. If you are a fan of the genre and time period I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. If you are not a fan of Eighties science fiction, this film will probably not change your mind. Recommended!