Saturday, August 9, 2014
1981's guilty pleasure supreme LOOKER has turned out to be quite the prescient motion picture. What was once considered merely a slick, wildly entertaining bit of eye candy to many moviegoers may in 2014 be seen as prophetic, accurate in its forward looking point of view. With former physician and prolific novelist and screenwriter Michael Crichton as writer/director, this is not at all surprising, even considering his hit and miss resume. His investigations as he developed this project back in the 1970s led to companies that utilized tomography for digital facsimilies of individuals for television commercials. Computer recreations of real actors. Imagine the possibilities.
Fictionalized Digital Matrix is such a company, and Reston Industries, led by a villainous CEO (James Coburn) uses their scanned images in advertisements for cars, household chemicals, etc. TV viewers are being hypnotized (literally, as will be revealed) by impossibly beautiful models, many of whom are patients of Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney), and one of whom is his main squeeze, Cindy (Susan Dey). When some turn up dead, the good doctor is Suspect #1. After damning evidence is planted in his office, Roberts goes on the lam to investigate Digital Matrix and RI, discovering some very high tech exploitation, which critics may argue is an accurate phrase to describe this movie.
And there's also the L.O.O.K.E.R. (Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive Response) weapon, a regular looking gun which emits hypnotic light pulses and renders targets clueless as to how much time has passed. Like wondering how your Porsche ended up in a fountain during a chase with the bad guys (including former Philadelphia Eagle Tim Rossovich).
I have to admit that much of my 13 year old self's interest in LOOKER, despite the sci-fi premise and cool tech, were the women. Especially Ms. Dey, having aged favorably in the decade following The Partridge Family. I was mesmerized by her, unconcerned with multiple plot holes, like why (MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD!!) Reston was killing off the models. I've read that an alternate made for TV edit explains this. But honestly, I don't care. I don't think the movie does either.
Crichton's film is relentlessly cheesy, especially seen nowadays, but as I recall from my frequent HBO viewings, so it was back then. The themes of the potential evils of advertising, the obsession with physical beauty, and TV addiction are all still very relevant but the film settles into popcorn logic early on. Despite Crichton's pedigree. His novels sometimes go into great scientific detail, but his movies usually play more like an 8th grader who thinks he knows everything. This would be especially true of 1984's RUNAWAY, which imagines a future where robots run amok.
But LOOKER (by now you can observe the multiple meanings of its title) does have one of the most amusing finales ever: a series of commercials that play a bit differently than intended. My and I assume many others' jaded 21st century perspectives would likely bat nary an eye at such if it ever made the airwaves. I do expect someone on the nightly news to go all Howard Beale any day now.