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Warner Home Video presents
Looker (1981)

"They're killing all the girls that are perfect!"
- Tina Cassidy (Kathryn Witt)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 29, 2007

Stars: Albert Finney, James Coburn, Susan Dey, Leigh Taylor-Young
Other Stars: Dorian Harewood, Tim Rossovich, Darryl Hickman, Kathryn Witt, Terri Welles, Michael Gainsborough
Director: Michael Crichton

MPAA Rating: PG for (nudity, violence)
Run Time: 01h:33m:23s
Release Date: January 30, 2007
UPC: 085391112044
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C+BB+ B-

DVD Review

Although Michael Crichton's picture Looker has been much maligned over the years, it certainly has proven to be one of his most prescient stories. The central theme of actors being digitally manipulated through computer animation is now, as any viewer of DVD extras knows, part of the everyday business of the motion picture industry. Even long-dead actors are able to be part of movies, such as Sir Lawrence Olivier's appearance in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and John Wayne and Clark Gable regularly show up in commercials they never filmed. But so far as we know none of the actors so appearing are being killed off to get them out of the way for their digital replacements....

In this tale, plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) is struck by a series of gorgeous models asking for a list of tiny alterations of fractions of a millimeter. Opportunistic as he is, he is happy to comply, but then he realizes that each of these models is turning up the victims of suicide or horrible accidents. In fact, only one, Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey) is still alive, thanks to a long vacation in seclusion. When suspicion is cast upon the doctor by the police in the person of Lieutenant Masters (Dorian Harewood), Roberts takes it upon himself to try to solve the riddle of what is happening to these women and to keep Cindy alive. But the trail seems to lead to tycoon John Reston (James Coburn) and his various digital enterprises, which is inconvenient for Roberts since Reston is a major benefactor for his burn clinic. A strange series of moments of lost time threaten to stop Larry before he gets very far in unraveling the situation, and he may well end up dead in the process.

The central concept is right on the money, but one of Crichton's most important theses is the hypnotic effect of television. That's made quite literal through Reston's schemes, which use light patterns to induce suggestibility in viewers. At first, it's just played for laughs, in a somewhat touching scene where Cindy says goodbye to her parents, who literally cannot take their eyes off the screen. This leads to the most chilling subplot, a political campaign that uses hypnotic suggestion to make the viewers committed devotees. But is the actual candidate also being eliminated, so that the easily controllable digital version is the only one extant? That aspect isn't really dwelt upon, but the suggestion certainly is there. In a day of presidents and vice-presidents being held in undisclosed locations for indeterminate periods of time, that's not necessarily as outlandish as it might seem. And of course, Reston's very name suggests the involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Where the movie falls apart is in trying to structure itself as a thriller. There are just too many plot holes and problems to keep one in a suitable suspension of disbelief. Although there's a throwaway line that suggests the police may be under Reston's control, Roberts makes no effort to get some legitimate assistance, thrusting Finney and Dey into constant contrived jeopardy. Annoyingly, there's no logic to Reston's conduct at times. For instance, at one point his henchmen hold Dey prisoner. They have every reason to kill her, since they have the computer assessment of her that they need, and she knows too much. But she's conveniently held prisoner so that Finney can accomplish a rescue. Furthermore, Reston himself grabs a gun and pursues Finney during the finale, which is quite dubious considering he has a room full of influential guests watching him on closed-circuit television. When you throw in the Keystone Kops inefficiency of his henchmen, who invariably shoot each other so that Roberts doesn't have to do any dirty work, it devolves into an eye-rolling mess.

It's very much a creature of its time, from the primitive computer technology to the flamboyant hairdos to the persistent synth score by maestro Barry DeVorzon. There's certainly some potential here, but it's rather awkwardly presented. Finney is nonetheless an interesting bit of casting, and he handles the role with unusual good humor and aplomb. Dey works well opposite him, and she's really luminous; fans of her turn as Laurie Partridge will want to seek this out, not least of all for the nudity that would certainly garner the picture an R rating if it were submitted today. And of course Coburn is entertaining to watch in just about anything he does, and this is no exception. It's too bad his character is so inconsistently written; at times he seems to have a conscience and at others he's ruthless to a fault. I suppose the director could always blame the writer, but that's also Crichton.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Warner previously released this on a pan and scan DVD, which did horrible damage to the careful compositions and made the finale terribly difficult to follow. After too many years, they've gotten around to a proper release in the original aspect ratio. It's a bit soft, and the grain is rather shimmery. Venetian blinds, always difficult to render, have quite a lot of moiré to them. There doesn't seem to be any edge enhancement added, however, which is certainly a plus. Color is excellent, and while shadow detail is a bit plugged up there isn't anything to complain about with respect to black levels.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby Surround. It's quite a clean track, and the synth score comes across nicely. Range is very good throughout and dialogue is never a problem. Directionality isn't terribly pronounced, though there is some surround activity that splits up the instrumentation of the score in interesting ways. More than serviceable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Michael Crichton
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than a somewhat worn 1.85:1 anamorphic trailer (and a revolting advert for the direct-to-video opus magnus The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning), the only extra is a full-length commentary from Crichton. He's a bit defensive about the movie, but he has plenty to say about its thematic elements and the state of technology at the time. He's short on anecdotes, but if the politics and philosophy of the picture appeal to you he can be interesting all the same. The only subtitles are in English, and cover the feature only.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

An uneven but occasionally interesting look at the future of computer animation, as seen from the perspective of 25 years ago. At long last it's in original aspect ratio, so the cult of fans that Looker has still may now rejoice.

 


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