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Old 01-27-2007, 10:04 PM
Scored: 8
Views: 14,596
Default Looker

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: January 27, 2006

Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 30/1/2007
MSRP: $13.98
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.4:1 | 16x9: Yes

inline ImageWhen personal computers started making their ways into people’s homes in the early-eighties, the horror film changed. No longer were the homegrown stalk and slash antics of Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre enough to satiate Hollywood producers. No, media was to undergo a major shift into the digital realm, and there was much speculation as to just how much power the new mediums could have with this technical control. Alien would first transplant the slasher into space, and for most of the eighties Hollywood would not look back. It was in this changed state of studio horror that a trio of high profile Hollywood horror movies would leave a subversive dent in mainstream cinema. These three “the medium is the message” films, which I like to call the unofficial “McLuhan trilogy”, would start with Eyes of Laura Mars – which saw Faye Dunaway’s stylish violent photos come to scary life through John Carpenter’s adept script, and end with David Cronenberg’s cybersexual mindfuck Videodrome. The middle film, which has certainly got the least publicity, Michael Crichton’s Looker, has finally been released widescreen for the first time ever on home video. And as pun would have it, it is definitely worth a look.

The Story

“Mirror mirror on the wall, how can I be sure that Bill will call?”

inline Image Looker begins with a commercial where the actress seemingly speaks right to the audience. She’s advertising “Ravish” perfume, but she may as well be waving a pendulum in front of her hypnotic audience. She’s beautiful, and in the age of computer generation, she needs to be. She, as well as a trend of other already beautiful actresses, has recently requested the surgical work of a one Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney), augmenting the smallest of details in very specific lists of surgical elements. He’s perplexed, since they already all look ravishing to begin with. He’s even more perplexed however, when three of the four women he’s operated these demanding surgeries on, are found dead.

inline ImageDetermined not to allow his last patient, Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey), to suffer the same fate, he begins to take her out, despite his personal oath never to date patients. He first takes her to a high class media ball, where they are both introduced to John Reston (James Coburn), who heads one of the world’s largest commercial conglomerates. One of Reston’s new subsidiaries is Digital Matrix Inc., who specialize in computer augmented commercials. Through eye grafting tests, they’ve been able to determine where on the screen viewers look while consuming commercials, and using that data alter the placement of objects and the presentation of actors to ensure maximum brand retention. Dealing with actors and actresses is cumbersome though, it is much easier punching keys.

inline ImageCindy takes one of Reston’s commercial gigs, but when she is brought into the Matrix lab for a full body computer scan, she begins to question the company motives. When she and Dr. Roberts try to investigate further, their retinas are blanked by a light gun, sending them into a state of confusion. It is clear that Matrix is digitally copying their actresses and eliminating them altogether, but how can Dr. Roberts make the rest of the world see, when he himself is constantly blindsided by these hypnotic pulses of light?

inline ImageLooker is anchored by a clever and accomplished script by Michael Crichton, which is to be expected given his revere. More than his Westworld¸ Coma or Runaway, this film continues to hold up very well in today’s digital age. Like Marshall McLuhan’s media hypotheses continue to seem more and more relevant with each leap in technology, so too does this film, where computer generated imagery is now almost unnoticeable in many of the big Hollywood films. Like Simone theorized twenty years after Looker, are we really that far away from perfect computer clones? Like Videodrome, Looker effectively conveys the sexual allure lurking behind the cathode ray tube, and like Eyes of Laura Mars, it suggests the distinction between the looked at and the looker is often indefinite, and potentially very dangerous.

inline ImageCrichton is great at conjuring believable science fiction pulp, but what is surprising about Looker is how skillfully he handles the material as director. He takes a Godardian approach to acting, with almost all of his actors sounding as wooden and lifeless. While one would expect this of the computer generated clones, this is characteristic, too, of the cloned actresses before they ever set foot in the machine, suggesting the vapidity and manufactured emptiness of the very industry Crichton is working within. Like the similarly-themed Halloween III, it suggests that in a conglomerated world full of emptiness, there really is nothing to save, and whatever happens, big brother will still prevail. Crichton uses montage very effectively, with commercials and fight sequences done at bizarrely slow at high frame rates, all underpinned by some surreal synthesizer work by Barry Devorzon. There is something very subversive, too, about the way he uses the several canned commercials as commentary on the action. Again, it seems to tear away at the fourth wall of Hollywood, exposing the industrial lifelessness of commercial filmmaking. Finney and Fairmont take their roles seriously, but those commercials are always winking.

inline Image Just when the film seems as if it descends into third act action auto-pilot, Crichton introduces another clever film gimmick where the big chase between Finney and Coburn takes place on revolving computer commercial sets. The commercials play out for a live audience, with Finney and Coburn increasingly spotted in the background, prowling with guns and strife. The audience laughs at first, “they’re not supposed to be there!” Then though, they become privy to what is happening literally behind-the-scenes, their innocence to the arts immediately overturned. Crichton wants his audience to come to the same realization, to step outside the hegemony of the flickering image and to question the connotations that exist behind any given media. What does what we are watching tell us about society, about who controls it, and about, ultimately, ourselves? Coburn gets blasted in bloody gory (incredible, considering the film was given an inexplicable “PG” rating) as a commercial for “Spurt” toothpaste plays out in the background. It is funny, but looking at the predictive quality of media, at the same time tragic.

inline ImageIt is this subversive quality of showing the audience one thing but suggesting the opposite that underpins the entire film and elevates it to a level of quality comparable to contemporaries like Videodrome and Eyes of Laura Mars. Crichton’s most effective stroke of grace though, is in his handling of the ending. Working within the confines of Hollywood, surely a canned happy ending was required. Crichton delivered, but only to a point, eclipsing any triumph with brooding synth and a telling authoritative voice over. Dr. Roberts may have trounced Reston the man, but the corporation is another entity entirely, and one much greater to snuff. Roberts walks into the sunset like any great western character, but this horizon is clouded with digital lights and set pieces. The new reality of cyberspace exists apart and aside from our own, and as Crichton prophetically professes in his final frame, there is no escape.

Image Quality

inline ImageLooker is a beautifully shot film. Shot by the great, underappreciated, frequent Robert Altman collaborator, Paul Lohmann, the film has an amazing depth, with vibrant colors and some nicely patterned background lighting. Warner Brothers has done his alluring visuals justice with this satiating 2.4:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The print is in pristine condition, grain is almost indistinguishable, and colors bursting with life. The neon green computer lights, chic pink apartment walls and blood-drenched glass all pop with a lifelike reality. The quality of this twenty-six year old film is so lifelike, it almost adds another layer of subversion to Crichton’s own commentary on the lifelike abandon of images.


Barry DeVorzon’s score is equally as accomplished as Lohmann’s visuals (DeVorzon would go on to score Exorcist III and Night of the Creeps). This mono track doesn’t quite do him justice, but the pulsing eminence of his keyboard score still translates well in a single channel setup. Like the video, this audio track is very clean and gets by just fine.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageThis film was one of the ones selected on Amazon’s annual Warner contest (my pick, De Palma’s amazingly obscure Get To Know Your Rabbit still remains unpicked and unreleased). Yet, despite the film being a fan selection, Warner still went to the work of tracking down Michael Crichton for some quality extras. Produced by the prolific Laurent Bouzereau, Crichton’s introduction and commentary expertly reveal Crichton’s preoccupations and insight. The introduction runs a few minutes and features clips from the film over Crichton’s speech, but given how much is revealed, both from the clips and Crichton’s insight, this is best left for after the film.

inline ImageCrichton’s commentary is one of the best I’ve heard in a long while, a really thoughtful dissemination of the film and of various topics that offset from it. Given Crichton’s unique stance as both an accomplished writer and as a director, he offers insight from both sides, with a director’s approach to certain scenes and the problems faced, and a writer’s insight to topics like Hitchcock and promotion. He talks with an amazing freedom of thought, jumping from topic to topic without restraint, whether they are about problems of production (poor scheduling, sets with ceilings) or of his own mind (his fixation on surgeons as protagonists). The inclination by so many is to just talk about the images on screen, but Crichton talks about everything relating and with much greater insight.

Winning the award for least thematically related promotional trailer included in a DVD release is the bundling of the Looker trailer with, wait for it, Dukes of Hazard: The Beginning. I am sure it will get many more fans with this promotion.

Final Thoughts

Michael Crichton’s 1981 media thriller, Looker, is one that looks deeply and artfully into the blur between reality and commercial exploit. It is filled with suspense, insight, and a subversive play on the calculating control of commercials. The visual quality of this release is astounding, apt for a film called Looker, and hopefully will entice a new generation of viewers bent on the pristine image quality of new releases today. Crichton’s commentary is a gem too; one of the best I’ve heard in some time. If you liked peering into the Eyes of Laura Mars or tuning into Videodrome, then look no further than this similar spin on media control.


Movie - A-
Image Quality - A
Sound - B-
Supplements - B+

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 33 minutes
  • Rated PG(!)
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English mono
  • French mono
  • English subtitles

  • Introduction and commentary with Michael Crichton
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Dukes of Hazard: The Beginning trailer

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Old 01-28-2007, 02:42 AM
The Apocalyptic Kid
Holy shit it took forever to get this released on DVD!!!

Thanks for the review, I will be picking this one up.
We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.

- Johann von Goethe
Old 01-29-2007, 03:36 PM
Horny Spirit
I've had this on preorder since it was announced (hurry the fuck up Amazon!)

The poster ads in the newspaper caught my eye when I was a kid. Wasn't this one of those DVDs that was released due to that viewer poll?

Anyway, great review.
My Collection

Old 01-30-2007, 05:40 AM
Asshole Extraordinaire
Thanks for the great review! I remember this film quite well, watched it every single time it aired on Showtime back in the day...Will definitely be picking it up tomorrow if I can find it locally, otherwise will order it...


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