I’m not much of a reader. I enjoy reading, but I’m a very slow reader…and besides, I’d usually rather spend my free time watching a movie. So, I really had no idea who the best-selling author Michael Crichton was until the movie version of “Jurassic Park” rolled around in 1993. That film was so huge that soon Hollywood was rushing to make film versions of any Michael Crichton book they could land. Turns out, though, that Crichton had already spent quite a lot of time in movie business, not just as a writer but also as a director. Today we’re going to look at the 1981 film “Looker,” which Crichton both wrote and directed.
The film centers on plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney). Dr. Roberts has been getting a lot of business lately from beautiful young models, anxious to get work in commercials. These women appear to be flawless, yet they insist that they need work done and provide the good doctor with measurements down to the millimeter of what work they require. Though Roberts doesn’t think they need his services, he’s all too happy to do the work. The problems begin, however, when several of these young women turn up dead. This leads the police to start investigating Roberts, especially when items such as a personalized pen and a button from the doctor’s jacket are found in one of the dead model’s apartments.
Since everyone knows that plastic surgeons make great amateur detectives, Dr. Roberts begins to investigate. He finds out that all of the dead girls had connections to a company called Digital Matrix. Behind this company is a gazillionaire named John Reston (James Coburn), who also happens to be one of the biggest producers of commercials in Hollywood. Roberts is due to have dinner with Reston to discuss his involvement in a charitable plastic surgery clinic he’s working on. As his date, Roberts brings a young patient of his named Cindy (Susan Dey). Roberts fears that Cindy may be next on list, as she also has had very precise work done on her. Cindy also appears to have somewhat of a crush on her doctor.
The following day, Roberts watches Cindy as she struggles on the set of a commercial. It seems that a crew from Digital Matrix is reviewing all the footage as it is shot to be sure that it will deliver the exact response desired from the audience…and Cindy just isn’t hitting her marks. After this, doctor and patient pay a visit to Digital Matrix where they learn about the true evil going on there. It seems that these models are having their bodies perfected with surgery so they can then be scanned and turned into digital performers for commercials. Cindy willingly has herself scanned while they are there. But the worst of it is that these digital models emit light pulses from their eyes that will, in a sense, hypnotize the viewer…making them want whatever the commercials have to offer.
Oooh, but there’s more. This same light pulse technology has also been used in the creation of a light gun that can hypnotize a victim. If you get zapped by it, it’ll feel like you instantly skipped over minutes, even hours, of your life. That makes it very easy for the baddies to cause accidents to happen for people. Only Dr. Roberts can stop them. Who better than a plastic surgeon to save the world from evil advertisers who want to take over the world with computer animated supermodels?
“Looker” is a movie that feels really strange today. Ultimately, Crichton’s boogieman in this film is computer animated actors. I suppose in 1981 the idea that we would have commercials featuring computer generated images that looked like real people sounded incredible, and maybe even a bit creepy. But here we are in 2012…we see computer animated actors every day. We’ve had Gollum, Jar Jar Binks and a 10 foot tall blue Sigourney Weaver! When we see a naked Susan Dey having her body scanned into a computer, we aren’t weirded out…instead we think, “eh, I saw that on the bonus features for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” The story also has some pretty big holes. Chief among them is the fact that the reason for the models being killed is never actually explained. Some sources indicate that there were scenes cut from the film that remedied this.
The casting of the film seems a bit strange. Albert Finney was a fine actor, but he just didn’t quite seem right for this part. He seems really uncomfortable in the film’s several action sequences. Susan Dey, though very sexy in this part, turns in a somewhat uneven performance. It’s a huge stretch to believe this sleek young model would have the hots for her frumpy plastic surgeon. If the internet is any indication, what most people seem to remember about her performance is that the one-time Laurie Partridge gets naked in the film…yet it’s only rated PG. The highlight of the cast, though, is James Coburn. He makes a wonderfully smarmy villain, though he wasn’t given nearly enough screen time.
I’ll admit, “Looker” has an intriguing premise and it’s kind of fun to see how some of Crichton’s technological prophecies have come to pass and others have not. It’s just a little hard to take a film seriously when it’s evil corporation is, essentially, Pixar.