Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Albert Finney and Susan Dey
LOOKER (1981). Written and directed by Michael Crichton.

Cosmetic surgeon Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) does work on several beautiful women who obsess over certain "imperfections." You would think that he would wonder where these women got the exact-to-the-centimeter measurements of their alleged flaws, but Roberts only worries about it after they start being murdered. The murders are traced back to a sinister TV test group, Digital Matrix -- although it is never really explained why the women are murdered -- who plan to use computer-generated images to replace real people not just in commercials but in political ads -- or something like that. They have also invented a gun that freezes people in their tracks so to them it appears as if time has passed by without their being aware of it. While the technological stuff is not without interest  -- although by now it's rather dated -- Looker is still an astonishingly dull movie despite all the running around. There's one decent, fairly suspenseful scene in which Larry and his surviving patient, Cindy (Susan Dey), break into a lab, but the chase sequences which make up most of the movie aren't that exciting and Finney [Shoot the Moon] looks ridiculous playing action hero, especially when he dresses up like a cop  -- he's wasted in the movie anyway. Dey is appealing enough, and James Coburn and Leigh Taylor-Long are appropriately reptilian as the couple who run Digital Matrix, but -- typical for Crichton -- they aren't given actual characters to play. Darryl Hickman [The Tingler] plays Larry's associate, Jim, and looks good with a beard. Michael Crichton's attempt to have himself another hit like Westworld didn't work this time. Some of the pretty women who play Larry's patients can't act to save their lives -- literally.

Verdict: Not worth a "look." *1/2.


Neil A Russell said...

This is one of those slow movies that I can watch over and over. Why? Who knows.
It has a lot going for it; cool intro music, fake commercials voiced by Morris the Cat, Coburn and his teeth, and some interesting technical concepts that predicted computer generated graphics that are only now becoming available.

The irony of the film is the climax showing the making of commercials with digital people and real objects when today almost everything involving CGI has real people working off of digital objects.

To this day, and as many times as I've seen it, I still don't know why the baddies had to kill the models other than that was what Crichton wanted in the script.

William said...

You make some excellent points here, Neil! For awhile there was talk of using CGI to make new movies with old movie stars in them, not using clips but whole new movies, but so far this hasn't come to pass. The concepts are definitely interesting, if only they had been used with a different plot.

I wondered if the models were being killed off because they were going to use their C-G Images instead of the real women, and wouldn't want them around to screw things up, but then I realized that their murders would only draw attention to the whole plot, so any way you slice it it doesn't make much sense. Who knows?

I liked the theme music, too.

Neil A Russell said...

I got fired up at the concept of changing out characters in movies way back when Coca Cola made a commercial that featured the likes of Cary Grant and (I think) Shirley Temple interacting with new actors. While that was simply rotoscoping and pasting the actors into the scenes, my hope was that one day movies could be tailored to suit the individual viewer by using CGI.
I think I've mentioned I'd like to see a James Bond movie featuring Grant instead of Sean Connery, or one that I think would be extraordinary to see by replacing Clint Eastwood in the first Dirty Harry movie with Walter Matthau.
However, other than the technical hurdles, can you imagine the copyright insanity that would ensue?
I almost wonder if there wasn't some digital wizardry performed to get the new film "All the Money in the World" released so quickly when the producers decided to panic and drop Kevin Spacey from the completed film and replace his scenes with Christopher Plummer.
As usual I digress wildly from the topic.
Looking back, one of the major plot points that is particularly silly is having to chop on the models to get them "perfect" so that they can be scanned into the computer.
Now their faces would simply be digitally manipulated rather than requiring surgery, and that sort of thing is even implied in the film when Finney visits Digitech or whatever it was called and a commercial is changed on the fly to move the product in the commercial to match his eye patterns.
Like you said, killing them would raise far more questions, not to mention their posthumous appearances in commercials. I think it would be difficult to get a client to want to use a dead actress.
I'm trying to remember if there was a crossover in technology in the LOOKER gun and the computer models that was specifically mentioned. At a couple of points I remember there were some eye flashes in the "Ravish" and other commercials that might hint at hypnotism for consumers. I just don't recall if that was ever explored. Still wouldn't account for murder.
I have to agree that overall it's a pretty dull film, maybe like a lot of things I like the idea of it better than the execution.

William said...

It would be fascinating to see Cary Grant as James Bond and the like but I wonder if the real actor could ever be completely captured by technicians. Maybe -- using new programs to match every inflection and movement, but while it's fascinating it's also kind of scary. Copyright insanity indeed!

I confess I missed the very accurate point that the models themselves would hardly require surgery when their "flaws" could be fixed with CGI. But I don't feel bad as that completely eluded Cricthon as well!

I just saw this only a couple of days ago but I don't recall if anyone mentioned a connection between the time-freeze gun and the CGI models. Like you say, you get distracted by James Coburn's toothy grin and that demonic look in his eyes as he blabbered on and on, LOL.

I also confess that there are films I enjoy that other people find unremittingly dull -- "The Incredible Petrified World" comes to mind. It left most people petrified but I still get a kick out of it!

Neil A Russell said...

I actually like "Petrified World" too, but I'm a sucker for a John Carradine flick! LOL
I can also sit through "From Hell It Came" about the plodding killer tree.

I bet you remember this commercial from a couple of years ago that feature a digitized Audrey Hepburn.
I understand that it took a long time to make even the short bits featuring her and there was a stand in for some of the action, but overall it's pretty amazing

William said...

I've watched "From Hell it Came" more than once and will probably watch it again!

Thanks for the link -- I hadn't seen this commercial before. Apparently its her digital face over a model's body. It works, but it's still kind of creepy ... I assume they had permission from the estate. To me it's kind of like using a corpse to sell chocolate bars! Probably why there aren't too many of these ads.

I loved the comment on youtube in which someone chided "Audrey" for taking the poor bus drivers's hat. I also think the guy in the car looked like he would probably have preferred a gal with more meat on her bones, LOL!

Neil A Russell said...

I think you've hit on why the tech may take a while to gain acceptance; the "creepy" factor would tend to overwhelm whatever the subject matter might be.

Also, Hepburn does seem like a strange subject to help sell candy, maybe Kate Smith would have been a better choice. LOL

William said...


angelman66 said...

You are right, Bill, this is NOT a good movie but definitely a guilty pleasure, as Neil notes. Now, of course, I crave seeing it again after your article. I have the also rotten but watchable Futureworld, lame sequel to Westworld, in my DVR queue as we speak!
Love cheesy pseudo sci fi Like this!
- Chris

William said...

"cheesy pseudo sci fi" is a great term for it!

Looker was on youtube in a very nice resolution some years ago when I first downloaded it. It may still be there. And you're right that "Futureworld" is not very good but it is definitely. watchable.

Neil A Russell said...

I'm not going to pick on it too much because I haven't seen it since it was in the theater, but I got so aggravated with "Futureworld" I wanted to walk out on it.
All the posters and ads featured Yul Brynner so I figured he'd be back as a major antagonist, but instead all we got was a little dream sequence.
Maybe I hold a grudge too easily! LOL