‘…Finney looks uncomfortable running around with an accessorised time-stopping gun and glasses combo…’

Michael Crichton’s work, from The Andromeda Strain to Jurassic Park via Coma and Westworld, has generally been big at the box office; his 80’s period, with techno-thrillers Looker and Runaway, is rather less celebrated. But Looker is the most interesting of his failures, a thriller/satire that looks at television, fashion, technology and murder in a caustic, cynical way and comes to some fairly wack-a-doodle conclusions.

“Computer generated imagery…’ murmurs plastic surgeon Dr Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) as he tries to understand the bizarre conspiracy against him. He’s being framed for the murders of various beautiful women, clients of his surgery, who were also engaged by a sinister company known as Digital Matrix. Run by the saturnine John Reston (James Coburn), it’s not easy to get a handle on what exactly Reston’s up to beyond looking suave; he’s using plastic surgery to create perfect women, who he then uses for tv commercials which have a subliminal pull on audiences. That’s more than enough conspiracy for one film, but Looker throws in a bonus in the form of a hypnosis gun which makes the victim loose their sense of self temporarily; they experience drop-out, and time seems to move on without them unless they wear special reflective specs that bounce the hypnosis rays back onto their assailant.

Neither of these ideas come from Crichton’s top drawer, and it’s quite a leap to connect the technological gimmicks supplied here. Reston’s thinking has a certain logic; ‘Television is the American ideal. Persuasion without coercion. Nobody makes us watch. ..And the average American now spends more than one and a half years of his life just watching television commercials. Fifty minutes, every day of his life, watching commercials. Now, that’s power.’ We still have plenty of adverts today, but it’s easy enough to filter them out. Crichton predicts the use of computer imagery that would create a monster sized hit for Jurassic Park, and also form the basis for today’s deep-fake culture. But he doesn’t manage to meld his vision into a coherent story, and Finney looks uncomfortable running around with an accessorised time-stopping gun and glasses combo.

That said, there’s a striking sequence here in which there’s a Tenet style LA car chase in which both parties are armed with time-freezing guns, and it’s not bad, although the car–in-the-fountain punchline defies all logic. Looker is an expensive looking, big budget studio confection that doesn’t quite land, but is certainly fun to hear 1981’s wide-of-the-mark ideas of what kind of conspiracies we should be worried about in the future…






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  1. You had to work hard to find this at the cinema back in the day but well worth it. Finney never worked enough in my opinion and we could have done with more of his films to look back on once he passed away.

    • That’s interesting; I remeber this being a film easier to read about than to see until a VHS release. I’m a big fan of Finney in the 80’s in particular, and while he’s hardly at his best here, he’s a unique proposition as a lead.

  2. I’m a huge Crichton fan, so I’ll be on the lookout for this one. I’ve been finding myself also liking the older film making techniques, even down to the lettering and typography. Thanks for the tip on this one, 10. 🤠

    • I think the Amazon link is US only, and that’s why I put a youtube one on as well. A blackhat techno guy brought this one to my attention….it’s a cult movie, so a good google-video search is likely to bring up some sources…

  3. The Andromeda Strain almost turned me off of Crichton stories forever, it was so boring. Thankfully, Jurassic Park saved the day, but even now I always feel like I”m taking a gamble when I watch a movie based on anything by him.

  4. I vaguely remember seeing this on TV many years ago. It looks worth a re-watch. That car chase scene sounds cool!

    On another note, I finally watched Tenet the other night. Hmm… It looks beautiful but I think Nolan has been sniffing his own farts a bit too much. The Bond-esque action scenes were great, but my strongest memory is of how bored that female scientist sounded when she was explaining the whole “inversion” thing. 🤔 Ah well, at least we had Branagh gleefully chewing the scenery at an exponential rate.

    • I guess Nolan isn’t the first to do the techno-car-chase, the one here made me feel giddy! Techno films seem to become richer with age.

      Keep meaning to give Tenet a second watch; the action seemed great in the cinema, not sure how it will hold up at home. Would like to see Nolan makes something without so many bells and whistles…

    • I think this is better that Runaway, and has remake potential. No dancing Irish mythology though, so maybe not for you.

      • Any movie with this much technology runs into the problem of dating itself pretty quickly. It’s like watching Michael Douglas playing with VR stuff in Disclosure. But Runaway had those special bullets.

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