The Lawnmower Man


‘…even if the story is rote, this wacky directors cut is probably the best way to appreciate the skewed, past-tense vision of our future that we get a glimpse of here…’

I’ve finally got to the age when mowing my own lawn is a thing, and as a direct result, I’ve inherited a garage full of broken lawnmowers which I’m adding to assiduously. Of course, working in the garden wasn’t the big attraction of Brett Leonard’s early entry in the cyber-thriller stakes; The Lawnmower Man is more of a grim warning abut the dangers of a technology which was at a nascent stage back in 1992, but audiences were drawn to the virtual realty content and this film was a considerable hit back in the day. The Lawnmower Man was also much rubbished and derided, but has gained retro-cult status into the internet age.

So this director’s cut, substantially longer, is worth another look as it surfaces on Prime; Pierce Brosnan takes second billing, but is the obvious protagonist here. He plays Dr Lawrence Angelo, a maverick scientist who is experimenting on chimps by giving them virtual reality helmets and training them to be killing machines. ‘Dirty’ government money provides his funding, but the results are catastrophic and one experiment breaks out and heads for the nearest church, where it encounters Jobe (Jeff Fahey) a simple-minded gardener who befriends it before some government goons turn up to shoot the robo-chimp dead.

Angelo sees Jobe as a potential upgrade on his experiments, and soon plugs the unwitting chap into VR, causing him to make mental leaps and bounds that transform him into a genius, a villain and eventually some kind of cyber-god who has the power of telekinesis. Jobe revenges himself on local malcontents by flinging spinning-bladed lawnmowers into their front rooms, but his big plan involves inhabiting the new-fangled internets; ‘By the year 2001, there won’t be a single person who isn’t hooked on it’ Job says about the online experience, and give or take a few years, he wasn’t far off. This ‘new, electric dimension’ isn’t really seen, but the trippy VR effects, while primitive, have a certain fascination, particularly when viewed in today’s HD.

The Lawnmower Man was developed by veteran producer Milton Subotsky, and was supposedly based on a Stephen King short story, which features a lawnmower and a man, but that’s about the only connection. King understandably sued; it’s notable that the screenplay is ersatz King, with a multi-character community, a sinister black-ops team known as ‘the Shop’, and even a gas-station that comes to life that recalls Maximum Overdrive. ‘I never realised it was all so complex and disturbing’ says one character, but The Lawnmower Man is very much of the familiar ‘some things are better left undiscovered’ vibe of HG Wells’ The Invisible Man or Frankenstein. The computer paper, compact disk drives and other items make this a strangely nostalgic trip, and even if the story is rote, this wacky director’s cut is probably the best way to appreciate the skewed, past-tense vision of our future that we get a glimpse of here.


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  1. I was in on the cult from the start. A bit clunky in places for sure but had a real verve. Glad to see you are joining in. Are you breaking these lawnmowers, is that how you have a garage full? Or do you buy them in car boot sales?

    • I keep inheriting, borrowing, gumtreeing, and my collection has expanded. Four lawn blowers, two strimmers, two leaf blowers, you don’t know anyone passionate about fixing them do you? I do have a bumpy lawn…

  2. I swear I saw this in 1992 at a softball team sleepover – but reading your review I have zero memory of it, so it might have been a completly different film. Or said sleepover may have fogged my memory.

    P.S. I mow my own lawn.

    P.P.S. Took me 30 minutes to find your Mr. Gilmore reference……

    • There was even a picture of Mr Gilmore!

      What kind of lawnmower do you have?

      Much of the plot described wasn’t in the theatrical version. I’m not sure of including robo-chimps is a plus when recommending…

      • I have a battery powered mower from Lowes. My yard is small so it’s better no to have to deal with oil and gas. I used to have one that plugged in with a long cord like a vacuum cleaner but it was a nightmare, I was always in danger of running over the cord.

  3. Shades of Flowers for Algernon & Lucy? You’re right, not a bit of Pan/satyrs as in King story, although there’s a sacrificial element…? Is becoming virtual the penultimate form of immortality, the feeding on electrical energy, though thwarted by encryption, the best we might achieve? Is the aggression gene something more than an extra X chromosome around the brain stem? Does pure consciousness eclipse hedonism? I was impressed and fascinated when I first watch this flick–thanks for sharing Amazon is releasing Director’s Cut. I fear, however, that after a rewatch, I’ll have even more questions…

    • I had question in 1992, and I’ve got questions now. It’s interesting to see the handwringing about VR in 1992, whereas it’s the immersive quality of the internet, and how we react to each other, that’s today’s bone of contention. My guess is that the writers felt we’d see the transition more clearly if it happened to a ‘simple-minded’ person, but I’m always suspicious when the stage beyond genius always turns out to be megalomania. Can’t technology ever be a plus? We couldn’t have this conversation without it…

    • I’m still trying to figure this out. Is mowing a lawn that one owns part of a normal childhood? Please respond, this has been bothering me all morning. I may have mowed my family lawn as a child, but I would not have considered it my own lawn…

      • The lawn of the house you lived in as a child was your lawn. As a child you mowed your own lawn. Neighbours paid you to mow their lawn. You would never tell your friends, “I can’t come over this afternoon, I’m mowing my dad’s lawn.” You would just say “I’m mowing the lawn,” and they would understand that you meant you were mowing your lawn.

        Hope that clarifies everything!

        • But what if you lived in a condo like Booky? You would have no lawn if your own. Do you have a lawn? Do you mow your lawn? Pics or it didn’t happen.

          • I do live in a condo like Booky. As he explained, the lawn is cut by a maintenance company. It has to be done this way so it all gets done at the same time. As a child, I did my own lawn. It was a large lawn and took nearly five hours to finish.

              • I’m not posting a five-hour video of me cutting the lawn back at the farm. Where are the pics of your mowers? Do you have a ride mower? Or one of those old school ones that don’t have an engine?

                • I’m not at home right now, but rest assured, I would NOT delete any pictures of my mowers which I felt would be useful to this inquiry. I do not have a ride mower but my neighbour does. It is currently not working. I have at least three broken ones, plus strimmers and leaf-blowers, a full inventory will be sent to you by recorded delivery. Don’t you miss being a lawnmower man?

      • Butting in to the childhood/lawn mowing conversation here.

        In North America, mowing your lawn (and by “your” I mean your parents, just like it is “your” house and “your” car, but the reality is its all your parents) is a rite of passage, no matter how unwelcome or unwanted. It means you’re old enough to be trusted with a dangerous piece of equipment that can maim or kill someone. My dad started us out by mowing one strip around so we had a pattern to follow. We knew we’d hit the big time (metaphorically speaking) when he stopped doing that for us.

        I’ve never enjoyed yardwork, of any sort, so the American Condo Life fits my needs perfectly. If I were you, I’d be on the lookout for a rakish and devilishly handsome stranger in black with a mask and big “C” on his chest raising the populace to build and buy condos….

            • So your earlier point is reasonable. I didn’t concern mowing the family lawn as a kid to having MY OWN lawn as an adult; that’s why I phrased it the way I did. When you are a kid, you are just operating a machine. As an adult, you are adjusting your own property. It’s no rites of passage anymore. My previous residence, we had a team of gardeners who turn up at six in the morning and beautify the greenery pronto. But now, I’m sorting out the lawn-mowing to my own satisfaction. I am the lawnmower man.

              • Gotcha.

                But I think that a lack of condos AND condors is a very reasonable subject to discuss on this venerable post. I’ll bet back in the 90’s Scotland didn’t know it needed either. But here we are today and voila, you need them.

                I wonder if the rise in amateur lawnmowers like yourself has any bearing on the matter. I’d guess so…

                • I’m not so vain as to assume that because something is happening to me, it’s happening to everyone. At least I’m a fan of the film Condorman. But we don’t have condos, we have tower blocks. Generally not as snazzy as US condos…nice to hear Alex has one as well. I can imagine him looking out across his city like Batman…

                  • Have no fear, I am THAT vain, so I’ll imagine it for you 😉

                    Yeah, Alex knows a good thing when he sees it. Of course, it makes me wonder why he’s always taking bins out then. Just whose bins are they?!?

                    • Double-takes like a pigeon seeing a gondola turn into a hovercraft.

                      I think you’re onto something. We have sworn testimony that Alex takes his bins out almost on a daily basis. I’ve stayed in various condos, and either your bins are emptied, or you put rubbish down a chute. It’s almost as if he was using the ‘bins’ as a pretext…

                    • Double Agent Alex, it has a ring to it. Too Good to be true…or maybe he just uses bins as an excuse to check out when the comments rise about just intellectual level.

                      National Treasure-style; the only way to know for sure is for us to SEE the contents of his bins.

                    • Well, if you’ll finance it, I’ll go in Mission Impossible style, wires and all.
                      I’ll also need a stealth lawnmower to get there…

                    • I’ll distract him by screening the 1917 silent version of Frankenstein on the opposite block. While he’s writing his notes, you climb up the chute and establish an inter dimensional portal within the chute itself. Next time he puts out the bins….BINGO!

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