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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Looker (Blu-ray)
Looker (Blu-ray)
Warner Archives // PG // September 18, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 1, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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Even blockbuster fantasist Michael Crichton had his share of duds. Looker (1981), an original screenplay that he also directed is by all odds his dudliest, quite terrible from just about every angle. I wasn't impressed when it was new, hadn't seen it since and liked it even less on Blu-ray all these years later. Though built on a potentially interesting premise, this sci-fi thriller is shallow, generally ludicrous, and very poorly executed.

Theatrical prints were notably grainy back in 1981, and Warner Archive's Blu-ray makes Looker look as good as it can, though the inherent graininess, combined with much ugly production design, still leave the film pictorially unappetizing.

Busy Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) is bemused by what at first appears to be a new fad. Beautiful models are coming to him requesting surgeries with crazily minute adjustments, mere millimeters of body and facial changes, detailed in cryptic computer print-outs. Several of these models turn up dead: one in a road accident (not shown), another having fallen from her high-rise apartment after an intruder zaps her with a strange, trance-inducing pistol. The mustached hit man leaves obvious "clues" suggesting Roberts is the killer: a button from one of his jackets, a monogramed pen, making police Lt. Masters (Dorian Harewood) suspicious. (One imagines Finney's Hercule Poirot scoffing at this clumsy frame-up: "Zere are too many clu-ues in zis rrrroom!")

A patient-friend of Roberts, model Cindy Faremont (Susan Dey), seems next in line for murder, so Roberts protectively watches over her. At a shoot, Roberts notices a TV control center-type van monitoring take after take of Cindy leaping and falling while playing beach volleyball. Later, she's offered a lucrative contract to appear at Digital Matrix and subject her nude body for scanning, the purpose of which is to create a 3-D CGI model to be used in TV commercials. (Given that the models are apparently murdered after doing this - armed with CGI replacements, they're no longer needed - the perceived threat to Cindy's life was perhaps premature.) Roberts, along for the ride, steals an access card so that he can get a look at the company's Top-Secret Looker lab.

Further, John Reston (James Coburn) and associate Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor Young) are clearly up to no good, advancing the CGI technology to not only hypnotically suggest consumers buy the products they represent, but also to advance the career of a political candidate.

It's hard to care much about the body-obsessed models, stiffly played by non-professional actors for the most part, Playboy models. It's also extremely hard to swallow that a wealthy Beverly Hills plastic surgeon would make like Sam Spade, breaking and entering into a high-tech research laboratory looking for clues, let alone be at the center of a big car chase and shoot-out near the end.

Crichton deserves points for recognizing the emerging significance of CGI technology, then in its infancy, but it's not believable that photo-real CGI recreations of actors was remotely feasible in 1981, as what is dramatized in Looker is barely achievable, if at all, even in 2018. His robot gunslingers in the earlier Westworld required a suspension of disbelief but audiences were already familiar with Disneyland's animatronics, and the technology shown in the film was deliberately kept mysterious. In Looker, Crichton unwisely tries to fuse real rudimentary computer animation with actors pretending to be CGI recreations, and it doesn't work. Seen today it works even less than it did: it's odd seeing supposedly super-advance technology play out on 4:3 NTSC monitors and hopelessly dated computers.

Crichton's direction doesn't help. It's thuddingly literal and very poorly-paced. The climax, a shootout among the TV commercial studio sets, is interminable, with no forward momentum at all. Most of the interior soundstage sets are ugly and unimaginatively used. Most have obviously painted backgrounds of the Los Angeles skyline just beyond their windows, except for one appallingly bad matte shot of a blue-sky in one window that looked bad in 1981.

Finney, then obscenely in demand for no clear reason despite his great talent, almost makes his character palatable, and he and Susan Dey have real chemistry together, she not bad at all, though James Coburn and Leigh Taylor Young are totally wasted in badly-sketched roles.

Video & Audio

Filmed in grainy Panavision, Warner Archive's Blu-ray transfer maximizes what it can visually, though it's still an unattractive looking movie. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio fares much better, Looker having been an early Dolby Surround title. English subtitles are provided.

Extra Features

Supplements from the earlier DVD have been repurposed, including an audio commentary on onscreen introduction by the late writer-director; a long (eight minutes) deleted sequence that doesn't help the film's pacing but better explains things, culled from a 4:3 network television version; and a trailer.

Parting Thoughts

A dud of little value even as a window on the genre in the early ‘80s, Looker is a "Rent It."






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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