Thursday, January 14, 2016

Looker


     "Look at them. They're fascinated..."

   Looker is a pitch perfect commentary on consumerism and modern media, and despite being over three decades old it's still completely relevant, if not even more so. Our protagonist is a plastic surgeon who ends up entangled in a strange murder mystery as a very specific few of his patients have died weird deaths. What follows is a web of science fiction intrigue and conspiracy thrills. There's some incredibly suspenseful scenes in the movie, as well as some of the most imaginative action scenes I've ever seen in a movie of this kind. A good deal of the story revolves around a light-gun that can immediately render anyone it's fired at, momentarily catatonic. Imagine a shootout with those guns... during a high speed car chase. It's scary ain't it?

  As much as Looker points at things like plastic surgery, commercials, and pointless television programming, it's pointing a finger at modern technology in general. One character makes a point that to coerce someone to do something, you could force him to stare at something with flashing lights and subliminal images, then after a dramatic pause, he says that was 15 years ago- now? People willingly watch that stuff, and it's called 'entertainment'.  Granted it's a rather xenophobic and narrow view of television and advertising, but look at it now- unskippable ads on YouTube videos, ads on Facebook, ads on your phone. Ad banners, ad footers, pop up ads, targeted ads- ad spam-ware, ad spyware. I'd say the cautionary messages in Looker are still necessary to hear today.

  I found it interesting that the dangerous trance the hypnotic commercials in Looker puts viewers in can be broken simply by looking away. But, why would anyone bother? After all... it's only a commercial. Right? Again, someone in the movie points out that (at that time) the average American watches over an hour of commercials a day. Which is exactly the frontier the antagonists of this movie have literally been killing to try and exploit. Commercials that can do more than just pitch you some product, they can make you want to buy these items, as soon as possible. It's direct, and it's effect, and the viewers are willingly submitting themselves to it. It's horrifying. It's also a bit ironic that the protagonist of the movie, who stumbles onto this vile hi-tech corporate scheme, is a plastic surgeon- a veritable symbol of the decadence of the rich and famous.

  As you might've guessed at this point, this movie has a lot going on. Thankfully, it never gets complicated. It manages to keep all it's ducks in a row throughout. Now, when I sat down to watch this movie, I had heard a bit about it, and I wasn't sold on the concept. But, positive word of mouth online suggested this movie was definitely worth a watch. Skeptical as I was, my attitude immediately shifted, and I was hooked. Whether it was the music, or the acting, or the writing, but whatever it was- the opening to this movie hooked me something fierce. The movie continued to keep my attention throughout. It's an incredibly entertaining movie. I tip my hat to writer/director Michael Crichton for spinning such a fascinating tale here.

  It's also worth mentioning that this movie basically predicted the widespread use of CGI, an effect that would later bring dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park, which was based on his best selling book. Looker is quite a bit dated, visually, and the last act or two of the movie are somewhat hokey, but only somewhat. If you can suspend disbelief, and put yourself in the right mindset, there's no reason why this movie won't thrill and entertain you from beginning to end. It's not perfect obviously, but it's decent science fiction with a lot of really good acting. I feel like I'm on a lucky winning streak here. First Timescape, then The Arrival, Circuitry Man, and now Looker. A whole handful of good sci-fi movies I'd never seen before.

  I certainly recommend Looker for a healthy dose of early 80's science fiction social commentary. I can't believe this hasn't gained a bigger cult following over the years, there's a lot of really cool moments in the movies and it has a few really interesting concepts on it's hands. We need more modern movies that can walk that line, balancing relevant social commentary with excitement and suspense. This was done expertly to a much darker and brooding effect in David Cronenberg's Videodrome, a far superior movie- but it was also put together by superior filmmaking talent.  Both Videodrome and Looker make very similar points, but where Videodrome is a bit nihilistic and downbeat, Looker tends to be a bit more straightforward and lighthearted. (By comparison if nothing else)

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