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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Looker

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is also new to Blu-Ray this week

It’s a shame that Michael Crichton’s “Looker” is not better known. It’s perhaps because Crichton, who only directed six feature films and wrote the screenplay for this one, created movies that were ahead of their time. It’s possible that the ideas and technology put forth in “Looker” were too far ahead of their time in 1981. Today in 2018, the technology itself—with its colorful buttons and knobs, flashing lights, and black and white screens—is dated, but the ideas are more relevant than ever.

“Looker” stars Albert Finney as Dr. Larry Roberts, a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. Problems arise for the doctor when three of the four super models he recently worked on die in mysterious accidents. Dr. Roberts takes it upon himself to keep the last patient, Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey), alive while also solving the mystery of who is killing his patients and why.

This leads him to a man named John Reston (James Coburn), who owns a research conglomerate called Reston Industries, and specifically to their research facility Digital Matrix Inc., run by Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor-Young). Their aim is to create perfection. They have technology that analyzes how perfect a model looks and provides feedback to the millimeter. A score is assigned to the model based on her level of perfection. The problem, they note, is that once even perfect models start moving their bodies, the scores drop. This leads to the next phase, where each model’s entire body is scanned and digitally processed to be later used in computer generated television commercials where their perfection level can be controlled. For the use of their image, the model is paid a hefty yearly stipend by Digital Matrix. If this sounds like too good of a deal to be true, then you’re way ahead of the models who accepted it.

The idea of creating lifelike digital models of real people and manipulating them to do what you want may have seemed far-fetched in 1981, but in an age where we’ve already seen Fred Astaire dance with a Dirt Devil vacuum in a commercial, this is all too real. What’s more, this technology is the lesser of two-evils on display in “Looker.” There is another one that is far worse.

Digital Matrix has in their employ a nameless, brawny, mustachioed henchman, played by Tim Rossovich. He does their dirty work using a special gun appropriately called the L.O.O.K.E.R, which emits a light beam that puts the person on the receiving end of it in a trance. It also renders the person wielding it invisible. The effects are temporary and the duration varies, but the concept is extraordinary. A real-life propaganda tool like the digital imaging falling into the wrong hands is one thing. Now imagine what truly malevolent forces could do if they were able to put their opponents in a trance and render themselves invisible.

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“Looker” doesn’t get too heavy into exploring these themes, but they are certainly there. Crichton seems more interested in crafting a thriller than he does in waxing philosophical about the encroachment of computers and technology in our day to day lives—an encroachment he foresaw decades before the prevalence of home computers and the Internet. At this, he does a fairly good job—for the most part. There is a fight between Dr. Roberts and the mustached man that features Roberts flying around after getting punched by the man, and it is more comical than it should be. When Roberts finally gets the upper hand, turns the tables, and hypnotizes the mustached man, his first impulse is to give the man a swift kick in the nuts. I get where he’s coming from after all he’s been through, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar moment in Adam Sandler’s movie “Click.” Oddly enough, I groaned at the brutality in the Sandler movie but was amused by the reciprocation in “Looker.” It’s all about context and how it’s played.

Once the big evil plot has been discovered, the movie gets a bit jumpy as it heads toward the final set piece and big showdown with the baddies. Jarring though this may be on first viewing, it’s much appreciated for repeat viewings since the cat and mouse game played by Roberts, Reston, and the mustache man is one of the most creative and entertaining in the history of cinema. The real life violence witnessed by a television audience who is numb and oblivious to it because it is so entranced by commercials speaks volumes about the times they lived in back then. For that matter, it speaks even more volumes about the times we live in now. It’s time for “Looker” to get the attention it deserves. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I will hand it to director J.A. Bayona that “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” certainly has its good points. The visual effects are top notch, the action set pieces are engaging and suspenseful, and there are some truly emotional, tug at the heart strings moments (the image of that poor dinosaur who just missed the ship will haunt me for years to come). Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back as the leads and they have some good chemistry together.

The problem is that the plot, involving an unscrupulous businessman named Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who wants to create a black market in which dinosaurs rescued from Isla Nublar are sold to the highest bidder, is a bit off the shelf, especially once his head goon (Ted Levine) and his squad of mercenaries betray our protagonists. While this does lead to a funny bit of physical comedy by Pratt as he moves his temporarily paralyzed body away from slow moving lava, it’s not enough to offset the cartoonish villainy at play. If Mills had a mustache, I’m sure he’d twirl it constantly.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” starts off promising enough, and most everything that takes place in the first half on Isla Nublar is well-done and entertaining. However, once the action of the movie leaves the island, the entertainment value sharply declines with it. Caging up the dinosaurs and using them as props in an auction by stereotypically greedy corporate villains does not make for a compelling “Jurassic” movie. The good news, based on the way “Fallen Kingdom” ends, is that it seems like it will be impossible to make the same mistake for the inevitable sequel. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Siberia,” about a Russian diamond deal gone wrong, starring Keanu Reeves and Molly Ringwald; and “The Bravados,” standard western story from 1958 starring Gregory Peck as a rancher tracking down the men who he believes raped and murdered his wife, more notable for the gorgeous Cinemascope cinematography of the rich, luscious landscapes than for the characters, dialogue, or plot, but still worth viewing.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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