(Warner Home Video, 1.30.2007)
Novelist-turned-filmmaker Michael Crichton has made a career out of relying far too heavily on out-there, high concept premises (Westworld, Runaway, Jurassic Park, Timeline) -- in fact, without Crichton, I think it's fair to say there never would have been an Andrew Niccol (writer of The Truman Show, writer/director of Gattaca) -- but some of these have yielded genuinely original and cinematically stimulating results. While Looker is one of Crichton's most maligned and credibility-straining works, it's also his most formally impressive and eccentric film behind-the-camera.
Crichton has never been a master humorist, but many of his novels and films stem from fundamentally satirical ideas. In this case, he filters the excesses of both plastic surgery and advertising through some typically Crichtonian futuristic inventions to tell yet another cautionary tale about technology gone wrong. Essentially, this is Crichton's superior precursor to S1m0ne, Andrew Niccol's beautifully shot, dead-on-arrival dud from 2002. Both films deal with computer-generated women (an actress in S1m0ne, a group of model/murder victims here) and the complications that ensue when a corrupt individual tries to hide them from the American public. Whereas Niccol took a cheerful, "comedic" approach -- in the interest of poorly realized irony, I assume -- Crichton takes a more grim, clear-eyed, dystopian approach... and it sort of works, due largely to the appealing work of Albert Finney.
Dramatically and logically, Looker is deeply problematic but, like some of Crichton's other sci-fi works, the futuristic ideas are sufficient reason to pay attention (Disclosure is a good example of a Crichton film where the opposite was true, but that's probably Barry Levinson's fault). One piece of Looker technology -- which I won't to spoil here -- would be right at home in the dream world of Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep and, in spite of its complete and utter absurdity, it breaks conventions of cinematic time and space in a way that remains exciting and fresh (if a bit ridiculous) twenty-six years later.
Since its release, Looker has been criticized for its borderline incoherence -- which has been attributed to several minutes of explanatory scenes that were deleted from the theatrical cut (and included in the TV version) -- but I prefer to think of it an enigmatic science fiction mood piece. If you go into this movie expecting a straightforward, plot-driven, sci-fi thriller, prepare to be disappointed. However, if you're in the mood for an eerie, artful exercise in eighties gloss (along the lines of Bob Fosse's Star 80 or Michael Mann's Manhunter), Looker is a worthwhile diversion and an essential piece of the Crichton screen canon.
In addition to an impeccable 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, this disc includes the film's theatrical trailer, as well as an informative introduction and commentary by Crichton. -- Jonathan Doyle