Tuesday, April 30, 2013


(March 1992, U.S.)

Here's how THE LAWNMOWER MAN, perhaps the most dated computer technology-related film since WARGAMES (1983) begins with a title card over black:

"By the turn fo the millenium a technology known as VIRTUAL REALITY will be in widespread use. It will allow you to enter computer generated artificial worlds as unlimited as the imagination itself. ITs creators foresee millions of positive uses - while others fear it as a new form of mind control..."

Seeing those words on the big screen for the first time in 1992, I was immediately struck with the awe of wonder to imagine and question if such a thing were truly possible in real life. Twenty-two years later (my God, has it been that long??), I can only ask whatever happened to virtual reality?? Don't get me wrong - I'm sure it's still out there...somewhere...buried underground in secret worlds of computer technology that I wouldn't even begin to pretend to understand. I'm sure back then, such possibilities seemed like the reality of the future. But 'lo and behold...instead the world saw the creation and emergence of the internet, emailing and computer social networks. It's quite safe to say that the concept, hopes and dreams of virtual reality took a major backseat to all of that and eventually became about as obsoltete, unpopular and useless as say, the VCR and the cassette player. But again, remember, I'm no computer expert or computer geek, so perhaps I don't have all the facts on the matter. Perhaps I never will.

And so, having voiced my opinions and questions on the reality, let's jump into the fantasy of THE LAWNMOWER MAN. While the harsh reality of this world of today may have made this science fiction thriller very outdated, it's story and its computer effects are no less fun and entertaining to watch. Like Daniel Keyes 1959 novel FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, this story also deals with a mentally disabled man whose intelligence is technologically boosted to genius levels. Dr. Lawrence Angelo (played by a pre-James Bond Pierce Brosnan) works for Virtual Space Industries (aka "The Shop"), running experiments in increasing animal and human intelligence through the use of drugs and virtual reality. As a human test subject, he chooses Jobe Smith (played by Jeff Fahey), a local greenskeeper with an unknown learning disability, living in the garden shed owned by the local priest who's raised him (and abused him) since boyhood. Engaging in the games and the drugs, Jobe soon becomes smarter at an astounding rate. While discovering his brain potential, he also develops his body which leads to an intense sexual relationship with a young rich widow. Jobe also begins to display telepathic abilities accompanied with severe hallucinations. Despite the dangers, though, he continues his training as he slowly becomes something more intelligent and more powerful than what is considered human, including telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers. Eventually he suffers an inevitable psychotic breakdown that gives him the delusions of a Christ complex, or "Cyber-Christ, as he calls it. The change in this man is not only evident, but quite brutal, indeed. Consider the fact that at the film's beginning, Jobe is a simple man who looks like this...

...and by the film's end, he's been completely transformed, physically and mentally into this...

Jeff Fahey nails his role and his transformation perfectly. As the idiot, his character's innocence, both in voice and physical stature, envoke nothing but childlike sympathy from the viewer. As the transformation begins, so does Fahey's voice and stature, giving off not only intelleigence and confidence, but dangerous arrogance and evil, as well. The simple concept of a man in his before and after stages are clear and thought-provoking.

Now I have to admit, even in the 21st Century world of CGI effects that are up your ass in digital 3D in every movie theater you go to, the effects here are still not too shabby and are fun to watch, in a TRON-sort-of-way. In fact, the supervising sound editor was Frank Serafine, who was hired as a result of his sound creation work in the movie TRON (1982). So there you go. But beyond the effects and the thrills, this is what I would consider to (still) be an intelligent high-concept sci-fi story of man's wisdom, man's ignorance and man's madness in the hands of unexplored technological advances. Since the creation of fire, our first true technology, man's achievements have never ceased to evolve itself though his technology. Oh, but how little man himself has changed...and is very likely to ever change. While there are always arguments for both sides, sometimes I can't help but wonder how many horrific events of crime and terrorism may have been avoided had technology like the internet not been invented. On the other hand, how else would I get my concert tickets? And what about all that great internet porn??? Just sayin'...

Okay, so here's a quick story for you. I did go to see THE LAWNMOWER MAN when it was released with my college girlfriend and we loved it. The real story, though, comes months later when I acquired my own copy on VHS tape. Labor Day weekend 1992, I had a group of friends with me at my beach house for the holiday. One night, we all sat around to watch this movie and enjoyed it just a bit more when we all had a few extra drinks in our system. By the time the climax rolled around when Jobe is trying to permanently absorb himself into the computer mainframe and keeps hitting the walls of ACCESS DENIED, we were all cracking up. Even the girls who were staying with me started closing their legs real tight and saying, "Access denied!" Okay, I guess you had to be there, but take my word for it...it was funny at the time and the memory is still with me. Thanks, ladies!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jobe Smith: "I realized that nothing we've been doing is new. We haven't been tapping into new areas of the brain - we've just been awakening the most ancient. This technology is simply a route to powers that conjurers and alchemists used centuries ago. The human race lost that knowledge and now I'm reclaiming it through virtual reality."
Dr. Lawrence Angelo: "You're moving too fast. Even with all these new abilities, there are dangers. Man may be able to evolve a thousand-fold through this technology, but the rush must be tempered with wisdom."

That wisdom, in my opinion, still doesn't exist!

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