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Dustin Putman




The Lawnmower Man  (1992)

Reviewed for TheBluFile.com by Dustin Putman

The Film
1.5 Stars
(Release Date: June 20, 2017) – When "The Lawnmower Man" reached theaters in 1992, its computer-generated effects were all the rage. Looking back, it is difficult to believe they could have ever been considered state-of-the-art. Jarringly quaint and archaic by modern 21st-century standards, the virtual reality angle nevertheless continues to be this sci-fi tech thriller's biggest claim to fame. As a film—even a B-level one—it has always been rather tame and dopey, noncommittal as it wavers between the science-fiction and horror genres while reminding more of an early-'90s made-for-cable movie. What the publicity department did commit to was misleadingly bill it during its initial advertising campaign as "Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man," a decision that led to a lawsuit from the author and his name being wiped from the picture's marketing. Indeed, this is for all intents and purposes an in-name-only adaptation of King's 1975 short story, with just one scene coming remotely close to resembling said source material.

A post-"Remington Steele," pre-007 Pierce Brosnan stars as Dr. Lawrence Angelo, a scientist working for Virtual Space Industries focused on using virtual reality and medication as tools for advancing intelligence. When his work with a chimpanzee subject goes haywire, he turns to human experimentation, narrowing his sights on mentally disabled greenskeeper Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey). Jobe is happy to play the VR setup in Lawrence's basement, but the longer the doctor works with him the more Jobe's increasing mental functions grow dangerous. Soon, there will be no way to stop him as his newfound telekinetic and pyrotechnic powers and link to the VSI computer mainframe transform him into a god.

With "The Lawnmower Man," writer-director Brett Leonard (who would go on to helm another virtual reality thriller, 1995's "Virtuosity") exhibits a clear interest in the shiny technology and science at his disposal, but he is less confident in spearheading a film meant to provoke and frighten (it does neither). Instead, it lurches along at a meandering pace, its handful of death scenes lacking bite and, in the case of one fiery demise, falling into tackiness. What does work in spite of Leonard and co-writer Gimel Everett choppy screenplay is Jeff Fahey's distinguished performance as Jobe. Fahey is instantly endearing and believable in the early scene and equally plausible and intimidating as his personality shifts and his mind is overtaken by malevolent forces. When little else is working around him, the arresting Fahey keeps the proceedings from entirely derailing.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound
 B/B-

For its Blu-ray debut from Scream Factory, "The Lawnmower Man" has received a new 4K scan of the interpositive. An additional clean-up of the source could have improved the outcome—there is still plenty of age-related speckling throughout—but there is still a lot here to like. First off, this is as vibrant as the film has looked since its 1992 premiere. Details, from the blades of grass Jobe mows to beads of sweat on characters to fine lines and pores in facial close-ups, are impressive. There is a bit of softness to the image itself, but this appears to be a result of how it was originally lensed. The virtual reality segments look fine, but are almost awe-inspiringly antiquated.

Also of note, the Director's Cut version is also a 4K scan of the interpositive with additional footage from the original camera negative. The quality of this footage is slightly inconsistent with the rest of the transfer (it's softer and a little rougher around the edges), but it's not terribly intrusive and certainly preferable to not having the Director's Cut at all.

Audio-wise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is adequate. I had to raise the volume multiple times to hear a few dialogue exchanges; voices seem to be mixed lower than the music, and the overall presentation lacks the oomph one hopes for from a surround track. By and large, this is a front-heavy experience, which makes the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio option the preferable one. On the 2.0 track, the prioritization of dialogue within the mix is more potent and evenly distributed, while music also strikes as a great deal more layered.

Blu-ray Features
Disc 1 – Theatrical Cut (108 minutes)
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett
  • "Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man" Featurette (50:40, HD) – Featuring interviews with director Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey
  • Deleted Scenes (27:30, SD)
  • Original Electronic Press Kit (4:43, SD)
  • Edited Animated Sequences (4:15, SD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:11, HD)
  • TV Spot (0:31, HD)
Disc 2 – Director's Cut (141 minutes) – Less streamlined and more satisfyingly developed, this "Director's Cut" includes over 30 minutes of additional footage, including the fleshing out of characters and a more gradual, empathetic depiction of Jobe's transformation
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett
  • Conceptual Art and Design Sketches (HD, 2:52)
  • Behind-the-Scenes and Production Stills (HD, 7:12)
  • Storyboard Comparisons (HD, 1:54)
Bottom Line
"The Lawnmower Man" was a sleeper hit when it was released in March 1992, tapping into the then-cutting-edge subject of virtual reality and earning $32 million domestically off a $10-million budget. Viewed twenty-five years later, it is remarkable how primitive its visual effects sequences look. Beyond these, the script is clunky and half-formed, in a constant battle between whether to be science fiction or horror (a topic director Brett Leonard discusses in the bonus content) and ending up being a little of both yet not committed enough to work as either. As a time capsule to its early-'90s portrayal of VR, "The Lawnmower Man" is fascinating to revisit. As a movie, though, only Jeff Fahey's committed performance holds up. Scream Factory's 2-Disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray pulls out all the stops, packed with extras and including two cuts of the film. For fans and nostalgia buffs, "The Lawnmower Man" comes recommended.

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© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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