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LookerLooker on DVD

Michael Crichton stories are always interesting and worth a look.  His techno-thrillers run the gamut from alien invasion (The Andromeda Strain) to cultural conflict (Rising Sun), to theme parks run amok (Westworld, Jurassic Park). Looker is no different. 

Alas, it's different from most Crichton works in that the reality has pretty well caught up to his science fiction. This is undoubtedly why the writer/director himself shows up with an introduction at the beginning of this new DVD.

The story follows a respected Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, played by Albert Finney, who finds himself caught up in, well, a Michael Crichton-type techno-thriller. You see, he's been operating on these supermodel/TV commercial actresses who keep showing up at his office with a list of very tiny adjustments they need to supposedly make them simply perfect.

The weird thing is, once he does this operation the women die, either by apparent suicide or apparent accident. This brings the cops to the good doctor's door as they look for answers-and he seems to be the only common element.

He isn't, of course.  There is an evil corporation, headed by James Coburn, and it's doing some high-tech magic on these babes and then eliminating them when they've served their purpose.

Crichton's story gives us a look at the future of computer animation (well maybe not the future anymore), and there's also some intriguing "evil corporate stuff" and some commentary on television.

There are also some funny moments, as the corporate empire starts to crumble and a live audience is treated to some of the digital shenanigans running amok.

As far as thrillers go, Looker probably isn't that thrilling, undoubtedly in part because of how real life has caught up with this particular unreality. But it's still pretty neat yarn, and worth a look in the home theater.

What isn't nearly as worthy of a look he is the overall look of the DVD release. Yes, it is in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the colors are pretty good. But the picture is very grainy and could really benefit from a nice remastering.

The audio is good though.  It's presented in Dolby Surround, though there isn't a lot of surround, but they do make pretty good use of the front three channels.

Extras include the aforementioned introduction by the writer director himself, and the trailer.

Looker, from Warner Home Entertainment.
93 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.4:1, widescreen TV compatible), Dolby Digital.
Starring Albert Finney, James Coburn, Susan Dey, Leigh Taylor-Young
Produced by Howard Jeffrey.
Written and directed by Michael Crichton

Illustrated ManThe Illustrated Man on DVD

There haven't been a lot of good Ray Bradbury movies made, and that's a shame. Bradbury is rightfully considered one of the great science fiction authors and, while his science doesn't hold up at all, his fiction is beautiful.  He can turn a phrase with the best and his prose is gorgeous to read.

Maybe that's why it's so tough to make a movie out of this stuff.  Fahrenheit 451 was okay, actually it was pretty good, but still a pale shadow of the book, and his Martian Chronicles made a dreadful TV miniseries.  Perhaps the best Bradbury adaptation was Disney's Something Wicked this Way Comes, which was a pretty cool flick.

Unfortunately the illustrated Man has to fall into the former category-nice try but no cigar. It has some nice Bradbury moments in it, but it just doesn't seem to work as well as should.

The book upon which it's loosely based was a 1951 collection of short stories, three of which are done here, with the Illustrated Man and his skin illustrations used as the joining device between them-the envelope inside which they've included some nifty sci-fi stories.

Rod Steiger stars in all the stories and he brings a lot of power to the role. We first see him as the Illustrated Man (don't call them tattoos!) coming across a young drifter named Willie (Robert Drivas). Carl (Steiger) is bent upon finding the woman (Claire Bloom) who put the pictures all over him. He's haunted by her and her handiwork, and he claims that the illustrations come alive. Willie is fascinated by the images, and as he gazes into them, why wouldn't you know, they do come alive and he's propelled into the other stories in this anthology.

The envelope story is interesting enough on its own, as they get to explore the character of and the demons haunting Carl - especially his strange interactions with the woman who changed his life.  But when we go through the tattoos into three wildly different future worlds, things get really interesting.

The first story, "The Veldt", is interesting if only because it predicts Star Trek's Holodeck years before Star Trek introduced it. Here, it's actually the kids' nursery that they can use to choose any fantasy location that they like. But mom and dad (Steiger and Bloom) start to wonder just how safe and/or beneficial this particular toy is and threaten to shut it down. Much, you might guess, to the kids' chagrin.

"The Long Rains" sees four astronauts (including Steiger and Drivas) marooned on a planet where it's always raining and the rain is so heavy that it could drown you or, if you're lucky, merely deafen you.  It's a place that could drive you nuts, and it seems to do just that in at least two crewmembers and possibly more. They're searching for a sundome, a place of refuge, but they have no idea where one may be.

The other story, "The Last Night of the World", is remarkable if only for its final shot and the expression on Rod Steiger's face.  It's set on the eve before Armageddon as a couple (Steiger and Bloom again) painfully discusses what to do with their children before the world ends that night. It is particularly devastating.

The movie looks pretty low-budget, and the production looks very late 60s (gee, who'd have thought?) but the performances are very good and the writing, though it cries out for a Bradbury screenplay, does its best to do this source material justice.

It's a pretty good DVD, too.  Presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, the image is really good, sharp, bright and colorful. The mono audio is unremarkable, however.

Pictures include the trailer, and an interesting vintage featurette "Tattooed Steiger."

The Illustrated Man, from Warner Home Entertainment.
103 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, widescreen TV compatible), Dolby Digital Mono.
Starring Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Robert Drivas.
Produced by Howard B Kreitsek and Ted Mann
written by Howard B Kreitsek, directed by Jack Smight

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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