The Lawnmower Man ~ 1992, Brett Leonard, USA
The Lawnmower Man is a far out early 90’s horror film which boldly jumps into the once exciting world of VIRTUAL REALITY.
Remember when people were excited by Virtual Reality, or VR, if you’re hip? You probably don’t, because holy shit, that was decades ago… but no matter, circa 1992, the people of Pre-Myspace Earth really thought that Virtual Reality was gonna be super awesome, and they also thought, hilariously enough, that the technology needed was practically within our grasp. Let me set the stage for you; at that time, The Super Nintendo was straight up blowing people’s minds. Trying to perfectly replicate an interactive universe inside a digital environment back in the early 90’s was sort of like trying to travel to the moon when mankind was just starting to figure out how boats work. Today, pretty much every bozo on the street carries in their pocket a device which would have left 1992’s most jaw dropping technology in the dust, and we routinely drop the damn things into the toilet. The certainty with which The Lawnmower Man addresses it’s techno-speculation really makes watching it feel like coming upon a photograph of something really embarrassing you did in high school, only this time, the embarrassment impacts Western Civilization as a whole. Man. We sure were stupid back then, huh? Yes, and we still are.
The Plot~ Pierce Brosnan plays Dr. Lawrence Angelo, a cool 90’s scientist who has a pierced ear. Angelo is really smart, and his work is super important. What is his work, you ask? Pretty much he just straps monkeys into those weird gyroscopic things you used to see at the county fair and makes them play Atari Jaguar on stupid Virtual Reality headsets all day. For some reason, he thinks that this will stimulate the growth of brain tissue, which would thereby prove that video games actually make you smarter. Hard sell, Angelo, I think that by simply logging into X-Box Live we can pretty much disprove that little theory once and for all, but regardless, that’s what he does, until his work hits a road block when his test monkey loses it’s shit and attacks some people, who in turn, blow its little monkey head right off. Seeing how distraught Angelo has become after this regrettable setback, his black-hearted employers decide to send him home on a paid sabbatical, so he can chill the hell out and avoid losing his marbles altogether. They were foolish, though, to think that the ever obsessive Dr. Angelo would ever halt his research simply because it was proven to drive his subjects into fits of mindless, violent fury. On the contrary, having just now seen how potentially dangerous these experiments really are, Angelo does the one thing a scientist worth his salt would ever do, and that is to move directly into human trials without the oversight of any regulatory agency whatsoever. He does this in his basement, using a mentally retarded and possibly sexually abused man who mows his lawn. What ethics?
Jobe, the titular lawnmower man, responds well to his time in virtual reality land, and his intelligence does begin to improve. Enthused by his success, Angelo brings his findings to his employers, who are delighted, and Angelo is again allowed to continue his work in their vastly superior facilities. However, without telling Angelo, they also alter the programming for Jobe’s VR sessions to include the same aggression based programming that had previously driven Dr. Angelo’s chimpanzee insane, because scientists just like to do that kind of stuff sometimes. As a result, the now genius level Jobe not only gains godlike super-powers, but also vengeful, homicidal tendencies. That, boys and girls, is how Pierce Brosnan turned Simple Jack into a god-like Super Murderer with powers that rival the mighty Sega Genesis. Quiver in fear!!
No idea what this is supposed to be.
The Lawnmower Man’s strategy is pretty clear; it wants to wow you. This movie wants to throw so many awesome, pixelated, computer generated effects at you that your head’ll just be spinning with disbelief. Unfortunately, today we find the picture absolutely defanged, declawed, neutered, and humiliated by time. Bubsy 3D, anyone? I’m sure that what Lawnmower Man brought to the table may have spun a head or two back in the early ’90s, but for today’s viewers, every single aspect of the film’s main attraction comes across as primitive, and embarrassing. It’s actually somehow worse than what you see in the “Atom-Age’ B-movies of the 1950’s, because at least most of us haven’t actually dabbled in atomic fission firsthand, but we damn sure know about playing video games. That’s a fact. The Lawnmower Man NEEDS to be futuristic, it NEEDS to be impressive, and it NEEDS to convince you that your freaking Nintendo 3DS might be giving you super powers slowly. If it fails to achieve these goals, then what you have is a movie that burdens itself with an impossible obstacle, and therefore simply cannot be taken seriously. It is for that reason that The Lawnmower Man is probably the most dated film I have ever seen.
It’s also sort of sort of offensive, and isn’t directed all that well… BUT…. at the end of the day, none of what bothers me about The Lawnmower Man is going to be enough to detour it’s potential fan base completely. This is a film about a man who murders people with what basically amounts to “Computer Magic,” and there will always be people who want to see that. Hell, the general criteria for what makes a horror film passable to mainstream horror culture is pretty damn lenient, and The Lawnmower Man clears most of those hurdles just fine. From an academic perspective, what he have here is a turkey, straight up, but The Lawnmover Man is somehow enjoyable on some primitive level, and I guess that’s better than nothing.