The Lawnmower Man is an intriguing science fiction film about the limits of human intelligence, and for the most part it's an effective character study of two very different people. Scream Factory has done a great job with the transfers for both versions of the film, and they've also assembled a new 50-minute featurette.
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Good character study of two very different people
Great 4k transfer and a lengthy 50-minute making-of extra
Film loses itself in technobabble during the conclusion
The Lawnmower Man has two different cuts, and for the purposes of this review I will be reviewing the director’s cut thanks to its nice assembly by Scream Factory.
1992’s The Lawnmower Man takes its name from the Stephen King short story, but it has relatively nothing to do with that tale besides sharing a couple of character names. It’s fairly common knowledge that King filed a lawsuit against the film removing his name – and winning. Still, The Lawnmower Man shares a few similarities plotwise to some of King’s work, including an emphasis on God-like human figures and telepathic abilities as a result of human experimentation. Writer/director Brett Leonard embraces virtual reality technology – still fledgling territory during the film’s release – and crafts a storyline about the advancement of human intelligence and the fine line between knowledge and insanity.
The Lawnmower Man follows Jobe (Jeff Fahey), a mildly mentally retarded man whose comic book interests turn into reality when he accidentally stumbles on a cybermonkey biologically manipulated by Dr. Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) with the hopes that virtual reality technology and nootropic drugs can turn chimps into war machines. Eventually, Dr. Angelo decides to experiment on Jobe to further his research, unwittingly creating a cybergod once Jobe surpasses the natural learning ability of human beings.
The Lawnmower Man‘s early scenes center on both of its main characters equally, with Leonard alternating back and forth between the simple but relatively happy Jobe and the increasingly stressed Dr. Angelo. He creates a juxtaposition between the two that’s important to the themes of the film, primarily showcasing the positives and negatives of human intelligence. Jobe’s life – spent mowing lawns for low wage with a nice older man named Terry (Geoffrey Lewis) – may not be exciting, but he’s at least got a childlike sense of wonder about the world around him, and Fahey’s portrayal of Jobe’s mild retardation is careful and endearing.
On the other hand, Dr. Angelo’s massive intelligence and work ethic has practically destroyed any personal and private life he might have. The director’s cut, running about 30 minutes longer than the original theatrical cut, elongates these dynamic character moments, showcasing the issues that Dr. Angelo faces as he struggles to balance his interest in scientific advancement with the ethical dilemmas his company VSI forces him into.
While the director’s cut tends to get a bit long-winded in its middle sequences, The Lawnmower Man makes good use of its primary characters and, more importantly, the changes Jobe goes through as he begins to inhale vast amounts of knowledge at an extremely fast rate. The film’s central ideas hope to test the limits of human intelligence, and Leonard effectively shows how difficult it is for humans to understand the expansiveness of human life on just one planet, let alone the “alternate” universe that a virtual reality system creates.
Leonard’s film had been in development hell for quite some time before its release, but it’s actually to The Lawnmower Man‘s benefit that it didn’t see daylight until 1992. The movie makes heavy use of computer-generated images and animation, including replicating virtual reality technology and importing graphical entities into real world settings, and for its time The Lawnmower Man‘s special effects were probably quite eye-opening, or at least somewhat scary considering VR’s infancy. While these effects haven’t aged well, they are certainly a product of the time.
As The Lawnmower Man gets more and more technological, though – and as Jobe begins to develop a God complex wherein he sees himself as the Creator of a virtual world – Leonard begins to lose the mysticism of the film’s practical concepts in a sea of cybernetic mumbo-jumbo. In its attempts to philosophize, the actual intention of Jobe’s transmission into VSI’s network is skewed, and despite some interesting out-of-body meta-battles, the conclusion fails to capture the interest the film’s first two acts generate.
Still, there’s a lot of interesting material in The Lawnmower Man, and with the director’s cut, the emphasis is on offering more length to the film. Leonard’s given full reign to develop the characters and their relationships; there’s quite a bit more about VSI and the Program in general. While it’s a lengthy 140 minute watch, the director’s cut is perhaps a more well-rounded version of the film that strengthens the thematic elements.
The Lawnmower Man has its flaws – and one of them is simply aging technology – but it’s a compelling artifact in a world that is getting increasingly more connected and, hopefully, more educated. The director’s cut runs long but has a good handle for characterization and spends a lot more time with Fahey’s Jobe. While the film copied King’s short story title, it certainly creates a world of its own.
Scream Factory has released The Lawnmower Man as a Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray, including two versions of the film on two separate discs. The release gets new artwork along with the original artwork as a reversible wraparound panel, plus a slipcover for early buyers. The theatrical cut features the brunt of the special features, while the director’s cut is contained on the second disc.
The film features a 4k scan of the interpositive for the theatrical cut and a combination of the 4k interpositive and additional footage from the original camera negative for the director’s cut. Both transfers look great, especially the theatrical cut: great color contrast and a warm palette, soft grain presence, and relatively few film flaws make this a beautiful version of the film. Because the director’s cut contains two different film sources cut together, there are some jump cuts as scenes transition from the interpositive source to the camera negative, along with some noticeable degradation in quality with the camera negative. However, Scream Factory makes this issue known with an opening title card, and for the most part it’s a negligible part of the film because it only happens a few times throughout. Otherwise, the director’s cut assembles what I consider a slightly superior version of the film, and it looks excellent with this new scan.
Audio includes both a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and a 2.0 track. Both sound good, but the 5.1 tends to have a more voluminous ambient presence that makes it the preferred sound source. There are also English subtitles.
Despite the box artwork’s description, the one new special feature included in this edition is housed on the theatrical cut disc. Called “Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man,” it’s a brand new 50-minute making-of featurette with interviews from cast and crew including director Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey, editor Alan Baumgarten, and more. It’s cut up into sections and runs the gamut of the film’s production, an interesting watch that makes this collector’s edition worth it for fans of the film.
Other special features have been featured on a previous release, including audio commentaries on both versions of the film from Leonard and Gimel Everett, storyboard galleries, deleted scenes (contained in the director’s cut), animated sequences, production stills, original EPK, and even a secret advertisement for a contest to win real VR equipment by answering a couple questions about the movie.
Overall, this is a solid collector’s edition release. The film looks great and the 50-minute featurette is definitely worth a look. While one new extra and 4k transfers may not be enough to persuade some viewers to double-dip, it’s certainly a worthy purchase for those who don’t own the film.
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