Michael Crichton | Critical Review by Pauline Kael

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Michael Crichton.
This section contains 775 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Pauline Kael

Critical Review by Pauline Kael

SOURCE: "Childhood of the Dead," in The New Yorker, Vol. LVII, No. 38, November 9, 1981, pp. 170-84.

Kael was a widely-read and respected film critic for The New Yorker until her retirement in 1991. In the following excerpt, she unfavorably reviews Looker, focusing on Crichton's "cold" direction, the lack of character development, and the weakness of the film's plot.

Michael Crichton directs like a technocrat. This ties in with a small problem he has with his scripts: he can't write people. His new film, Looker (it's his fourth), gives the impression of having never been touched by human hands; it's a shiny, cold job of engineering that manages to turn even Dorian Harewood, as a Los Angeles police lieutenant, into a piece of furniture. The plot is pseudo-scientific piffle about the machinations of the head of a conglomerate, played by the now completely white-haired James Coburn in the desiccated-amoral-old-bastard manner of John Huston. This old rascal's laboratories at Digital Matrix are developing computer-generated images to make hypnotic TV commercials for political as well as economic use. To the rescue of civilization as we know it comes Albert Finney, like a lame tortoise. Finney gives what looks to be the laziest performance by a star ever recorded on film. Boredom seems to have seeped into his muscles and cells; he's sinking under the weight of it, and the only part of him still alert is his wiry hair. He plays an eminent plastic surgeon who has "perfected" several women models according to mathematically exact specifications supplied by Coburn's lab; his highest point of animation comes when he selects Vivaldi for the day's accompaniment to his tiny incisions. (There can't be much choice: he could hardly use "Kitten on the Keys" or Terry Riley's "In C.") He's the target of a murderous thug who is so characterless that if he didn't wear a thick-brush mustache we'd have no way of recognizing him from one scene to the next. With no people around, Looker is as empty as Crichton's Coma would have been without Geneviève Bujold.

The picture begins promisingly, with a couple of the models who have been worked on by the doc coming to mystifying violent ends. But Crichton's iciness is effective only when he's ingenious; he isn't, here. The plot explanations seem to be babble. It isn't clear why Coburn's evil scheme requires models to be surgically perfected in order to be the basis for computer images, especially since the hypnotic effect of the images is achieved only with the models' eyes. And we never learn why the girls are then marked for destruction. For that matter, we don't find out in what way Coburn's elaborate technology is more effective than simple subliminal messages. Thinking about this movie could give you frostbite of the brain. Susan Dey is the pertly pretty heroine, who poses another riddle. We're told that she, like the others, has been physically perfected, down to the shadow of a millimetre, but she has a highly visible individual feature—a friendly little wart on her belly that should set off alarm systems or topple the towers at Digital Matrix.

At the end, it comes as quite a surprise that Doc Finney is meant to have a sexual interest in this charmingly blemished beauty. So that's why he was trudging around trying to keep his eyes open. (He'd need electric shock to consummate the union.) When the man with the mustache shoots hypnotic flashes at Finney that are meant to numb him, you think, What a waste of special effects. Couldn't Crichton, with his medical background, invent an excuse for the doc's thick torpor—make him a sufferer from narcolepsy, at the least? This is the film that should have been called Coma. What's worst about it may be the exact, knowing readings that the actors give their computer-generated (or close to it) dialogue. So much care has gone into this dumb, hollow thing, and all it does is sell a few impressively constructed semi-nude models. In the big climax, people stalk each other amid computer-generated images just like the men and humanoids stalking each other in Crichton's Westworld; it's a little early in his career for a recap. He tries to tone up the purpose of Looker by providing a cautionary statistic and then having a disembodied voice repeat it at the end. It sinks in, all right: one and a half years of an average American's time is spent watching commercials. But there is no qualitative difference between this affectless, impersonal film and a commercial. There was no reason for Finney to rouse himself. One and a half years plus ninety-three minutes.

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This section contains 775 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Pauline Kael
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