Looker is the rare cheesy 1980s movie that got the future right

Illustration for article titled Looker is the rare cheesy 1980s movie that got the future right

By now, most of us are resigned to the notion that the Future™ is not going to be everything we were promised by science fiction. We will not be getting our flying cars, wise-cracking robot butlers, immortality pills, or pleasure model replicants any time soon. But while we mourn for everything that science fiction got wrong, let us stop for a moment to ponder the predictions that have come sadly, tragically, laughably true. Sort of. Enter Michael Crichton's 1981 new media techno-thriller classic Looker.

Albert Finney plays Larry Roberts, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon with a clientele of beautiful women who begin coming to him with specific requests for surgical procedures. Very specific requests. Like "my nose is point two millimeters too narrow" specific. When his patients start turning up dead of apparent suicide, Doctor Roberts decides to investigate the not-at-all-sinister-sounding modeling agency that they worked for: Digital Matrix, who naturally give him a complete tour of their facility and familiarize him with each step in their television-based mind control data workflow process.

Digital Matrix has been making digital copies of their commercial actresses and, using biometric analysis of audience response, sending them to get tiny surgical corrections to maximize their aesthetic appeal. Once the actresses have been perfected and digitized, Digital Matrix quietly and discreetly disposes of them by throwing them out of the windows of highrise apartment buildings, using the same kind of big picture strategic thinking we would see employed a six years later by the villains in Lethal Weapon.

Illustration for article titled Looker is the rare cheesy 1980s movie that got the future right

Dr. Roberts soon finds himself entangled in a web of intrigue and pursued by Digital Matrix henchmen brandishing brain-freezing mind control guns which can only be blocked by mirror shades that look like something the Terminator's grandmother would wear to the mall.

Digital Matrix has big plans for their technology, you see, way beyond selling more soap. They plan to use hypnotic television beams to influence the outcome of elections, and they have no intention of allowing Albert Finney or his meddling sidekick Susan Dey to interfere with their in-no-way-completely-traceable scheme.

Yadda yadda yadda, hilarious kung fu gunfight on real TV sound stages with digital actors projected into them because apparently there's some issue with digitizing the sets, James Coburn compares television viewing to a prison term (by this point in the movie I'm inclined to agree), everyone gets shot in the head, Albert and Susan walk off into the sunset without having to answer any bothersome questions about the trail of bodies in their wake aaaaaand we're out.

So, how does Looker match up with reality now that we're actually living in the uncanny valley of digital actors, artificial humans and news channels as wholly-owned subsidiaries of political parties? Let's compare.


First, there's the brain-freezing gun, aka the anti-TiVo. One point for reality. TiVo is much better than a brain-freezing gun.

Second, there's the human digitization technology. In Looker, Susan Dey strips naked for a low-light digitization session that's even hotter when you watch it in French. In reality, we have Ira Glass in a green screen suit. That would be one point for Looker.


Finally, the influence of television on the electoral process. In Looker, a media conglomerate broadcasts mind control signals to hypnotize the electorate and influence the outcome of an election. In reality, Christine O'Donnell is not a witch. Final score, 2-1 for Looker.

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Play fair, now. Lethal Weapon's lethal swan dive was a drug-induced accident after the poisoned girl got high, not part of the disposal plan. Don't your recall the famously edited line "That's right! She actually stopped and 'S#!T!'"