The B-Movie Isle: Scream Factory’s The Lawnmower Man (Collector’s Edition)
The B-Movie Isle/Adam takes a look at the Virtual Reality Film that came between Tron and The Matrix in the early 90’s cult classic The Lawnmower Man. Recently released by Scream Factory with the 140 minute Director’s Cut fully restored in 4K (something that hasn’t been seen the light of day since the Laserdisc Days). Does the film still hold up or just another in a long line of bad VR films? Has it matured into something more than Science Gone Wrong story? Is Jeff Fahey the man? Read to find out this and more…
NOTE: This review is based off the Director’s Cut and will discuss differences.
In the 1990’s there were two things that came in plentiful supply; Stephen King Adaptations and Science Gone Wrong films. Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, Needful Things, It, The Stand, Apt Pupil… Man’s Best Friend, Eve of Destruction, Species, Jurassic Park… The combining of these two very fruitful genres (yes, for a time King was a genre onto himself) would produce something grand. When the two were combined, the results were… grand-ish.
The Lawnmower Man is the quintessential 90’s movie and by default the typical New Line Cinema production at the time. The film is the part exploitation, part heady high concept, all B-movie goodness. That’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a fabulous thing. Please note, as we have discussed in the past, this column (along with its accompanying podcast) does not trade in irony.
Co-Writer/Director Brent Leonard has concocted a heady brew of exploitation, hard and speculative science. The film feels like the bastard child of Michael Crichton and Stephen King in the best way possible at the center of the film is both a Mad Scientist (Pierce Brosnan) and the “Creature” he creates (Jeff Fahey). The film has no problem with taking the very on-the-nose named Jobe (Fahey) from simpleton to avenging-super-smart-now-with-psychic-powers-demi-god in a few gobbly-gook-techno-babble infused scenes. Leonard, especially in the director’s cut (which is a full 30 minutes longer) understands that the concept of VR (new at time) has to be slowly introduced. What this has done now 20 years removed is allowed for a more fully rounded film at 140+ minutes where we truly get to know both Jobe and Dr. Angelo.
The most interesting parts of this film are just how un-PC the dynamics between Jobe and the town is and how vicious the treatment of a harmless character is. It’s fascinating how far we’ve come from how this film’s characters treatment Jobe and our current “Woke Society”. Though we are in a far more understanding society this film does jab at the underbelly of what many people think and someone’s worthiness in society. As a kid watching this film it was always fun to see Jobe turn the tables on his aggressors and bullies. As an adult it’s heartbreaking to see Jobe go from one end of spectrum of mistreatment and fringe of society to another. Brosnan’s Dr. Angelo much like Dr. Frankenstein never asks the logical question of “Should I?” only the “Can I?”
The film has turned from Science Gone wrong to a classic Universal Monster movie. Much like James Whale’s classic Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein the film deals in our sympathies for Jobe. By never really getting consent or conning his way to consent, he tempts fate much like the Doctor of Mary Shelley’s original book, no different than robbing graves for his own end. As played by Brosnan, Angelo is a chimney smoke stack, chain lighting Marlboros and pontificating his own erudite concepts aloof to the moral quagmire he’s put himself into. Angelo frames himself as the victim. A child that didn’t know it was bad to burn ants out of an ant hole. More fascinated with his own intelligence but frighten by the use of his work for anything other than good though working for a military contractor.
Jeff Fahey work here as Jobe is stellar. Though one could see his work as broad, especially during the opening moments, this is the character. Jobe is more an innocent child, blissfully unaware of the harshness around him. The reason that most of the first part of the film works with the “super monkey” is because of Fahey’s fully vested. We believe Jobe thinks this monkey is a super hero from his comic books because of Fahey’s performance. There isn’t a wink or nudge to the audience. The way that Fahey slowly turns Jobe from simple minded gardener to full on techno-messiah-angel-of-death-destroyer-of-worlds is fascinating as he uses his hair, body, posture and speech to slowly turn. It’s not easy work and a lot of it is loss in the theatrical cut. It’s amazing work that Fahey makes look simpler than it is. That is to say that we are partially on Jobe’s side as he lays his vengeance upon the Corporation, Government Agencies, Dr. Angelo for making him. That is not to say that there isn’t troubling moments designed to make you hate Jobe, everything involving the Jenny Wright character is pretty off putting (which is inflated in the director’s cut). The non-Jobe characters, other than Geoffrey Lewis, are horrendous people all trying to use Jobe for some of their own personal gain. Between this and Body Parts (amazing and vastly underseen), the man has the market on difficult acting duties in 90’s high concept horror films.
The years have not been kind to this film’s effects work, but it has been to the questions it poses. By framing issues within a classic horror/science fiction troupe and the politics of the early 90’s the film is intentionally modern. The Lawnmower Man viewed from current points of view has become a story similarly to The Planet of the Apes rebooted franchise. The Lawnmower Man with its simple but powerful ending moment’s postulates with its ending and even its thesis, like Apes, maybe humans aren’t fit for this world. Its heady powerful stuff that should be revisited… plus Virtual Reality stuff is still all kinds of kitschy fun!
Scream Factory has gone above and beyond. What I think is their first New Line film; it’s exciting to see this relationship has started out with a HUGE SMASHING SUCCESS. The transfer is beautiful. The 4K scan is so good that it really brings out how the CG effects and rendering were in its infancy and still had years to go. With that strange caveat being said, the film looks better than even I remember seeing it multiple times in the theater. I’ve always had a HUGE soft spot for Russell Carpenter’s work across the board. Here his work is perfectly rendered.
The special features spread across two discs include:
NOTE: The Blu-Ray review copy I received incorrectly states the Making-of Doc is on the SECOND DISC. It is actually on the first.
DISC ONE – Theatrical Cut:
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Interpositive
- NEW Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man – Featuring Interviews With Co-Writer/Director Brett Leonard, Actor Jeff Fahey, Editor Alan Baumgarten, Make-up Effects Artist Michael Deak And Special Effects Coordinator Frank Ceglia
- Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Brett Leonard And Writer/Producer Gimel Everett
- Deleted Scenes
- Original Electronic Press Kit With Cast Interviews And Behind-The-Scenes Footage
- Edited Animated Sequences
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
DISC TWO – Director’s Cut:
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Interpositive With Additional “Director’s Cut” Footage From The Original Camera Negative
- Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Brett Leonard And Writer/Producer Gimel Everett
- Conceptual Art And Design Sketches
- Behind-The-Scenes And Production Stills
- Storyboard Comparison
One name you will not hear in the special features is Stephen King. Though the film is based on the short story of the same name from King, the film was even promoted as such. King successfully sued New Line and the Producers having his name removed from the film.
That being said this disc is brimming with special features. Two cuts of the film. Both new 4K scans. Two audio commentaries from Brent Leonard (they were from back when the film was released on Laserdisc), 50 minute Making-of documentary, Original EPK and more. The best feature is the Making-of doc that gets into the nitty-gritty of the filmmaking, one caveat being the King factor. He’s never mentioned by name on the disc (probably for legal reason), but it would have been nice to hear more about that particular issue. It’s a great, thorough making of. Anyone wanting to hear about early era Silicon Valley and how the film evolved to the current film will find this fascinating. The audio commentaries are great 90’s era when adding a lot of technical information wasn’t a bad thing. The TV Spots and Trailers are sufficiently 90’s to satisfy anyone with that kinda of Cheese-Infused awesomeness. Keeping with the old school flavor of the disc there is actually a few hidden easter eggs (something I haven’t seen in a bit).
The Bottom Shelf
Scream Factory and New Line Cinema’s first venture into a Blu-Ray release is a smashing success!!! The Lawnmower Man is not only vital for any B-Movie fan; it still manages to be highly entertaining and emotionally resonant. Grounded by an amazing Jeff Fahey performance and a very smoky Pierce Brosnan (literal and figurative smoky) pre-James Bond the film is a piece of B-Movie material that deserves to be rediscovered. Highest possible recommendations!!!