Case Number 10793


Warner Bros. // 1981 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // February 8th, 2007

The Charge

If Looks Could Kill...

Opening Statement

The good news is Michael Crichton wrote (and directed) this movie.
The bad news is Michael Crichton (wrote and) directed this movie.
If Critics Could Kill...

Facts of the Case

Albert Finney (Erin Brockovitch) stars as Dr. Larry Roberts, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon with supermodels for clients. His suspicions are aroused when several patients come in with a specific list of "corrections" such as 1/8 of a millimeter off the nose and raise the cheekbones 1/16 of a millimeter. Suspicion turns to concern when one of his newly remodeled patients does a high dive off her apartment balcony. So when Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey, The Partridge Family) comes in with her list, Roberts is convinced that she'll be the next model on the hit list. Cindy and Roberts turn private eyes, whose investigation leads them to Digital Matrix, a research facility run by the mysterious John Reston (James Coburn, Our Man Flint). Turns out Digital Matrix is using dubious technology to make TV commercials a bit more effective. Apparently, the advertising game is more cutthroat than we ever imagined.

The Evidence

Looker is one of those movies best examined and appreciated in the era in which it was produced (1981). Like most of Michael Crichton's stories, this one is predominately a thriller with a bit of a sci-fi twist. Like Coma, Stepford Wives, and Westworld, Looker is about how technology can lead to corruption. What starts out as a scientific breakthrough quickly becomes a weapon for the greedy and power hungry (see: Corporate America).

Finney as Roberts is an interesting choice for the hero. As a well-paid Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, he's not exactly the "every man" people can relate to. Many will argue that he's not much more of a humanitarian than Coburn's Reston. Finney also isn't much of an action hero and, had it been up to me, I would have cast the role differently. Susan Dey, however, really works in the role of supermodel Cindy. Breaking out of the teen idol image was tough, but this movie really pushes her toward the dramatic actress label she acquired on L.A. Law. She's one of the highlights of the movie. The other highlight is, of course, James Coburn. In my book, this man can do no wrong. There's no heavy lifting in his role as Reston, he mostly walks around looking mysterious. But hey...that look, that voice, that on-screen couldn't ask for anything more. Leigh-Taylor Young (Picket Fences) is also a slam-dunk as Coburn's co-hort in crime, Jennifer Long.

The real star of Looker is the heavy computer animation used to create the high tech world of Digital Matrix. Looking at it with today's eye, you won't see much unusual or special about the effects, but at the time it was groundbreaking. A year later, Disney released Tron which, aside from the actors, was almost completely computer animated truly testing the limits of this new technology. But in 1981, Looker became the first movie to use a completely digital human character.

Ironically, (or perhaps intentionally), Looker is all about using computer technology in the entertainment industry to enhance the final product -- in this case, commercials. One of the most talked about scenes is the scanning of Susan Dey. Imagine an upright MRI. A naked Susan Dey is lowered on a platform then hundreds of lines of light surround her body mapping every inch so the computer can digitally replicate her. One of the reasons this scene stand outs is because of the cold isolation, an almost subliminal suggestion of how technology is slowly swallowing mankind. The other reason is, well, you get to see Laurie Partridge naked. Come on, every boy in the '80s had that dream and Looker makes it a reality.

It's interesting to see how much of the "new" technology designed by the evil Digital Matrix is being used in the entertainment industry today. The idea of creating digital actors to replace flesh and blood actors is one that's been tested quite a few times in films such as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. And look at The Mummy where actor Arnold Vosloo was digitally scanned (just like Cindy) in order to create the totally CGI creature we see on screen.

Plot wise, Looker has a lot going for it. Even with the benefit of twenty additional years of technology under our belt, it's still intriguing. Even though the idea of digitized actors takes center stage, there's much more to this quirky thriller -- themes of perfection, honesty in advertising, subliminal messaging, and brainwashing.

As far as extras go, they're slim. You'll find the theatrical trailer, as well as an introduction by and interesting commentary from Michael Crichton.

The Rebuttal Witnesses


Great story, top-notch actors, and groundbreaking special effects -- but still, there's a lot wrong with Looker and I gotta drop it all on the head of director, Michael Crichton.

I appreciate Michael Crichton, the writer -- complicated stories about technology, conspiracies, and murder are definitely my cup of tea. But this movie is so complicated that many plot lines are dropped without explanation. If you're looking for motive for the murders -- you won't find it here. Remember, I watched this movie on TV in the eighties and my research tells me it's the DVD not my memory which is at fault. Apparently, there was a 15-minute wrap-up scene in the TV version, which is NOT included in the DVD version. Huh? I can understand a different cut for the theaters, but this is DVD! Why not give us the alternate ending? There's no excuse for not including this crucial piece of film.

Which brings me to Crichton, the director. Since the movie was released first to theatres, I have to believe that Crichton didn't intend to include a wrap-up. It was only added after people kept walking away from the film confused.

Looker does a have a boffo ending, but once the dust clears you'll find yourself wondering about more than just the motive for murder. You'll be thinking about Senator Harrison and what the heck was up with that storyline, which is a real shame. The assumption is that Digital Matrix was going to take what they learned from their advertising research and use it to promote their own candidate for President. You could further extrapolate that Harrison is just a digital replica using L.O.O.K.E.R. technology to brainwash people into voting for him, ultimately putting Reston (Coburn) in control of the White House. If one plus one equals two, then is Harrison dead? And is that why they had to kill the models too? Your guess is as good as mine.

Maybe it was director Crichton's intention to be mysterious, to let the viewers come to their own conclusions rather than hit them over the head with a book of morals and ethics. Choice or not, Looker feels unfinished. Actually, the entire film is filled with odd directorial choices. For example: The L.O.O.K.E.R. guns. The Light Ocular Oriented Kinetic Energetic Responsers are a key element in the murders and other action sequences, but they make no real sense in the overall scheme of things. Why does a professional assassin need to make time stand still in order to push a girl off a balcony? He's 280 pounds of muscle, she's a 98 pound model -- she's going over that balcony whether she's stunned or not. And with a corporation the size of Digital Matrix, why do they only have one hired gun? They really should have passed on that over-sized Roomba and bought a second thug instead.

Closing Statement

Looker is one of those movies I remembered watching over and over again on the late, late, late show. Even though I hadn't seen the movie in twenty years, I vividly remembered the final showdown where Roberts and the assassin chase each other through perfect parodies of modern commercials. Any film I can remember that vividly after that many years has got to have something special going for it. My suggestion is watch it as a popcorn flick, ignore the plot holes, forget your expectations, and enjoy.

The Verdict

Hi! I'm Cindy! I'm the perfect female type and I'm here to convince you that this movie is Not Guilty (even if it isn't).

Review content copyright © 2007 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 20
Acting: 82
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)

* English

Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks
* Introduction by Michael Crichton
* Commentary by Michael Crichton
* Original Theatrical Trailer

* IMDb

* Official Site of Michael Crichto

* Timeline of CGI in Films