Looker” (1981)

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082677/]

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Famous plastic surgeon Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) is under suspicion of murder when several of his clients, all beautiful models, start turning up dead, and incriminating evidence is found at the scene. The strange part, is that his clients were already quite beautiful but wanted very minor but very specific adjustments made. Now, only one of these clients, CIndy Fairmont (Susan Dey), is still alive and they come together to solve the mystery.

Description: When models start dying in mysterious ways, suspicion falls on the only common demoninator, their plastic surgeon Larry Roberts.

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His investigation leads to Digital Matrix, a major corporation run by John Reston (James Coburn) which is creating a virtually new form of advertising: virtual commercials, using virtual actors created from scanning perfect real people. Such advertising would be a revolution, and not just for the technical angle.

(Reston) Television can control public opinion more effectively than armies of secret police, because television is entirely voluntary. The American government forces our children to attend school, but nobody forces them to watch T.V. Americans of all ages *submit* to television. Television is the American ideal. Persuasion without coercion. Nobody makes us watch. Who could have predicted that a *free* people would voluntarily spend one fifth of their lives sitting in front of a *box* with pictures? Fifteen years sitting in prison is punishment. But 15 years sitting in front of a television set is entertainment. And the average American now spends more than one and a half years of his life just watching television commercials. Fifty minutes, every day of his life, watching commercials. Now, that’s power.

The computer generated advertisements were just the beginning. Using the L O O K E R (Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive Responses) technology, Digital Matrix is able to geneate a hypnotic signal (that was produced and centered on the eyes of the computer generated actors and actresses in the commercials) that caused the viewers to accept the advertising.

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We see that happen when Roberts and Fairmont sneak into Digital Matrix and discover the LOOKER technology in the lab: an advertisement is playing and Fairmont begins watching, bored with Roberts’ investigation. As she watches the ads playing, she slips into a trance and starts mindlessly repeating the advertising slogans.

But that isn’t the only use for the hypnotic light pulse: projected from a hand-held device (like a gun) it can induce a temporary fugue state in anyone who sees the light, causing loss of memory, visual (negative) hallucinations and periods of unconsciousness. That’s how the one model at the beginning was killed: the killer flashed the pulse into her eyes when the opened her apartment door, then used the nagetive hallucination effect to stay unnoticed, eventually directing the helpless woman to fall from the balcony to her death.

And Reston has bigger plans for his hypnotic advertising: just one ad, run the night before a Presidential election, could make Reston the next President of the United States. And it would have worked, too, given the reaction of the test audience.

Commentary: Written and directed by Michael Crichton, the author of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, among other works. A physician, he used his knowledge of medicine in several of his novels. 

References:

Trivia:

  • Despite the appearance ot “Tron” just a few months later, “Looker” was the first movie to feature a computer-generated character.
  • The Digital Matrix Inc. headquarters building is the landmark hillside campus of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.
  • The model who is killed at the beginning of the movle is Terri Welles, Playboy Playmate of the Year for 1981.
  • The same modus operandi for the first killing would be repeated in an episode of CSI: Miami” involving a criminal hypnotist eliminating a potential witness.
  • Looker” is one of the few times Michael Crichton wrote just for the screen and was never released as a stand-alone novel.
  • Michael Crichton has an uncredited appearance in “The Andromeda Strain” (1971).

 

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