“Looker” (1981)

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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.

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.

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. 



  • 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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