“The Lawnmower Man,” an extremely loose adaptation of a short story by Stephen King, is one of those movies that I grew up watching several times on TV as a kid. I remember thinking that it was alright, providing a bit of fun as it told its heavy story of turning a simpleton into an uncontrollable genius through virtual reality. But, of course, no one’s tastes in film are particularly refined at that young age, so getting the chance to revisit it after so long had me very curious to see if it held up at all, or if the negativity surrounding it was more apt. As Scream Factory celebrates the film’s 25th anniversary with the release of a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, what better time to go back and give it a look all these years later.
The film tells the story of Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan), a researcher who does highly experimental research involving virtual reality. When his latest simian subject goes berserk and escapes, a team of guards is forced to hunt it down and kill it, putting Angelo back to square one with his project. However, he soon comes up with the idea to apply his research to a simpleton by the name of Jobe (Jeff Fahey), a staple of the neighborhood known as “The Lawnmower Man” due to the fact that he mows everyone’s lawns. Through a combination of drugs and virtual reality games/tests, Jobe quickly becomes more and more intelligent, so much so that he finds himself wanting to absorb as much data as he can. As the experiment starts to get out of hand, Angelo tries to slow things down, but with Jobe’s strong desire to go further and further, it just might be too late.
Returning to “The Lawnmower Man” about 20 years later, I can see why I would have liked it as a child. It’s got a dark and intriguing story, stylized with a lot of flashy special effects (which were probably cutting-edge at the time), and parts that a young viewer might find just a little creepy. That being said, two decades is a long time, and the film plays a little differently than it did back then.
Its strong suit is still its compelling story, which takes us along with Jobe every step of the way as he goes from being a not-so-bright mower of lawns to a man whose intelligence sores through the roof. It does a fine job of developing Jobe’s character enough to the point where we actually care about what happens to him, and in fact, we actually find ourselves rooting for him at the start. It’s a particularly fascinating premise, especially since the entire experiment is conducted using virtual reality simulations and tests, ideas that you wouldn’t think particularly pertain to increasing someone’s IQ.
No, there isn’t anything overtly wrong with the premise. However, it’s where screenwriters Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett choose to take it that becomes the film’s main problem. After the intriguing setup, the film kind of “de-evolves” into a silly horror/sci-fi/romance mess that only becomes more comedic as it goes on, trying to stay as serious as it can. Once Jobe gains telekinetic powers, we are subjected to scenes of a lawnmower chasing a man down (the only actual reference to the short story), another man getting attacked by gas station pumps, and a priest bursting into flames with laughably bad special effects. Not only does it change the entire tone of the film from serious to humorous, but it also loses the impact of its potential-filled storyline. In other words, instead of delving into the multitude of fascinating questions brought up by its premise (Should man play God? How far is too far? and so on), Leonard and Everett choose to turn their film into a ridiculous spectacle that ceases to be compelling.
After watching the special features though, it’s not surprising that this was the result. Apparently Leonard wanted to make a sci-fi film, while the studio wanted a horror/slasher film, so he was forced to make something that was an amalgamation of both. Perhaps if he had been allowed to make a straight-up sci-fi film, it would have turned out better, for then he would have gotten a better chance to explore the ideas that the film brings up, instead of trying to combine it with something that it was never meant to be. This really could boil down to a simple case of the studio interfering when it shouldn’t have.
What we’re left with is a film filled with grand ideas, but thanks to the screenwriters taking it in the completely wrong direction, they all get ignored in favor of a messy, special effects-driven display that runs out of steam well before it ends. Over the years, the film has become something of a cult classic, but one has to wonder if it’s for good reasons or, like many in the same category, for reasons that aren’t exactly of a kind nature. “The Lawnmower Man” is hardly a terrible film, but rather a misguided one, and because of that we’ll never know if it could have reached the full potential of its captivating tale.
“The Lawnmower Man” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly good quality. This being an older film, there’s a fair amount of noticeable grain throughout the presentation, in addition to a small drop in quality when it comes to the additional material for the Director’s Cut, but overall the quality is decent, allowing the outdated special effects to shine. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a little soft at times, but for the most part, you get the dialogue, score, and sound effects in pretty good quality. Overall, it still seems safe to say that this is the best the film has ever looked, so the fans should be rather pleased.
Disc 1: Theatrical Cut
Audio Commentary with Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett: An informative commentary that has the co-writer/director and co-writer/producer taking you through several topics, including how the project got started.
Cyber God: Creating The Lawnmower Man (51 Minutes): A fantastic featurette about the making of the film, featuring interviews with co-writer/director Brett Leonard, Jeff Fahey, and many more.
Deleted Scenes (28 Minutes): These are basically the scenes that would end up being added back into the film for the Director’s Cut.
Original Electronic Press Kit
Edited Animated Sequences
Theatrical Trailer & TV Spot
Disc 2: Director’s Cut
Audio Commentary with Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett: The same track on Disc 1, but with additional commentary for the added scenes.
Conceptual Art and Design Sketches
Behind the Scenes and Production Stills
"The Lawnmower Man” features an intriguing plot filled with some grand ideas, but thanks to a screenplay that throws all of that away in favor of a tonally-jarring and silly spectacle, we end up with a film whose full potential is never realized. Regardless, the film has garnered a bit of a fanbase, and as far as Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release goes, there’s not much to complain about. The film looks and sounds fine for the most part, and the extras are typically top-notch. It’s a shame the film doesn’t live up to its ideas, but if you’re a fan, then this is certainly the release to get.
Available on Collector's Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.