Starring Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright, Geoffrey Lewis
Directed by Brett Leonard
Distributed by Scream Factory
Adapting a novel to the big screen comes with its own set of inherent challenges, not the least of which is remaining faithful to the source material while also translating the written page in such a way that it is treated respectfully. There are those adaptations that stray far from readers’ hopes yet there is some semblance of the story’s core present. Then, much further down the chain of faithfulness, there are those films that use a work for its title or major plot points, but the resulting film bears little reflection to the printed page. Such is the case with The Lawnmower Man (1992), a high-tech cyber-thriller that was initially sold by New Line Pictures as being “from the mind of Stephen King” because back in 1975 he published a story under that title in “Cavalier” magazine. Later, it was added to his short story collection, Night Shift.
But New Line’s film, co-written and directed by Brett Leonard, had only two things in common with King’s short tale: the title, and a throwaway line about police finding remains in a birdbath. That’s it. In fact, the film began life as a script called “Cyber God” and, in typical Hollywood fashion, it was re-titled for the marquee value and nothing more. Still, New Line marketed the film using King’s lucrative name. And they got sued. And lost. The details of the story can be found easily enough but, point being, despite this film being remembered in the cultural consciousness as a King property it is not. What began life as a short story about a grass-eating man who follows behind his autonomous lawnmower and worships Pan became a generic ‘90s tech thriller with “cutting edge” CGI and commendable ambition.
Virtual Space Industries has been conducting virtual reality (VR) experiments on chimps, using drugs and a virtual environment to turn them into ruthless soldiers. Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) runs the division, though as a person of non-violence he has more interest in the brain-boosting power of these tests than the production of a killing machine. After one of his chimps escapes using trained techniques, Angelo is ready to quit the project. The government has other plans, however, and Angelo soon finds himself conducting tests again – only this time with a human subject: Jobe (Jeff Fahey), a dimwitted gardener who is a ward of the local church. His guardian, Father McKeen (Jeremy Slate), flagellates Jobe when he fails to perform his chores. Much of the work Jobe does involves landscape maintenance, which he performs alongside his boss, Terry (Geoffrey Lewis), brother of Father McKeen.
Jobe takes to Dr. Angelo’s testing with incredible retention, improving his mental abilities by an exponential degree. His mind is evolving past known human capabilities, giving Jobe the ability to “hear” the thoughts of others. When the government strongly suggests Dr. Angelo continue his experiment using a controversial aggression drug, he refuses and tries to end the program himself, going so far as to tell Jobe his sessions are over. This does not sit well with the knowledge-hungry Jobe, who takes to self-injecting his improvement drugs. As Jobe’s mind expands its powers continue to increase, making him capable of delivering deadly force simply by thinking it. His ultimate goal is to ditch this human vessel and go all-digital, uploading himself into cyberspace. Only Angelo can hope to reach the old Jobe within this virtual god and reason with him before he is unleashed upon an unprepared world.
My one previous viewing of this film came when the VHS was released, and although the film didn’t look all that great I rented it for one reason: Stephen King. Little did I know at the time… All I can recall is the film being a bore and the computer graphics looking “decent” by 1992 standards – of which there were none. Catching up with it again 25 years later, in a restored director’s cut, Leonard’s intended scope and direction are much more apparent; unfortunately, many of the added scenes, while adding character development, only serve to slow a film that is already lacking in agency. Exposition can be delivered in greater concentration without requiring numerous scenes to deliver similar points. For example, in the opening scene of the film, in the theatrical cut, the chimp is shot before exiting the facility. In the director’s cut the chimp escapes and shacks up with Jobe, where the agents of The Shop track it and eventually kill it during a shootout. The scene shows viewers Jobe is a simple, kind man with a wealth of empathy, while also highlighting Dr. Angelo’s attachment to his subjects and research. But these points are also apparent without the inclusion of the extended opening. Leonard’s lengthier cut enriches the film but also overstays its welcome.
Jeff Fahey has a knack for playing eccentric types and his performance here is definitely a career highlight. Fahey plays Jobe as a compassionate man of limited intelligence, someone who wants to believe everyone is good and life is full of magic. As his intellect increases Jobe becomes more attuned to the harsh realities of life; he sees humanity as a primitive society intent on its own destruction. Knowledge and understanding have elevated him above even the most revered minds, and his new objective view is that of disdain. Fahey doesn’t simply flick a switch on Jobe’s personality; this is a progression that is slowly revealed over the course of his sessions. Jobe’s encounters with a local bully can be used as a barometer for his abilities, with their final encounter being very final indeed.
Let’s not talk much about the CGI, ok? This was 1992, a year before Jurassic Park (1992), and no film had done much to impress in that department. The animated scenes look like something out of a half-finished PC game and only serve to remind viewers why they should be thankful technology has advanced to where it is now.
A noted preceding the director’s cut states that Scream Factory used an interpositive of the theatrical cut along with negative footage of the additional scenes, so a jump in quality may be experienced. Some frames were removed to smooth out the transitions. Honestly, I hardly noticed much of a visual difference when viewing the 1.85:1 1080p image. Both versions of the film were given a 4K scan and the results are impressive. Clarity is razor sharp, offering up a picture with minimal film grain and attention to minute details. Colors appear natural and well saturated, with blue being a predominant hue splashed across many key scenes. The CGI is still laughably bad but, to be fair, most of it is shown in a computer environment and thus it does not appear as conspicuous as the moments when it blends with the real world.
Scream Factory has included English DTS-HD MA tracks in both 2.0 and 5.1 options. I only watched the DC but it would stand to reason the audio quality on both cuts is comparable. The multi-channel track adds a little more power to the mix, allowing moments of activity some room to breathe and fill out the rear speakers with subtle additions. Much of the film features front-end audio, with good separation of the sound effects and dialogue. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut
There is an audio commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett included, carried over from the old Laserdisc.
“Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man” is a retrospective documentary featuring interviews with director Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey, editor Alan Baumgarten, and more. This piece looks at the production of the film from the perspective of several different departments.
A reel of deleted scenes runs for nearly thirty minutes, though these play consecutively and are not available to watch separately.
The film’s original EPK, “Edited Animated Sequences” (some of the film’s computer footage cut together), a theatrical trailer, and a TV spot can also be found here.
An Easter egg (easily found) shows a promo for the film’s Super Nintendo game release.
DISC TWO: Director’s Cut
The audio commentary with Leonard and Everett reappears here, only now their discussion has been expanded to include comments on the added scenes, too.
Still galleries make up the bulk of the features here, including “Conceptual Art & Design Sketches”, “Behind the Scenes & Production Stills”, and “Storyboard Comparison” (footage from the finished film is shown alongside the sketches used during production).
Another Easter egg can be found here, this one featuring a promo for a prize giveaway contest.
Disc 1 – 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 2 – 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