As mentioned in my announcement post of this past week's Sci-Fi Squad Movie Club, I hadn't actually seen The Lawnmower Man. I've been on kind of a late '80s to mid-'90s sci-fi kick lately, so I decided I might as well finally sit down for all of Brett Leonard's adaptation of Stephen King's short story. It was pretty much exactly as expected; dated visuals that would have been cutting edge special effects at the time, in service of a plot that posited a near future that never came to be. It also seemed an oddly tech-savvy story for Stephen King yet still fit his mold of having endings that involve becoming more than human.

It wasn't until after watching the film that I read a bit more about the production and how little it actually had to do with King's story. I'm a big fan of the man's body of work, but it's just so damned massive that I've still got plenty of unread gaps to bridge. Anyone who isn't watching The Lawnmower Man for the first time in the year 2010 will likely already be well aware of all of this, but since this is already an atypical entry in the SFS Movie Club, I'd like to first dive into the film's production history.
The Lawsuit
New Line Cinema bought a script called Cyber God by Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett about a scientist whose experiments with virtual reality grow increasingly out of control. They also had previously purchased the rights to King's The Lawnmower Man, which is about a guy who discovers the mysterious gardener in his small town is actually a satyr who worships the Greek God Pan, and is subsequently killed by said satyr for uncovering his real identity. So ... yeah, the two are a little bit different. Because Stephen King is perpetually a hot brand name, though, New Line decided to superficially merge the two after a few tweaks.

King was having none of this, however, and sued New Line repeatedly in an attempt to force them to stop calling it Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man as it clearly was no longer his story. As you should be able to tell by the title on the Netflix page, he eventually won the lawsuit, but this was after New Line had already marketed its video release under the author's moniker. They then had to pay King $10,000 a day plus the sales profits until they changed the name. I'm sure it sucks to have your work abused in such a matter, but as far as paydays go, that's a pretty effortless one.

Anyway, none of that has to do with the actual movie, it was just news to me; and if it's news to me, I'm just going to play dumb and assume it's news to someone else as well. As for the film...

Hit-and-Miss Futurism
Obviously I'm not talking about whether or not virtual reality will re-awaken long dormant sectors of the human brain that allow us to control the world around us with our minds, though that would be pretty cool. No, I am curious as to what people think about the idea of virtual reality in general and, more specifically, whether or not it will have the kind of all-encompassing penetration Dr. Angelo claimed it would. The movie envisioned a future that would find every person interconnected within a virtual reality by the year 2001. Unless I've been living in a cave, our species missed that little technological benchmark.

I would like to give a lot of credit to Leonard and Everett's script, though, for the foresight of how ubiquitous digital interactions would be by the year 2001. They may have gotten the virtual reality aspect wrong, but considering their script would have likely been written in 1990, years before the Internet was even a word to most people, I say hats off for at least getting part of the digital revolution right.

The Special Effects...
Given that I am just now seeing The Lawnmower Man, I really don't have any perspective here, so I am wondering of what people who saw the film upon its release in 1992 thought of the special effects? Were they as mind blowing as the film clearly thinks they are? Or were scenes like this, which were created by the group that eventually went on to be known as Rockstar San Diego, the outfit behind the Midnight Club and Red Dead Revolver game series, as goofy in '92 as they are now?

Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace
Has anyone actually seen the film's 1995 sequel, which was eventually retitled Jobe's War? Is it worth buying a used copy off Amazon for $3? Gotta say, I'm pretty tempted to for the tagline alone: "God made him simple. Science made him a God. Now he wants revenge."

categories Features, Sci-Fi