Available for the first time on Blu-ray, Scream! Factory delivers a definitive collector’s edition of The Lawnmower Man, which contains both 141-minute Director’s Cut, the theatrical cut and a slew of new bonus extras. The release also comes with a collectible slipcover that features newly-rendered artwork and a reversible cover wrap featuring the film’s original theatrical key art.
Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) is a brilliant scientist obsessed with perfecting virtual reality software. When his experiments on animals fail, he finds the ideal substitute – Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey), a slow-witted gardener. Dr. Angelo’s goal is to benefit his human guinea pig and ultimately mankind itself, but evil lurks in the guise of “the Shop,” a shadowy group that seeks to use the technology to create an invincible war machine. When the experiments change the simple Jobe into a superhuman being, the stage is set for a Jekyll-and-Hyde struggle for the control of Jobe’s mind and the future of the world.
By the turn of the millennium a technology known as VIRTUAL REALITY will be in widespread use. It will allow you to enter computer generated artificial worlds as unlimited as the imagination itself. Its creators foresee millions of positive uses – while others fear it is a new form of mind control.
The opening lines of Brett Leonard’s 1992 science fiction film The Lawnmower Man attempt to convey a cautionary tale while opening viewers’ minds to a new concept, Virtual Reality. The film was based on a Stephen King short story (but you’d never know it given the lawsuit King won over having his name stricken from the credits, as it had nothing to do with his original source material) and the rights were bought in 1978, where they laid in development hell with ex-Amicus executive Milton Subotsky. Subotsky also bought the rights to six different short stories and intended for The Lawnmower Man to be part of an anthology film titled The Machines. When nothing came of the project the rights sat around until they were passed on to Allied Vision Productions in 1990.
Enter: Brett Leonard (Virtuosity, 1995). Coming off his first film, The Dead Pit, Leonard showed he could do well given budgetary constraints and he caught the eye of producers Steve Lane and Robert Pringle, who now owned the rights and screenplay for The Lawnmower Man. Initially, the film that Allied Vision and executives Lane and Pringle had in mind was a horror film revolving around a caretaker who ground up women for fertilizer. This cliched B-movie concept interested director Brett Leonard very little, and it wasn’t until he found a home in then up-and-coming Silicon Valley that Leonard found the groundwork for his inevitable vision of The Lawnmower Man.
Experiencing the very nascent virtual reality trials down in Silicon Valley triggered Leonard’s idea to blend cinematic VR and science fiction. A film that showcased the physical world and the world of energy, and just what kind of experimentation would need to be executed to see how these two worlds could and can overlap.
Leonard later took inspiration for the film’s narrative from the science fiction novella Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, in which a scientist aids a man who is developmentally disabled to become smarter. Mix in a few elements of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and meld it with very early concepts of VR, and Leonard had the screenplay and framework he needed to start production.
As for the cast of The Lawnmower Man, Jeff Fahey had just come off Body Parts, and Paramount was very eager to push Fahey as a movie star. Leonard was smitten with the up-and-comer, especially over his acting abilities more than his down-home good looks. Fahey was cast instantly. Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Angelo was coming off of Remington Steele and needed something to branch out. Leonard considered himself lucky as this was the bridge between Brosnan’s early TV and film roles and the moment before he literally became a superstar as the fifth James Bond, officially. Marnie, as played by Jenny Wright, showed Leonard and crew a sensual side. Wright’s character is named Marnie as a homage to the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name starring Tippi Hedren.
And finally, as the director of the shadow organization The Shop, Dean Norris from Breaking Bad. Norris is head of the same shop that hunts Charlie (Drew Barrymore) in both the film adaptation and Stephen King’s novel, Firestarter (one of the only few connections between The Lawnmower Man source material and film).
The Lawnmower Man does actually sport an impressive team behind the camera, too. Russell Carpenter was the cinematographer and after this film, James Cameron expressed his love of the look Carpenter gave Lawnmower Man, and took the cinematographer, his crew, and line producer Patricia Witcher, and started using them for his films, including Titanic, which Carpenter later won an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
Alex McDowell was the production designer and did many music videos with David Fincher including Janie’s Got A Gun by Aerosmith. McDowell blended both the cool blues of The Shop with the warmer, almost Rembrandt lighting or religious compositions, in the suburbs of Califonia. Even the semi-painted green lawns offer up a sense of hyper-realism. One of the most striking costume motifs are the full-bodied VR suits that look like they light up whenever Jobe is using his telekinetic powers.
These suits are later used in gyro spheres, allowing for a person to move anywhere within a VR space free from their surroundings in the real world. Appearing suspended in space is visually reminiscent of Michelangelo’s The Vitruvian Man. Of course, it isn’t long before there is some cyber sex because… why not, I guess? The term was not nomenclature at the time but we now live in a world where the term is commonplace. The scene, in all its abstract, “cyberdelia” glory, later found its way into Leos Carax glorious multi-narrative circus film, Holy Motors.
Since part of Jobe’s character is his determination to literally join the internet, many of the stunts in the film blended horror with something from the digital world as in the way Jobe subdues the brutish gas station attendant by literally planting “the lawnmower man” in his head.
Marketed as both a science fiction film and horror film, the physical effects in the film do bleed into horror elements, albeit with a cyber edge. Taking the notion of telekinesis as seen in films like Scanners and Firestarter and infusing them with cyberspace/virtual reality creates a stunning use of early CGI oddness and some faux-profoundness. Some of the telekinetic stunts are effective to this day, including standard levitation or setting someone on fire. However, the film also introduces a trippy concept of breaking people down to a particle level, essentially breaking up someone’s molecules like a Star Trek transporter routine gone horribly wrong.
Perhaps the biggest connection to the horror genre comes in the scene where a lawnmower literally devours an entire living room set before dispatching an abusive father. It does feel like something right out of Chopping Mall or even an early Peter Jackson film, and Leonard knew he would have to include scenes like this in order for New Line Cinema to market the film.
As for one of the defining aspects of The Lawnmower Man, that has to be the early fully CGI’d sequences. Leonard did not have access to ILM and had to find companies that did CGI outside of the feature film business. XAOS, Inc. and ANGEL Studios, who mostly did commercials, had an understanding at the time of digital forms and conceptions that suited Leonard. Many of these sequences are reminiscent of early Odyssey/Miramar shorts The Mind’s Eye and Beyond The Mind’s Eye.
Whereas most modern viewers today would dismiss the digital effects in The Lawnmower Man as dated, even laughably primitive, these sequences utilize a more abstract and stylized feeling than we might be used to today. Favoring a sense of psychedelia over realism, and given that Jobe’s character literally becomes a God of the cyber world, these simulated realities end up benefiting by being more abstract in nature.
As for the Director’s Cut, Scream! Factory includes it in their new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and sports a new digital transfer. Apart from being longer (a helluva lot longer, at 141-minutes), many character moments are edited back in, allowing the characters of Jobe and Dr. Angelo to bridge some of the movie’s framing devices and motives more gradually. Much like the theatrical cut, the Director’s Cut still presents a fascinating mess of a film that infuses many character development moments but nothing really changes the overall motives of the two main characters.
The Lawnmower Man remains compelling and gloriously dated with quasi-religious overtones that feel at once appropriate in our present day – given the absolute reign digital technology has over our daily lives – and laughably pretentious. The director’s cut, which was once a staple on VHS and home media is finally available for genre aficionados everywhere. You’d be surprised how much this tiny movie has actually influenced film and pop-culture. We even use a still and quote from the film as one of our Error 404 messages here on the site.
Here is a rundown of Scream! Factory’s new Blu-ray release of The Lawnmower Man:
DISC ONE – THEATRICAL CUT OF THE FILM
NEW 4K Scan of an 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
Original Electronic Press Kit With Cast Interviews And Behind-The-Scenes Footage
Edited Animated Sequences
Optional English subtitles
DISC TWO – DIRECTOR’S CUT OF THE FILM
NEW 4K Scan of the Interpositive with Additional “Director’s Cut” Footage from the Original Camera Negative
NEW 4K Scan of the Interpositive with Additional “Director’s Cut” Footage from the Original Camera NegativeAudio Commentary With Writer/Director Brett Leonard And Writer/Producer Gimel Everett
Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Brett Leonard And Writer/Producer Gimel EverettConceptual Art And Design Sketches
Conceptual Art And Design SketchesBehind-The-Scenes And Production Stills
Behind-The-Scenes And Production StillsStoryboard Comparison
Storyboard ComparisonOptional English subtitles
Optional English subtitles
Scream! Factory’s Collector’s Edition of director Brett Leonard’s film The Lawnmower Man (1992), starring Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright, Geoffrey Lewis, and Jeremy Slate is now available for purchase.
Image: New Line Cinema, Scream! Factory, Odyssey/Miramar, Wild Bunch, YouTube