1975 a young writer named Stephen King published a short story
entitled The Lawnmower Man. It was
collected in his 1978 anthology Night Shift
and then most probably forgotten by its author. Somewhere along
the way, New Line Cinema picked up the rights to the story and
then did something that was… well, it was a little bit
cheeky to say the least.
What happened was that two filmmakers, Brett Leonard and Gimel
Everett, wrote a script entitled Cyber God and some
bright spark at New Line thought, Hey, wouldn’t it be
good if we crow-barred something about a Lawnmower Man into
this screenplay about a mysterious organisation experimenting
with virtual reality and then we can sell it as a Stephen King
film. Oh dear.
King’s story tells the suitably macabre tale of a suburban
slob, Harold Parkette, who hires the Pastoral Greenery and Outdoor
Services Inc to cut his lawn. A serviceman shows up at his door
armed with his lawnmower and proceeds to get the job done. Only,
the lawnmower mows on its own, while the guy crawls behind the
machine, naked, eating the cut grass. It transpires that the
serviceman is actually a Satyr who worships for the great god
Pan. Of course, all doesn’t end well for poor old Harold;
he gets sacrificed to Pan by the mower. Nothing of this ends
up in the movie, which was released in 1992 and starred a pre-Bond
Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey.
Fahey plays a simpleton, Jobe Smith, who makes Lennie from Of
Mice and Men look like a criminal genius. You know
he’s a simpleton because he’s wearing dungarees.
All movie simpleton have to wear dungarees, it’s like
a rule or something. Anyway, the film opens with a super intelligent
Chimpanzee wearing a Robocop helmet that escapes
from a shadowy organisation by overthrowing a guard and taking
his gun. He goes on a rampage. This chimp has a very good aim.
No, I’m not making any of this up.
On the run the Robochimp comes upon local Lawnmower Man (crow-bar!),
Jobe, who takes in him. Unfortunately the shadowy organisation,
headed by Brosnan, surround the house and kill Robochimp.
comes about half an hour of exposition that doesn’t make
much sense – it just seems like lots of shots of Brosnan
waking from nightmares with his shirt off brandishing his 80s
earring and Fahey lumbering around mowing lawns – until
we can to the actual plot. Brosnan takes Fahey under his wing
to experiment with making him more intelligent by way of virtual
reality. As you do.
Both Brosnan and Fahey spend most of their time in a virtual
world and here the film unitises early CGI. These sequences
do look extremely dated now, but at the time they were the main
marketing pull of the film.
It’s not long before Fahey loses his dungarees and also
starts to strut about with his top off. He does continue to
mown lawns, but now he’s a man about town and begins an
affair with a local honey, and stops taking shit from all those
that laughed at him before.
Before long, hungry for more and more intelligence, Fahey soon
becomes uncontrollable. He also begins to gain super-human powers
and uses this to do evil. He sees himself as, in his words,
a Cyber Christ and goes on a rampage, murdering all those he
ever gave him a hard time. He even burns to death the local
vicar; this man is pissed. Remember kids, intelligence makes
It all culminates in a virtual reality face-off with Brosnan
and Fahey and lots of explosions. The two leads make the best
of the material, particularly Fahey whose rise from simpleton
to super-being is quite effective. Brosnan… well he holds
his own with the chewy dialogue, but he must have been really
happy when he got the call for Bond a year later.
Saying that though, there are moments in this flick where it
threatens to come together. There are some nice ideas and imagery
hidden within the mess. The trouble is, for the most part, it
all just feels so laboured.
Still, in ’92 New Line rolled out The Lawnmower
Man as Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man.
It didn’t take long for the lawyers to call. Mr. King,
of course, wanted his name removed from the film. Yet after
two court rulings in King’s favour, New Line still didn’t
drop his name from the trailer, the posters, and ultimately,
the film. The third ruling was the one that did it though, that
one awarded King $10,000 per day and all profit derived from
sales until his name was removed. Suddenly it was just called
The Lawnmower Man again. King probably made
more out of it than anyone else who actually worked on the film!
Lawnmower Man DVD comes armed with high-tech extras,
including an Animated Montage (pretty much all the Virtual Reality
F/X in the flick), storyboard to film comparison, the original
trailer and a featurette from 1992. Disappointingly though,
there isn’t a commentary. I myself would have been interested
in hearing from director Brett Leonard about the studios insistence
at crow-barring Stephen King into his Sci-fi script and the
ramifications of that little debacle. What you do get however
is a two hour, twenty minute 'director's cut' of the movie!
Yes, it’s an epic. There are deleted scenes on the DVD,
but I found that these have been put back into the movie already
(which is why its so bloody long!), so it’s a little bit
of a cheat also having a deleted scene section with the same
footage. However, a lot of these scenes are some of the strongest
in the film as they mostly chart Jobe’s change from Lennie
into a super-being.
For all its shortcomings, The Lawnmower Man
did make money, enough to warrant sequel anyhow, and it's included
here. The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace
finally arrived in 1996 and starred Patrick Bergin and Matt
Frewer - now in the role of Jobe, but still riffing on Max Headroom
– and was directed by Farhad Mann, who had previously
made the likes of Return to Two Moon Junction
and episodes of the aforementioned Max Headroom.
This time Jobe has been resurrected into some kind of cyber
demigod who takes control of large computer systems in order
to bring down the world. Or something like that anyway. It doesn’t
really make much sense. Bergin runs around trying to stop him
with a load of kids, including Austin O’Brien (Last
Action Hero), who played the kid in the first film.
This one feels a little like, dare I say it, Highlander
2 for some reason. I think it was the futuristic swordfights!
There are no extras on this DVD, and I have to say, absolutely
nothing to do with lawn mowing in the film itself!
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