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THE LAWNMOWER MAN
DVD Region 2. Universal.

The Lawnmower ManIn 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.

The Lawnmower ManThen 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 you evil.
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!

The Lawnmower ManThe 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!

A.D. BARKER

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