The Lawnmower Man
Today’s feature is 1992’s cyber-thriller cult classic, The Lawnmower Man.
The Lawnmower Man was directed and co-written by Brett Leonard, who is best known for movies like Man-Thing, Virtuosity, and Highlander: The Source. His co=writer for the screenplay was producer and frequent collaborator Gimel Everett. While the movie is theoretically based on a story of the same name by Stephen King, there are very few similarities between the two works, and King successfully sued to have his name removed from the picture, but only after a lengthy legal battle.
The cinematographer for the film was Russell Carpenter, who has worked on a variety of both low-budget and high-budget movies like Ant-Man, Jobs, The Ugly Truth, Shallow Hal, Titanic, True Lies, Hard Target, Critters 2, and Pet Sematary II.
The primary editor for The Lawnmower Man was Alan Baumgarten, who has cut movies like Trumbo, American Hustle, Zombieland, Dodgeball, Kickboxer 2, Meet The Fockers, and Gangster Squad.
The team of producers for the movie included co-writer Gimel Everett, Clive Turner (Lawnmower Man 2, Howling IV, Howling V), Masao Takiyama, who has produced a number of anime adaptations of Marvel properties (X-Men, Wolverine, Blade, Iron Man), Milton Subotsky (Maximum Overdrive, Dr. Who and The Daleks, The House That Dripped Blood), Edward Simons (Communion, Howling III, Howling IV, Howling V, Howling VI), Robert Pringle (Howling 2, Lawnmower Man 2), and Steven Lane (Phantoms, The Howling).
The musical score for The Lawnmower Man was composed by Dan Wyman, who worked in the music department under John Carpenter on Halloween and The Fog, and composed the music for Brett Leonard’s previous film, The Dead Pit.
The effects work for the movie was done by a team that included Heidi Williams (Evolver), Frank Ceglia (Leprechaun 3, Leprechaun 4), Erick Brennan (Freddy vs. Jason), Tom Ceglia (Mortal Kombat, Swordfish), Brian Christensen (Suburban Commando, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Michael Deak (Pick Me Up, Arena, From Beyond, Friday the 13th Part VII, The Dentist), Paul Haines (Leprechaun 3, Critters 3), Francesco Chiarini (Mars Attacks), Paul Lewis (Cliffhanger, Demolition Man), Ken Pearce (Antz, The Avengers), Henry Preston (Wild Wild West, Speed 2), Jimi Simmons (Spawn, Jack), Drex Reed (From Beyond, The Stupids), Rodd Matsui (Tank Girl, Smokin’ Aces), Alex Funke (Waterworld, Freejack), and Michael Kory (Van Helsing, Space Jam, Total Recall).
The cast for The Lawnmower Man includes Jeff Fahey (Planet Terror, Machete, Body Parts, Darkman III) Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye, Die Another Day, The World Is Not Enough, Mrs. Doubtfire, The World’s End, Dante’s Peak), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad, The Cell), Mark Bringelson (Dollman, Heathers), and Jenny Wright (A Shock To The System, Near Dark, Young Guns II).
The plot of The Lawnmower Man is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A simple man is turned into a genius through the application of computer science.
The 1996 sequel to The Lawnmower Man, Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, was absolutely loathed by both critics and audiences, and is now regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. I covered it some time ago due to its inclusion in the IMDb Bottom 100, and didn’t have anything particularly positive to say as I recall.
The plot of Lawnmower Man centers heavily on virtual reality, which means that it inevitably wound up with a video game tie-in. The initial Lawnmower Man game had a couple of different versions: on the Sega CD and PC, it was essentially an interactive movie, whereas the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions were run-of-the-mill platformers. This was standard practice at the time, as different developers were often employed to design the same game for different platforms, which created a lot of variety in gameplay and design depending on the format. While neither version received an overwhelmingly positive reception, a sequel was produced in 1994 called Cyberwar.
The Lawnmower Man was made on a production budget of $10 million, on which it grossed just over $32 million domestically over its theatrical run. Critically, it wasn’t nearly as successful: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 38% from critics and 31% from audiences, alongside a lackluster IMDb user rating of 5.4.
The first thing that is impossible not to notice about Lawnmower Man are the prominent performances from Fahey and Brosnan, and how much they dramatically differ from each other. Jeff Fahey is specifically trying way too hard to sell his role as Jobe, the mentally challenged subject of artificial intelligence enhancement testing, while Pierce Brosnan couldn’t be phoning in his performance any more if he performed while sleepwalking. The combination of the two makes for a baffling on-screen duo, to say the least.
Lawnmower Man is undoubtedly an effects-driven movie, which is usually an issue when it comes to aging. Visual effects technology tends to advance rapidly, meaning that movies that rely too heavily on them look incredibly dated before too long. As it so happens, this is one of the biggest problems with watching The Lawnmower Man today: it feels like a time capsule to the early 90s, which is not a good thing when it comes to virtual reality simulations.
I think Lawnmower Man has an unduly bad reputation for not being original. It certainly has plenty of problems, but a lack of originality is not one of them if you ask me. This isn’t Frankenstein, as many have claimed. This is a movie about artificial enhancement of human capabilities through the use of the cutting edge of technology, which is still certainly relevant today from an ethical standpoint. It is a different set of questions and issues than trying to defeat death or create life. That said, the execution of the story and exploration of these issues leaves an awful lot to be desired, but the concept itself is perfectly sound in my opinion.
Overall, Lawnmower Man is hardly an unwatchable movie, but it is certainly a long way from being genuinely good. The cheesy effects and bad acting make it a pretty entertaining watch, even if it isn’t paced particularly well. Bad movie fans should certainly give it a shot, as well as anyone who is in dire need for a dose of early 1990s nostalgia.