By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Pretty much everyone alive knows Michael Crichton from Jurassic Park at least, although his connection with showbiz spanned far beyond just his novels, to scripts like Twister and TV shows like ER, and everything in between, it seems.
Alas, that Congo musical we all wished for never came to pass
You may not know that Crichton was a doctor before he first published a novel, and most of his early work focused on combining his knowledge with scifi concepts. The Terminal Man was one of his first novels, and one of his first movie adaptations. It stars George Segal as a man who develops delusions and homicidal tendencies after a devastating brain injury who undergoes an experimental procedure to try to restore some normality to his life. A small computer is implanted in the base of his brain which regulates his stresss and gives him a jolt whenever he begins to Hulk out. This goes about as well as in every other scifi movie.
You wouldn’t like George when he’s angry
There is quite a bit to admire about this film, but I think the praise has to start with Segal’s performance. He has many faces in the film: an intelligent, caring man dealing with a terrible affliction, a paranoid nut convinced machines are taking over the world, and an insane instrument of destruction. At times he must switch seamlessly between these personas in a matter of seconds. Even more impressive is he scene where the scientists test the different electrodes in his brain, producing reactions from laughter to pain to a full reversion to his 6 year old self.
Director Mike Hodges, who has quite the eclectic resume (Get Carter, Flash Gordon), handles the tone, pace, and design of the film with a masterful hand. There is a sense of building dread from the very beginning, accentuated by the cold, clinical nature of both the plot and the set design. Hodges and the script keep augmenting this feeling by taking so long getting to the salacious stuff. Like the book (Crichton loved answering ‘how’ as much or more as ‘what’ or ‘why’) half of the movie is focused on the procedure, an unconventional but fascinating choice that sets up the action of the second half perfectly.
Alternate theory: George worked for Cyberdyne Industries
Terence Malick loved this film, taking time to personally write Hodges and say “Your images make me understand what an image is.” That’s about as high as praise for cinematography gets, and Hodges and Richard H. Kline’s camerawork earns it. The coldly gorgeous imagery reminded me of NBC’s Hannibal, and very likely influenced it, as it may have Stanely Kubrick, whose 1980 film The Shining has some almost unmistakable visual references to it (perhaps returning the favor, as Segal’s wig and some of the set design reminded me of Kubrick’s earlier A Clockwork Orange).
For such a well-shot and designed film, there’s a surprising amount of technical errors on display. The editing is intermittently choppy, even cutting off sentences early a few times. Some secondary characters are dubbed, poorly, as well. You also might want a beer for the character I call Dr. Creepenstein, whose creepiness factor is way out of proportion to his role in the film, which really doesn’t call for creepiness at all. You’ll know him when you see him- I guarantee it.
Mike Hodges’ and Michael Crichton’s The Terminal Man may be one of the finest speculative science fiction films ever. Certainly it’s one of the best-looking and well-acted of the genre.
Take a Drink: whenever the accident is referred to
Take a Drink: whenever how dangerous Benson is comes up
Take a Drink: for every attack
Take a Drink: for the eye in the peephole
Do a Shot: “Fuck You, Robot!”
Do a Shot: Scientology zing!