Friday, June 26, 2015

Movie Review - Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man

The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton
Based on the book by Michael Crichton
Starring: George Segal, Joan Hackett, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat, Michael C. Gwynne, William Hansen, Matt Clark, Jim Antonio, and Jill Clayburgh
Release Date: June 19th, 1974
Rating: ★
To Buy

Harry Benson is having an experimental surgery to stop his epileptic seizures that cause violent blackouts after he was in a car accident. Harry's entire life changed, from a loving family man he has become a violent criminal. The hope is that he can gain some semblance of his old life back. His psychiatrist, Doctor Janet Ross, thinks that implanting electrodes in his brain isn't the wisest idea, which is proven correct when his brain starts to trigger more and more mini seizures to get the euphoric jolt from the electrodes. The problem is, once the jolts become continuous, he will have a major blackout and will be the most dangerous he's ever been. This wouldn't be that big a problem except that Harry has escaped his police guard and left the hospital. He could be anyway and anything could happen. The first tipping point will be some minutes after three in the morning, and that's when Harry first kills. As his electric jolts become more and more constant he will have more major blackouts and more people could die, even the doctors who are trying to help him, because he knows where they all live.

If you want a pompous pretentious movie that is so full of itself that you will be laughing till you are crying, then I heartily recommend you watch The Terminal Man! This adaptation might be the most amusing of all the Crichton adaptations I have ever seen. Either the adaptation is true to the book and with Crichton's involvement we get to watch a solid movie, or the adaptation is all levels of tacky throwing in bad robotic apes with sign language gloves that disappoint while the viewer is able to still find some humor in their situation. But The Terminal Man leaves all others in the dust when it comes to overreaching. Cinema in the late sixties and early seventies was revitalized by more artistic movies that weren't meant to be mainstream. From Bonnie and Clyde to The Graduate, 2001 to A Clockwork Orange, movies were breaking with conventions and what would have previously been art house fare was now de rigueur. The Terminal Man obviously had dreams of being the next big thing with it's limited dialogue and score set in a very colorless world but instead the movie comes off as trying too hard. It wants to be chic so badly that it oversteps and we are left with a laughable mess.

The biggest hint that they are trying to make a medical thriller into an artsy film is in the sets and costumes. The sets have no color. No color at all. And literally everyone is only ever seen in white, black, or grey. There are no other colors in this world, except that hint of red. Both blood and flowers are allowed red, but nothing else. It's obviously aiming for the impact of the girl with the red coat in Schindler's List and instead it's just weird. The appearance of the red when Harry starts to kill isn't jarring, like a horrific murder should be, it was just laughable. I'm not sure if this colorless world was supposed to be a commentary on the antiseptic lifestyle that surrounds a hospital or some weird futuristic concept where colors are tacky in the future, because they did noticeably remove any reference to the year the movie was set in. The height of the fashion faux pas is the nurses uniforms, which are so impractical and their headdresses are half medieval peasant half nun that one wonders what the hell world this movie was really thinking it lived in. You can actually feel the filmmakers striving for greatness, you can hear the gears in their head moving and thinking, yes, this will be a classic for the ages like Kubrick. If Kubrick did Lifetime TV movies, then maybe the analogy would be right.

The Terminal Man just wanted to be profound, it wanted to be something more. The sparseness is also seen in the paring down of the story. There is almost no dialogue and what plot existed in the book has been almost completely gutted. Instead the film is populated with long silences and static images that in the hands of someone talented, aka Kubrick, it could have worked, but here it draws out the movie so that a film that is under two hours feels about six. The problem that arises from parring down everything is the story is lost in translation. You don't realize that Harry Benson is supposed to be a genius with a fear of machines that indicates his psychosis, instead we have a violent man who has a surgery that goes wrong and kills some people. Where is the motivation? Where is the reasoning? In the book there is a connection between Benson and Doctor Ross where they have a true friendship, where their conversations delve into deep concepts. Here their doctor patient relationship is almost nonexistent and Doctor Ross is relegated to sexist jokes and wailing while trying to futilely save her patient.

The major divergence from the book, wherein they make Harry a Roman Catholic, exemplifies how the filmmakers were striving for some inner meaning. Something lofty and enigmatic and shocking. Instead of just sticking to the solid story that existed, here Harry isn't contemplating machines taking over the world, but instead trying to come to terms with being a violent man. What? I mean, he doesn't remember these attacks and often puts himself purposefully in these situations, ie, going to bars and strip clubs, yet somehow he has remorse? Since when? His going to church to confess made me role my eyes. The film seriously thought that by adding this layer of spiritualism that they would somehow redeem it? Make it something worthy of discussion? Instead the killing of the priest with his rosary during Harry's confession comes off as laughable and oh so predictable. It isn't helped by the fact that George Segal, while a good actor in his own way, was unable to carry this production. His "seizures" are worthy of a Razzie.

But the saddest fact of this whole film is that it wants to have been a Stanley Kubrick film. With the minimal score, only Bach's Goldberg Variation No. 25 played by Glenn Gould is ever heard, the colorless sets, the framing of each scene, the doctors in evening wear, the weird eye through the door watching over us, all of it cries out as a poor Kubrick imitation. Personally, I have never been the biggest Kubrick fan, but watching someone trying to emulate him so hard it is painful to watch you realize how great Kubrick is. This, this was like the bad Lifetime tv movie that was made as a Kubrick film. Much like the true stories of Saved by the Bell and Full House, The Terminal Man comes off as cut rate, cliched, badly cast, lacking vision, and unable to grasp even the basics of what they are trying to do. By the end of the film when George Segal is having a seizure in a cemetery plot, well, you're just praying for that bullet to end it all. It was amusing to watch the film once because of how bad it is, but a second viewing would be masochistic. Go watch something by Kubrick instead, it's the real deal, not a pale over ambitious imitation.


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