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Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Crichton
Written byMichael Crichton
Produced byHoward Jeffrey
CinematographyPaul Lohmann
Edited byCarl Kress
Music byBarry De Vorzon
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 30, 1981 (1981-10-30)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8–12 million[1][2]
Box office$3 million[3]

Looker is a 1981 American science fiction film[1] written and directed by Michael Crichton, starring Albert Finney, Susan Dey, and James Coburn.[4] It follows a series of mysterious deaths plaguing female models who have undergone cosmetic surgery from a renowned Los Angeles physician. The film is a suspense/science-fiction piece that comments upon and satirizes media, advertising, television's effects on the populace, and a ridiculous standard of beauty.

Though sparse in visual effects, the film is the first commercial film to attempt to make a computer-generated, three-dimensional, solid-looking model of a whole human body. However, as with its predecessors Futureworld, Star Wars, and Alien, this was an example of "CGI representing CGI", and only depicted on CRT screens in the film, rather than being used as a special effect. The model had no skeletal or facial movements and was not a character. Looker was also the first film to create three-dimensional (3D) shading with a computer,[5] months before the release of the better-known Tron.


Dr. Larry Roberts, a renowned Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, performs cosmetic procedures on a clientele mainly consisting of female television models. Lisa Convey, one of his patients, falls into a trance state in her apartment after being exposed to a flash of light, unaware of the presence of an unknown male assailant lurking in her closet. She falls from her balcony moments later in what is suspected by police to be a suicide.

Lieutenant Masters questions Roberts at his office, where his secretary finds that several medical records—including Lisa's—have mysteriously vanished. After Masters departs, patient Cindy Fairmont visits for a final follow-up appointment, followed by Tina Cassidy. A disturbed Tina begs Roberts to return her to her pre-surgery appearance, claiming that the "perfect" models in the city are being murdered. After Tina departs, she leaves behind her purse, which contains a document from a corporation named Digital Matrix Inc. (DMI). When Roberts attempts to return the purse to Tina, he sees a flash of light in her apartment window, and she too falls to her death. Roberts sees a strange moustached man on her balcony, but he disappears.

Fearing for Cindy's safety, Roberts invites her to join him for a fundraising dinner held by John Reston, a billionaire businessman who informs Roberts that Jennifer Long, a party guest, is the head of DMI. Jennifer explains that DMI used women's facial measurements for a visual technology experiment that was recently ceased. Roberts brings Cindy back to his residence, where she expects a romantic encounter, but he instead has her sleep in the guest room. The next day, Roberts accompanies Cindy to the filming of a television commercial, where DMI technicians monitor the proceedings using a computer. When Cindy is unable to hit her marks, the DMI technicians inform her that the commercial will be completed using CGI, requiring that Cindy visit DMI to have her measurements taken.

While Cindy undergoes a three-dimensional body scan at the DMI laboratory, Jennifer tests Roberts's eyes with the computer, analyzing his points of focus, which are determined to be on the model rather than the products advertised. Jennifer divulges that after surgery, Cindy, among other models, were assessed as visually "perfect" by the computer in stills, but that their scores were inconsistent while in motion. Roberts notices flashes of light emanating from the "Looker" lab, but Jennifer claims her security card will not allow them to enter. Roberts covertly steals a security card from a technician before departing with Cindy, a theft that is reported to Reston by Jennifer.

Cindy visits her parents, during which Roberts is exposed to a series of light flashes by the moustached man—using a beaming gun—that seem to have immobilized him, as hours pass without his awareness. When Cindy returns that night, the two drive to DMI and manage to break in using the security card to breach the Looker lab. Roberts learns that Looker stands for "light ocular-oriented kinetic emotive responses," whose high-intensity light can incite trances in those exposed. The moustached man enters the Looker lab and attacks Roberts using the Looker gun, but Roberts retaliates by using a pair of mirrored sunglasses to refract the light, immobilizing the assailant.

Later, Reston orders the moustached man to abduct Cindy and murder Roberts. When they arrive at Roberts's office, they kidnap Cindy and flee. The next morning, Roberts is chased through the city by the moustached man, causing Roberts to crash his car, but he escapes. Roberts hides in a Reston Industries security car, which brings him to the company headquarters. Onstage for a gala demonstration, Reston introduces his company's newfound ability to create commercials using computer-generated actors, and puts his unwitting audience into a trance with the help of Jennifer, controlling the computer from an upstairs control room where she is holding Cindy hostage. When Jennifer leaves the console, the moustache man kills her, mistaking her for Roberts. A struggle ensues between Roberts and the moustached man, which is halted when Reston shoots at them, accidentally killing the moustache men. Lieutenant Masters, who has been following Roberts, arrives and manages to kill Reston before he can dispatch Roberts.



Crichton started thinking about the subject of the film in 1975.[6] He says he went to a Los Angeles computer company to find out how they could create copies in commercials without looking too ridiculous and discovered a company in Texas was already doing it, called tomography.[7]

Looker became an early production of The Ladd Company.[8] It was Leigh Taylor-Young's first film in eight years.[9]

James Coburn later said "My part was pretty much on the cutting room floor. They really pissed that film away. They had Albert Finney running around in a security guard's uniform throughout the film. It didn't make any sense. It could have been a good picture. It was about how television controls. It was about how commercials manipulate people to buy products, politicians, whatever. But, they cut the film up for a television print. I don't know why they did that. They spent some bread on the picture too. It was a $12 million production. That's not much today, but back then it was a pretty big budget."[2]


Looker was poorly received by critics, particularly film historian Leonard Maltin: "An intriguing premise is mishandled; the result is illogical and boring. Even Albert Finney cannot save this turkey."[10] The film holds a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews.[11] It was not a success at the box office.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Looker at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ a b Goldman, Lowell (Spring 1991). "James Coburn Seven and Seven Is". Psychotronic Video. No. 9. p. 28.
  3. ^ a b "Looker (1981) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  4. ^ "Looker". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  5. ^ Visual and Special Effects Film Milestones from Filmsite.org
  6. ^ Warga, Wayne. (Mar 1, 1981). "Fact, Fiction Intertwined By Crichton". Los Angeles Times. p. m22.
  7. ^ Buckley, Tom (6 February 1981). "AT THE MOVIES; How Resnais made a success with science. (Published 1981)". The New York Times. p. C12.
  8. ^ Pollock, Dale (Aug 6, 1980). "Film Clips: All Geared Up With Nowhere To Go". Los Angeles Times. p. i3.
  9. ^ "Roderick Mann: Leigh Taylor-Young Returns To The Scene". Los Angeles Times. Jan 8, 1981. p. h1.
  10. ^ Maltin's TV, Movie, & Video Guide
  11. ^ "Looker (1981)". Rotten Tomatoes.

External links[edit]