Blu Reviewed: The Lawnmower Man (Shout Factory) (1992)

Awhile back, Brett Leonard’s much ballyhooed and seldom admired 1992 science fiction thriller The Lawnmower Man came up in an article co-written by yours truly regarding films that were arguably ruined in their extended director’s cut form.  Notoriously dropping over forty minutes of additional footage back into the proceedings, bringing a roughly hour and a half science-gone-awry B movie to just under an indulgent two and a half hours, The Lawnmower Man existed for years in this form on VHS tape and laserdisc.  Eventually however, New Line Cinema DVD ultimately dropped the director’s cut in favor of housing on disc the theatrical cut only while boasting 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound and a stronger image than the one offered on the director’s cut tape/laserdisc and even the THX digitally remastered laserdisc which followed thereafter. 

The idea that modern moviegoers still cared about this silly and dated low budget sci-fi thriller which gained unwanted attention for the lawsuit surrounding the use of Stephen King’s name on the credits and advertising campaign seemed remote.  It goes without saying it was and still is a complete surprise to everyone in the home video community that it would be receiving a 4K remaster courtesy of Shout Factory, replete with a fully restored version of the much maligned ‘director’s cut’ and plentiful extras which extended beyond anything offered in any of the previously releases in the form of preexisting and newly rendered extras.  It was inevitable that this dated but still prescient 90s techno thriller would appear on blu-ray, but to receive such a lavish treatment from the good old boys at Shout Factory seemed unthinkable yet here we are.

Say what you will about the film itself and whether or not it still deserves a place in the pantheon of low budget cult science fiction thrillers, Shout Factory has delivered with this still divisive and grossly outdated gem of a movie in a terrific special edition sure to surprise fans as well as detractors on a technical level.  Simply put, Shout Factory has assembled the most definitive home video the film is likely to ever enjoy.  With this, let us take a look at the technical merits of this splendid home video edition of one of the staples of 90s low-budget cyber-thrillers.

The Video

Cited as a new 4K scan of the interpositive, Brett Leonard’s The Lawnmower Man looks better than ever while still displaying limitations of the source.  For instance, while the original film’s low budget CGI renditions looked stunning in 1992 against the standard 35mm footage, The Lawnmower Man in 4K represents a rare case of the standard footage bettering the CGI special effects footage.  Granted all of the material, originally lensed with Arriflex Cameras and Lenses, was ultimately printed on 35mm film, meaning whatever resolution the CGI visual effects footage was at printed on 35mm is going to look about the same as it did on New Line’s previously released DVD.  That said, the footage exhibits healthy film grain and lush colors with many of the laboratory sequences with the neon-fluorescent light blue tubing standing out vividly. 

Also noteworthy is the restoration of the director’s cut, which scanned the deleted footage in 4K directly from the original camera negative.  When first released on VHS, there were noticeable jump cuts differing vastly in image and sound quality whenever the film spliced deleted bits back into the film.  While efforts to reduce the noticeability of the jump cuts were undertaken back when the THX remastered laserdisc edition of the director’s cut premiered, based on Shout Factory’s notes and efforts to further reduce them they’re still undeniably there.  That said, Shout Factory has smoothed over the transitions admirably and have taken great care to make them harder to spot but staunch cinephiles will still spot them.


The Audio

Originally exhibited in Dolby SR 2.0 surround in theaters, The Lawnmower Man like Brainstorm was one of those movies sonically attempting to differentiate the mundane flatness of real world sound effects with the heightened sonic depths of the virtual reality sequences.  While nowhere near as technically sophisticated as Brainstorm was from a sound perspective, the impact is undeniably the same with audio sounding relatively flat and muted before the channels open up to a vast otherworldly soundscape of virtual reality.  As with the DVD, the sound has been remixed in 5.1 surround sound with the Shout Factory blu-ray getting a DTS-HD 5.1 bump. 

Having heard this on tape, laserdisc, DVD and now blu-ray, dialogue still sounds flat, fuzzy and even hollow with other sound effects sounding relatively muddled though the track comes alive whenever the characters enter virtual reality.  This was never a film that was going to sound amazing based on the source and to my ears this new DTS-HD 5.1 mix, while channeling more dynamic range and clarity than previously, isn’t that much of a step up from the mixes that preceded it.  Fans of The Lawnmower Man will be buying this disc for the 4K video and not the audio.


The Extras

Given the presence of an audio commentary by director Brett Leonard and producer Gimel Everett on the laserdisc, it goes without saying the commentary would inevitably make the transition here as well.  Also included are original trailers, TV spots and an electronic press kit from 1992.  Also included are conceptual art drawings, storyboards and behind-the-scenes production stills.  The real meat and potatoes of the special features for this Shout Factory set, however, involve a newly created documentary, Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man.  

Running nearly an hour in length, the doc includes brand new interviews with Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey, editor Alan Baumgarten, makeup effects artist Michael Deak and special effects coordinator Frank Ceglia.  Hearing the group reminisce about the formulation of the film, amusing anecdotes involving Irish drinking, and fond memories of the eclectic cast of character actors round out this behind-the-scenes bonus feature as a welcome and nostalgic memoir of the making of a prescient science fiction thriller/B horror movie.


Final Verdict

Fans of this mostly forgotten piece of 90s low budget sci-fi and aficionados of Stephen King who will forever remember The Lawnmower Man as the film King fought and succeeded in getting his name taken off of aren’t in for an amazing Shout Factory blu-ray.  Considering however how little love there actually is for this film, it’s amazing they put together as lavish and comprehensive of a special edition blu-ray together as they did.  No the remastering process doesn’t mitigate the film’s problems or soup up the more-dated-than-ever CGI sequences, but compared to what we’ve had before it’s the best the film will ever look and sound in the most complete edition released on home video yet.  All in all, one of the year’s biggest and most unlikely surprises from Shout Factory whether you like the film or not.  Kudos to Shout Factory for doing such a solid job on a film most people didn’t expect or otherwise care to see happen.


- Andrew Kotwicki