When people talk about Stephen King adaptations, The Lawnmower Man is probably one of the last one’s people are going to bring up. After a controversy and a lawsuit surrounded the release due to King’s disapproval of using his name to sell a film that didn’t resemble his short story, The Lawnmower Man is mostly fondly remembered for its early visual effects and said controversy, rather than a genuinely good film. When 101 Films announced that they were releasing the film in a limited edition double feature with its sequel Beyond Cyberspace, I jumped at the opportunity to finally watch these films and decide whether they’re the poor efforts people made them out to be, or some hidden gems… 

 

The Lawnmower Man 

Director: Brett Leonard
Screenplay: Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett
Starring: Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright and Geoffrey Lewis
Country: United States
Running Time: 108 min (theatrical) | 142 min (director’s cut)
Year: 1992

The original Lawnmower Man had a fascinating production. As previously mentioned, the film’s loosely based on a Stephen King short story, but outside of one sequence towards the third act of the film involving a lawnmower, there’s barely any similarities between his story. New Line wanted to market the film with his name, because Stephen King sells and even though a lawsuit forbade them from doing so, they still ended up marketing the film as Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man on home video, which got them into even more hot water. 

Controversies aside, what’s The Lawnmower Man about, you might be asking? Well, scientist Larry Angelo (Pierce Bronson) is on the verge of using virtual reality and mind-altering drugs to transform chimpanzees into smarter beings, while the forces that are funding his experiments wish to transform said chimpanzees into soldiers, thanks to a serum called Project 5. After Project 5 causes one of his chimps to go rogue, escape from the lab and hide out in gardener Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey)’s shed, the chimp is murdered by the security team from the lab. 

Angelo forms a friendship with Jobe, who’s developmentally disabled and gets taken advantage of by all of those around him, such as a priest who houses him and bullies around town. Angelo decides to use Jobe as his next test subject in the field of mind-altering drugs, promising him that he can transform him into a smarter, more intelligent individual and before long, Jobe radically transforms from an imbecile to a man smarter than he would have ever imagined before. 

Without giving away much more, the film’s a rollercoaster from start to finish. I viewed the director’s cut of the film, which is a whopping 35 minutes longer than the theatrical cut and within the opening ten minutes, we have a RoboCop chimp, Pierce Brosnan smoking in every scene he’s in, a Simple Jack-like performance from Jeff Fahey and I was having a ball. There’s a lot of talk about “so-bad-it’s-good” films, and if you’ve read my reviews in the past, you know I’m a particular fan of films that work, in spite of what they have going against them. In the case of The Lawnmower Man, the film is heavily flawed in terms of performances, editing, visual effects, writing and a litany of other issues but throughout its 2 hour and 20 minute runtime (for the director’s cut), I was rarely bored. 

There’s an argument to be made that this is the perfect drinking game movie, given how many occurring elements are on display, whether it’s Angelo smoking or taking his shirt off, Jobe sticking his tongue out or doing something wild, or an insane visual effect appearing out of nowhere. It’s great fun, and even though a lot of what the film’s attempting to do can fall flat at times, I really admired the effort that went into the production. With a budget of only $10 million, the film’s incredibly ambitious with the story it’s trying to tell, and feels like the type of film that doesn’t get made anymore. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it’s laughable at times, sure, but when it comes to films that try to replicate this energy nowadays, there’s no real comparison. I could go on and on about how the visual effects in the latest Ant-Man film are terrible, in the same way that The Lawnmower Man has pretty poor visual effects, but when I watch the latter, I feel like the team tried their absolute hardest to sell what’s on screen. The former feels more like content that’s being placed into a cinema without any artistic integrity, and that’s why The Lawnmower Man is something that I can appreciate, regardless of its inherent flaws and dated aspects.

It’s probably not going to make anybody’s favourite films of all time list, but there’s a ton of fun to be had with The Lawnmower Man, especially if you watch the director’s cut as most of the additions enhance the film greatly. It’s an early 90s sci-fi horror that’s trying to warn us about the dangers of out of this world technology such as (wait for it) virtual reality. It’s ridiculous, but tries its hardest to deliver a good time and if you’re on its wavelength, it’s impossible not to have a blast with it. 

Film:

Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace 

Director: Farhad Mann
Screenplay: Farhad Mann
Starring: Patrick Bergin, Matt Frewer and Austin O’Brien
Country: United States
Running Time: 93 min
Year: 1996

After the bonker ride that the first film delivered, I was excited to jump into the sequel, Beyond Cyberspace (also known as Jobe’s War), despite hearing nothing but universally negative things. Austin O’Brien’s the only returning cast member, who played Jobe’s friend Peter in the first film, aside from him, every returning character has been recast. The budget increased from $10 million to $15 million, and a new director, Farhad Mann was brought on board. 

The film continues on six years after the events of the first film, where the universe has been completely changed into a Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk society, and Peter’s living with friends in an abandoned subway. Jobe survived the events of the first film and after being reconstructed by a group of new scientists, he searches for a new superpowered computer chip, known as the Chyron Chip to help control the world. 

Immediately, the new casting for Jobe (this time, played by Matt Frewer, best known for playing Max Headroom) is jarring, with Frewer trying his best to channel the energy of Jim Carrey, but it feels off. It’s a complete departure from how the character was portrayed in the first film, which wouldn’t be terrible if this was a remake or reboot, but given that it’s trying to operate in the same universe, it’s incredibly jarring and didn’t work for me. The production design here is pretty great though, offering a really fun cyberpunk society that feels lived in, and I would have loved to see some extras with the team who crafted the world, as it’s by far the best thing the film has going for it. 

Director Farhad Mann’s heart was in the right place, I’m sure, but his direction is fairly lacklustre, feeling more like an amalgamation of things that were popular around the time of the film’s production, namely Blade Runner, Hackers, The Goonies and Strange Days. It’s technically competent, but it’s a drag to sit through, despite being 50 minutes shorter than the first film’s director’s cut! It’s less Lawnmower Man and more straight-to-video Hellraiser sequel, in terms of the entertainment value. 

While I defended the first film as something that’s better than most people give it credit for, despite its many flaws, Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace is a disappointing follow-up that tries too hard to be bigger, more action-packed and more visual effects heavy, but fails to live up to what made the original so charming. While the film does have a minor cult following, I can understand why this one is so disliked amongst fans, especially compared to the original film. I wish I had more positive things to say about this one.

Film:

The Lawnmower Man Collection releases on Limited Edition Blu-ray June 10th via 101 Films. The release contains three discs, one for the theatrical cut and one for the director’s cut of The Lawnmower Man, and a disc for the sequel Beyond Cyberspace. On a video level, the first film is interesting, as it contains a 4K scan from the interpositive, done by Shout Factory back in 2017 and mostly looks great, although the incorporated deleted scenes in the director’s cut take a noticeable drop in quality, but considering how good the footage is, it doesn’t detract from the experience at all. For the second film, it seems to be an old scan, with no information presented about the transfer and it looks alright, although compared to the original film, it looks considerably more dated. An English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is included on the theatrical cut and an English PCM 2.0 audio track is included on the director’s cut of The Lawnmower Man. For the sequel, an English PCM 2.0 track is included. All of these sound solid and while they won’t give your sound system a complete workout, they work well for what each film is going for. It’s a shame the 5.1 track couldn’t be included for the director’s cut of the first film, but given the multiple sources that the cut is utilising, it makes sense. English subtitles are included for all features. The following extras are included: 

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Limited edition rigid box packaging

Limited Edition Booklet: Includes Grassroots and Cyber Suits: Variations of The Lawnmower Man by Rich Johnson and This Diseased Mainframe: The Abject Horror of Bodily Digitisation in The Lawnmower Man by Andy Marshall-Roberts

Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man 

Audio commentary with writer/Director Brett Leonard and writer producer Gimel Everett 

Deleted scenes 

Original electronic press kit with cast interviews and behind-the-scenes footage 

Edited animated sequences 

Theatrical trailer 

TV spot

Conceptual art and design sketches 

Behind-the-scenes and production stills 

Storyboard comparisons

Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man is a fifty minute retrospective documentary, originally produced for Shout Factory’s 2017 Blu-ray release and it’s easily the best extra on the disc. Featuring interviews with director Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey and editor Alan Baumgarten, the entire history of the film is covered, such as how the project came to be, the production itself and the differences between the theatrical and director’s cut. It’s a great piece that’s worth your time.

The archival audio commentary with Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett, which is ported over from the LaserDisc release is a pretty fun listen, with the pair touching on how the concept came to fruition, the problems they faced during the production and why they wanted to use the concept of virtual reality in the film. It’s a decent listen, with some fun information given from the pair and will certainly please fans. 

The audio commentary that’s included on the director’s cut disc includes updated thoughts for each of the new sequences in the film, so if you’re interested in listening to one of the tracks, I’d advise going for the track on the second disc. 

The deleted scenes contain all of the footage that’s incorporated into the director’s cut, albeit in standard definition. If you’d like to see these scenes, it’s best to watch the director’s cut, but it’s nice to see them included separately too. 

The original EPK is what you’d expect from a production featurette from the 90s, it runs for about five minutes and contains some interviews from the cast and crew, such as Brosnan and Fahey, as well as director Brett Leonard. A neat retro throwback, similar to the film itself. 

A theatrical trailer and TV spot are also included. 

Some edited animated sequences are included, which are comprised of the footage from the segments shown in the film. Similar to the deleted scenes, it’s nice to see these included for fans.

The conceptual art and design sketches, behind-the-scenes and production stills and storyboard comparisons are all presented as image galleries. For fans of the film, these are a treat and worth checking out.

There are no extras included for Lawnmower Man 2.

I wasn’t provided with the physical extras, such as the booklet or the limited edition packaging, so I can’t comment on these.

101 Films’ Lawnmower Man Collection isn’t going to appeal to everybody, especially given the so-bad-it’s-good nature of the films, but if you’re open to some goofy 90s sci-fi fun, you’ll have a good time here. The extras included are all great, although it’s disappointing that there’s nothing presented for the sequel. Recommended for fans.

Disc/Packaging:

Where to watch The Lawnmower Man
The Lawnmower Man Collection - 101 Films
The Lawnmower Man
Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace
Disc/Packaging
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