The Terminal Man
Finally <dramatic pause>. Finally, I have achieved my childhood dream. It is a dream I never imagined I could possibly reach, a dream that equals nay surpasses the lofty aspirations of Martin Luther King’s immortal speech ‘I Have A Dream‘ – Ladies and Gentleman, I have finally seen a film in every cinema in central London. Yes, yes I know, quite an achievement eh? 2008 is certainly going down in the Mint’s history book. I popped over to the ICA last night after a hard days slog in Folkestone to catch a little known US Sci-Fi picture by the name of ‘The Terminal Man‘, a 1974 film never distributed in the UK due to its initial box office failure in the States. It is not to my knowledge available on DVD or Blu-Ray in Region 2 so this was pretty much a very rare chance to see this obscure cult oddity without shelling out for an overseas copy. In any case, it’s always preferable to catch movies on the big screen ain’t it?
Based on an early Michael Crichton story ‘The Terminal Man’ opens with our hero Benson (played by 70′s star George Segal) arriving at a secure government hospital escorted by two nervous guards. Benson has been suffering homicidal amnesiac breakdowns following his possibly deluded belief that the prevalence of new technology and computing is destroying the planet. The hospital management decide to perform some radical experimental surgery and insert computer chips into Benson’s brain to control his subconscious urges (yeah, yeah I know – not exactly the most appropriate cure for a paranoid Luddite) in an effort to suppress his murderous black-outs. After a successful operation Benson’s emotions and memories are electronically manipulated and measured during a brief series of interviews and experiments with institute staff, the results of which concluding that Benson has been cured and can return to the world as a normal, productive member of society. Of course Benson is far from cured and soon escapes his confinement, the authorities in hot pursuit to cover up their failure and eliminate the threat….
Naturally I’m a bit of a completest when it comes to both cult SF and 1970′s cinema so this was something of a double whammy, the fact that director Mike Hodges recently revealed that he had received a letter from legendary recluse Terence Malick praising the film during its initial release made this an essential trip. Hodges was present and gave a brief introduction explaining that although this new print was being marketed as a ‘Directors Cut’ that was a bit naughty as the changes to the original release was not the addition of any material but the removal of a prologue scene, inserted against his wishes which gave some back-story to the Benson character as the studio felt that the audience wouldn’t empathize with the films core protagonist. Quite apart from the obvious ‘Capricorn One‘ post Watergate feel to the film it’s fairly obvious that the film is something of a critique of the emerging ‘Self Help’ medicated, pill popping society that emerged in the comedown of the phantasmagorical 1960′s. Think I’m reading too much into it? Hmmm, well, maybe but quite apart from the psychological medical solution theme that forms the spine of the film there is a blatantly obvious name-check of Scientology in one scene which I don’t think was accidental. It was quite slow, distant and ponderous (hence the Malick appreciation I suspect) without any exciting chases or nail-biting suspense sequences, much more of a mood piece that concludes on a indistinct symbolic scene in a graveyard. Glad I saw it, but to be honest equally glad I didn’t buy a copy from overseas.
In any case it was nice to make my premiere visit to the ICA and see Mike Hodges in the flesh, he is of course cemented in any footnote of UK cinema history given that he is the director behind one of our finest crime films ‘Get Carter‘. I’ve also got a soft spot for one of his other rare cult movies ‘Black Rainbow‘ (big in Japan apparently. I’m not joking) but can’t agree with the critical plaudits that his more recent film ‘Croupier‘ received, I thought that film was a deeply unimpressive and unengaging piece of work. Still, its been a decade so maybe worth a re-visit.