THE TERMINAL MAN: the best Michael Crichton adaptation

(USA, 1974, Mike Hodges)

TERMINAL MAN

GET CARTER’s Mike Hodges produced, directed, and adapted for the screen this clinical sci-fi thriller based on the novel by Michael Crichton. THE TERMINAL MAN was an odd career move for Hodges, and, after this one flopped, he wouldn’t turn up again until six years later with the even more inexplicable FLASH GORDON (in the interim he was fired from DAMIEN: OMEN II). Though the film pales in comparison with his masterpiece GET CARTER, Hodges’s direction is absolutely brilliant and helps transcend the routine source material. Like almost all films based on Michael Crichton novels, THE TERMINAL MAN suffers from its source, but this is without a doubt the best adaptation of his work (I find both WESTWORLD and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN grossly overrated). Sadly, it’s also one of his least known. 

THE TERMINAL MAN is one of the rarest things — a genuine Hollywood art film. It’s also one of the coldest and most unfeeling studio films this side of Kubrick, with a slow, creeping sense of horror reminiscent of both 2001 and THE SHINING. It’s a work of science-phobia where a brilliant computer scientist gets a microcomputer implanted into his brain to prevent the violent seizures he is suffering from as a result of a head injury. Needless to say, things go horribly awry and the cure is worse than the disease. While, like all of Crichton’s work, plot development is clearly signposted, Hodges defiantly eschews audience expectations. This may be why critical consensus labeled the film dull. Instead of a standard thriller, Hodges is more interested in creating a dystopian near future through a heavily stylized atmosphere that is so deliberately stilted that it is practically suffocating. Every shot is off-centered and oddly-framed on incredibly stark, white sets. With the notable exception of CALIFORNIA SPLIT, I’ve never been too impressed by George Segal, but as the lead, he gives a fantastic performance. An underrated film that as of the present date still hasn’t seen the light of day of DVD.

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