I hadn’t seen Mike Hodges’ somewhat exceptional The Terminal Man for over 40 years, so naturally, that film I derided that long ago for its awful TV edit was quite the gloomy, rewarding surprise as a revisit a day ago as a complete film. As a kid, I can recall vividly the scene where George Segal, wearing a messy blond wig, white suit and whiter shoes was beating a large triangular-headed shiny metal robot to “death” and how it made me laugh as I retold the scene to a few amused school friends.
As you can guess, I want to kick my younger self a bit now (not too hard, though) because it’s one of a number of haunting images the film has and it comes a few minutes after a shocking murder mostly clipped from the TV edit. Initially to be directed by its author, Michael Crichton (who the studio felt was changing his own novel too much for the film), Hodges was given the task of getting it into the depressing, downbeat sci-fi thriller it turned out to be, writing and directing the project himself. Amusingly, I came into the film as a fan of The Andromeda Strain. The film version of that had me go take the book from the the library that past summer and I blew through it a few times (it’s a fast, tense read and took under a day to blaze through non-stop the first time). So I didn’t get the less conventional manner in which some of The Terminal Man was structured. Well, the edited network version didn’t help much, that’s for sure.
That initial derision from my younger self was also a definite case of being too young to grasp the film’s tone and my only exposure to Segal’s work being a few comedic and lighter performances. Seeing the film now reveals the range and rage on display, or an actor fully in charge of the character he’s inhabiting. As Harry Benson, a computer scientist prone to anger and seizures, he goes through an experimental surgery that has a tiny computer hooked into his brain to keep things under control.
Guess what? The early predictions of a successful recovery by his smug doctors? Yeah, they’re rendered into obsolescence when Harry decides to stop taking his meds and escapes from the hospital with the help of his girlfriend (Jill Clayburgh) who has no idea Harry’s implanted computer (which she has no clue about) is going to misfire quite badly. There’s murder and mayhem to follow, but the film doesn’t go to places it doesn’t need to outside of telling its particular tale, clocking in at a lean 107 minutes before it ends.