Harry Benson (George Segal) is a computer programmer whose work in the field has been pioneering to say the least yet since an accident left him with brain damage he has become a social pariah thanks to his injury leaving him suffering violent episodes every few days. This has cost him his family, his job and his freedom, because his moods are so unpredictable, though there is a solution which science has brought to him: a tiny computer placed in his brain which will modulate his mind and prevent him from attacking anyone else. The boffins behind this hope to bring it to the two million or so people who cannot control their impulses either.
Though naturally they have to see if it works on Harry first, and with a title like The Terminal Man you can imagine how well that goes. Of course, it could refer to the main character becoming like a computer terminal, a pun of sorts, but this was nineteen-seventies science fiction, and more often than not it was setting the stage for the future to go horribly wrong. The years in the genre between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars were very interesting in its development on screen, as before George Lucas happened along in 1977 the order of the day was bleak foretelling of how the advances in the decade would simply result in hastening the decay of society.
Dystopian science fiction they called it and if it took its cue from the written fiction which shared the same concerns, there was little here which when supposed to be taken seriously, rather than as an adventure, that told you the approaching decades were going to be a brave new world of sunny opportunity. The Terminal Man took that to a more personal scale, where one man's mind was the landscape where the battle for the future was being fought: we hear (though don't see) there have been riots across the nation, and it is planned to put a computer in each one of the insurgents to stop them breaking the law. Oddly, for a story where violence and its worries were the main contention, this was a particularly low key movie.
You cannot imagine a sci-fi effort which updated the Frankenstein story made in the twenty-first century looking anything like this unless it was some kind of art film, which was what this resembled for long stretches, as if encouraging the audience to contemplate deeply of the implications of controlling the impulses which in some views could be natural. Yet even then, it has been established Benson is enduring an abnormal influence in his psychology, so really did need a cure: if he had been one of the insurgents who was being operated on to stop him rising up against a totalitarian government then the point would have struck home with rather more force. As it is, here we have a tragedy in high tech garb.
Director Mike Hodges never had the most predictable career with regards to the subject matter he took on, ranging across a wide variety of styles, and The Terminal Man does not look like the work of the man who in 1974 had recently given us his classic thriller Get Carter. In fact, he had taken over the project from the man who penned the original novel, Michael Crichton who somewhat ingominiously had been fired from his own material, but visually Hodges brought a very sterile, antiseptic look to his drama which would probably have looked more original if Lucas had not got in there first with his own sci-fi dystopia THX 1138 shortly before this came out. Certainly The Terminal Man looks its age now, as you cannot envisage anything today spending a good twenty minutes on the operation sequence, depicted with meticulous attention to detail which many will find boring. Yet adjust to that icy pace and tone, and you would see an excellent, humane Segal performance and find plenty of room to ruminate dourly.
British director, from television, with an interesting take on crime movies. His first film was the gritty, gangster cult Get Carter, but the offbeat follow-up Pulp was not as successful. The Terminal Man was a Hollywood science fiction thriller, and Flash Gordon a gloriously over-the-top comic book epic which showed Hodges' good humour to its best effect.