“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Science Fiction / Theatrical Release: 2006 / Director: Richard Linklater / Actors: Rory Cochrane, Robert Downey Jr. ... / DVD released 22 January, 2007 at Warner Home Video / Features of the DVD: PAL, Widescreen „
* Prices may differ from that shown
I was intrigued by the production and concept of this film and have been wanting to watch it for ages. I finally got it from my rental company and watched it straight away. It wasn't quite what I was expecting but I was fascinated all the same. It's currently available from www.amazon.co.uk for the cost of £3.98 which I think is a reasonable price for this film.
Region 2 1-disc DVD
Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, Keanu Reeves
Tagline: What Does A Scanner See?
Certificate rating: 15
~~~THE BACK OF THE BOX BLURB~~~
Richard Linklater's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's classic novel is a challenging, mind-bending experience that cautions about the dangers of excessive drug use as well as the government's capacity to abuse and manipulate power. Using the same interpolated rotoscoping technique that Linklater employed in 2001's WAKING LIFE, the film is an animated, trippy descent into one man's unravelling mind. Set in the not-too-distant future where a new drug, substance D, has created an epidemic, A SCANNER DARKLY charts the mental unravelling of Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves). Arctor is an undercover cop who has been assigned to track a group of individuals who include the hyper-intense Luckman (Woody Harrelson), the ultra-paranoid Freck (Rory Cochrane), and the beautiful Donna (Winona Ryder). As the film unfolds and Arctor finds himself abusing substance D in order to maintain his façade, his mind begins to spin out of control, to the point where he doesn't know what's real and what isn't. Eventually, the truth comes out, leaving Arctor even more numbed. Linklater's surprisingly faithful adaptation of Dick's novel blends humour, drama, and Bob Sabiston's striking animation to deliver a thought-provoking film that will leave viewers as dazed as the film's protagonist.
In the somewhat near future the world has changed and we are faced with a population suffering severely from drug dependency. Substance D is an addictive drug and 20% of the world are now regular users. Special undercover agents work against this criminal activity and we follow "Fred", a faceless agent who constantly obscured his identity with a high-tech piece of equipment called a scramble suit. "Fred" is set the objective of watching a group of drug addicts and sets up a surveillance operation to monitor their activity. In performing his undercover duties, "Fred" becomes addicted to the drug Substance D and as we follow the story from his perspective it becomes difficult to tell what is reality and who is really on the right side.
All of the main characters are played by high profile American actors, including Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr, and Winona Ryder. They all play their parts perfectly and are so convincing in their mannerisms as well as their line delivery that you can really believe the performances even though they are so unusual. There are some crazy parts of the film where the characters are taken over by paranoia, and this leads to some interesting effects and it can leave you hanging waiting to know more and find out what is really true and what is just drug induced delusions. The film swings back and forth between desperation and hilarity, which I think is a good representation of the effect that the drug is having. It can be uncomfortable to watch in places, but the visual styling makes it seem a little less harsh and violent than a regular live action film would.
The way in which this film has been produced is absolutely stunning. The film is made up of live actors playing out their roles in sets as you would usually expect. After the filming was completed it then took a further 18 months to apply the post production treatment. Everything you see has been drawn by teams of illustrators over the original film, in a way that is similar to the line art of comic books and graphic novels. It was then animated and put together to form the colourful and lively film that we see as the finished product. It looks absolutely amazing and it was the first film I've seen with this type of animation technique. It gives the movie a real edge and draws you into their world. The level of detail is exquisite and it looks incredibly life-life.
Although this is described as a science fiction film, I didn't think it had any of the typical details of this genre other than the incredible scramble suits and their advanced monitoring systems. It has a dystopian theme and under the surface of humour there is a dark and disturbing plot. Philip K Dick is a celebrated science fiction writer and his work has successfully been transformed into film many times including: Bladerunner, Total Recall, Screamers, Minority Report, Paycheck, and Next. The worlds he creates are scarily close to our own and draw heavily on his own life experiences.
Personally, I sometimes find it difficult to watch films that are primarily centred around drugs as I find it distasteful. However, what we really have here is a case of good vs bad, and the little man against the big company which makes it a bit more accessible.
+ Commentary by writer/director Richard Linklater, Keanu Reeves, producer Tommy Pallotta, author Jonathan Lethem, and Isa Hackett Dick (daughter of Philip K. Dick) - to be honest I pressed play on this feature and as soon as it began I had to stop it. I have not got the patience to watch the whole film over again with people speaking over the top of it! I think this type of feature only really comes in useful when you have an extremely complex piece of work that is virtually incomprehensible or deeply symbolist that requires further explanation to appreciate its depths. A Scanner Darkly can be confusing because of the paranoid characters and turns of the plot, but it reveals itself in the end and everything falls into place very neatly. A feature for die-hard movie buffs only!
+ "One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming A Scanner Darkly" featurette - this was an interesting documentary feature on how the live action part of the film was made. The director and all of the main actors are very involved I this feature and it is quite interesting to see how they reacted to the script and how they act knowing that you will not really see "them" on the final film. Worth a watch as it's quite entertaining.
+ "The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales" featurette - this was a fascinating documentary feature involving the illustration and animation teams. It showed how the graphic style was achieved and I was truly captivated by the process. Call me a n00b but I hadn't even seen a graphic tablet before (my other half explained them to me as we were watching) and it looked like pure magic to me. Would definitely recommend watching this after the film.
+ Trailer - short and sweet, but it's hard to get across the concept of such a story in a short trailer. Worth a watch before you settle down to watch the main movie.
I was surprised by this movie. It tackles the difficult subjects with heart and humour, and can be sensitive at times, as well as providing laugh out loud funny moments. It's something you will need to concentrate on as the pace keeps you on the edge and it does get confusing trying to follow the paranoid musings of a disintegrating mind. It's well worth watching and I would recommend it to anyone who has the time and patience to appreciate a film that breaks outside of the norm.
In the 2006 movie, A Scanner Darkly, produced by Richard Linklater, we see Agent Fred (Keanu Reeves) as an undercover cop, involved with the drug scene in the USA - America's war on drugs but he's been a bit of a naughty boy. He's taken the 'undercover'aspect just a little too far - he's become addicted himself and basically lost the plot, joined the others and become a junkie.
Now here comes a bit of irony - he is ordered to investigate himself - ouch!
Does this at all sound familiar to any of you? The plot line where officers of the law whose job it is to track criminals down suddenly change direction and run away from the law - appalled at what they have become and found out about themselves. Think Blade Runner, Minority Report.
Linklater's dab at science fiction is based on the book written by Philip Dick and this is where this film differs from the other two. He is faithful to the book and doesn't feel the need to add strange acts of violence and extra thrills. The characters in this thoughtful film are wasters; brain addled, disillusioned; no hopers. To watch, it is challenging, very sad and fascinating, just like the book.
Scanner focuses on a small group of people from the Anaheim community. Agent Fred weaves his way into the community by pretending to be a dealer. His so called pals are wasters tortured by the distorted scenes going on in their heads, illusions brought on by a terrible suppressive drug known as substance D. I will let you work out what the letter D stands for.
Barris (Robert Downey Jnr) lectures to this band of deadbeats on things he has no knowledge of; shooters, the science of narcotics and how the American government is full of conspiracies. His head is filled with ridiculous fantasies and as he chats away with authority his mind his coiling and reeling all the time. His looney audience is captive. We have Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), a Californian stoner who likes to freak himself and his mates out. Wait until you meet Charles Feck (Rory Cochrane) - he makes Luckman look sane and at times straight. Feck never stops twitching in fear. At the beginning of the film he obsessively washes himself and his dog as he thinks that they have both been taken over by giant aphids.
Feck and Luckman share a house with a guy called Bob Actor who has a pretty, sexy girlfriend. Donna (Winona Ryder) is also hooked on Substance D but the way she reacts after taking it doesn't please her boyfriend or any of the guys - she can't stand physical contact. This drives Bob away to find sex elsewhere but for this he has to pay and the only way he can is to pay the girl with drugs. Not the best of ideas from Bob - this leads to some nasty surprises.
What the little group isn't aware of is that Bob is actually Agent Fred and he has clocked every move with his sophisticated surveillance gear.
But the drugs are ripping his attempts to do his job properly apart. The two parts of his brain are squabbling with each other and mentally agitating his sense of identity. Is he actually a law enforcement officer acting the part of a dealer or is he a dealer who makes apologies for his habit by pretending to be an officer of the law.
To give viewers a tangible sense of Fred's delusion, the producer uses a computer technique he has used before; rotoscoping. This is where animators take sections of actors performances and paint over it. With this process even if the characters become cartoons they are very much life like in their movements, gestures and expressions. Even the scenery looks real if a little haunting. The process was innovative at the time of his first film (Waking Life) and even now I find it a bit trippy and reminds me of Kafka's dreams when you never knew which item in his office/room was suddenly going to change into something grotesque.
The animators have done an excellent job on this film particularly the design of the bodysuits to disguise the agents. They are made from some sort of electrical fabric, a mixed mass collection of human features that furnishes the wearer with a haphazard collage of nationalities, ages, clothes and hairstyles. These suits enable the agents to be anonymous at the office so their operations are safe. These so-called scramble suits were difficult to design and for a long time a film couldn't be made of Dick's novel. This technique of Linklater's is brilliant and fascinating to see in action on the screen.
As the movie goes on we see that Agent Fred is struggling - his brain is really scrambled. He becomes paranoid and is convinced that the government has no inclination to stop this drug epidemic and that they actually benefit from the ever growing stupor. It is very easy to manipulate a country of spiritless, indifferent humans. These are his thoughts - will he change his ideas and will his thought process become clearer?
Dick's book was published in 1977 and reflected very much the drug culture of the time in and was amazingly relevant to a lot of things that happened in the 90s. His image of life in 1994 was futuristic and some of his predictions came true, like government's spying on their own citizens by using surveillance. He also believed that the Media, Internet etc would manipulate peoples minds especially the vulnerable members of society.
You could say the film succeeds as a piece of work that is relevant and timely but it isn't the easiest film to watch. In the novel the wandering conversations between the dysfunctional group are amusing but sometimes in the film there are too many silly verbose misunderstandings and conversations and it does get a bit tiresome.
So in the end I changed my mind a little bit about the film and felt rather confused. The film is well made and nobody makes movies about shirkers and people searching for meanings better than Linklater. (Slacker, Dazed and Confused). He's an exceptional movie -maker and I can't fault the animation. It is fantastic. Reeves is good in this role, too.
However, I think this differs from Linklater's other films because although it is very good it isn't entertaining. It's a piece of work commemorating the novelist's desperate generation. It's a frantic quest for compassion and hope. All the characters, live out their roles in their sleep and at times this is a bit frustrating - nothing really happens and this becomes boring. They are a miserable bunch and after 2 hours 20 minutes they become terrible company even though I can sympathise with their weaknesses and foolish existence.
Admirably the director gives us a piece of the novelists heart; broken and destroyed. Dick was a man who knew the mistakes he had made in his life - he struggled terribly with narcotics himself and throughout his life always had a deep sympathy with his friends who couldn't step out of the void.
So who would like this film - anyone who is interested in animation, anyone interested in the chemistry of narcotics and how they affect peoples minds, anyone who just likes a trippy film.
It isn't for everyone - it is sad and it shows you how sometimes what you see in the mirror isn't always good; a terrible despair where there is no turning back only a great falling, falling into a deep abyss.
I saw the film recently in a small independent theatre in town but there is a DVD and from the look at the side of the page it is quite cheap at £3.98. I do recommend the film especially to watch on a big screen as the colours on a dark background and the animation is fantastic. Try and watch it with an open mind - that's the best way and not to be judgemental about the characters. If you can do that you will enjoy it and at times even manage to raise a smile.
A dark, haunting, and frequently funny film, A Scanner Darkly is the film adaptation of the novel by Phillip K. Dick, renowned science fiction writer.
The first aspect of the film is the cinematography, as it's a weird mix of live action in cartoon (It was filmed as usual live action movies are, and then drawn over the top) which makes it visually very interesting.
The story is set seven years in the future in California, where a bunch of addicts are hanging out. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is one of these addicts. He is also Agent 'Fred' a narcotics officer, working to trace something called Substance D, a dangerous drug that over 20% of the population are addicted to. Arctor became addicted to Substance D when he went undercover, and he is starting to show signs of brain damage.
This all sounds very heavy, and it is an intense and very smart film. However, don't let this put you off- thanks to brilliance of Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson, perfectly depicting some hilarious examples of drug-induced paranoia, and a great performance from Winona Ryder, this film is easy to watch and enjoy, even if you are left with questions at the end.
This is perfect as when you read the book you can become so involved, here the effects used over the film helps you to understand and clearly see how out of reality the characters are.
The film does not do the book justice and there are a lot of bits that are changes slightly - I do not know why though - which does not make it any better. But the film managed to capture some of the scenes perfect and the actors chosen are brilliant.
The 'scramble suits' in the book which let your imagination run wild are hard to actually understand what they would actually look like, in the film it has created the effect immaculately.
the film is a bit before its time in a way as with the more recent films 'Sin City' and '300' have that glazed look as if out of an actual comic, A scanner Darkly goes one step further to suggest that what is happening in the film is testing how real reality actually is!
It is a one to watch but not before reading the amazing book. The nice thing about the film is it captures the ending perfectly and still makes you crave more and re-watch t see if you missed any lines or any scenes
Disclaimer: As with all my movie reviews, this is about the film itself rather than the DVD. I generally don't watch extra features or deleted scenes as they are usually removed for a reason and detract from the film as it was intended.
Key Stars: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane
This is a screen adaptation of a book by the same title. I personally havent read this book so will not be able to comment on the differences and similariities, the movie however is a 2009 scifi/animation movie that details the loss of trust and identity due to governmental intrusions to combat the increasing abuse of a new drug called Substance D.
The special effects in this movie are brilliant and really help give the feel that you are stuck in a drug filled hallucination throughout. It is often hard to tell what is supposed to be happening and what is being hallucinated since it all ties together so well. Because of this you feel a connection to the main character and experience the same doubt that progressively gains throughout this movie. The effects were created using keyframed rotoscope techniciques and then tweened or interpolated between these keys.
The one major downside I experienced with this movie is the fact that because it is so hard to distinguish the reality from hallucination in this film its almost impossible to keep track of the storyline in any detailed way. Often times confusing and seems to have no narrative direction.
Overall this is.... an experience... It is definately not the greatest movie in a long time because of the undriven plot, but is enjoyable for the cinematic experience alone.
As an intellectual ("nerd") I read a lot of science fiction, and have a particular fondness for Philip K. Dick. His work has often been targeted by Hollywood - Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck - mostly for his vivid visions of the future. As a writer, Dick often creates a general tone of morose confusion, and though his ideas are outstanding, it's always the feeling behind them that gives his work more emotional punch. Unfortunately, Joe Public doesn't always want something they have to ponder, so Mr Hollywood takes Dick's work and strips it down to the barest ideas, then adds a beefy actor and makes a fortune. It's like giving Ben Affleck a crayon and asking him to recreate the Mona Lisa.
So on reading that Richard Linklater has created the most faithful adaptation of a Dick novel yet, I was quite excited about this film. At its simplest level, A Scanner Darkly is about undercover cops investigating users of a highly addictive drug called Substance D. It's set seven years in the future, so there's not a huge amount of the 'sci' in the 'fi'. But delving deeper, the story centres on Bob Arctor/Fred (Keanu Reeves, acting quite well), the undercover cop whose brain is slowly being eaten away by the very drug he's investigating, so much so that he begins to lose sight of who he really is. Delve a bit deeper still, and it's Dick's way of exploring the darkest nature of addiction, something he knows only too well (being a user himself, which may have made him a tad mental and cost the lives of many of his friends.)
What immediately makes this film stand out is Linklater's use of rotoscoping, which is the method of laying animation over film. In layman's terms, it looks pretty damn cool. And took bloody ages - 500 hours for one minute of animation, to be anally factual. But as well as giving the film a unique look (well, unique alongside Linklater's previous work Waking Life) the technique finally allows Dick's lucid writing style to be visualised. Faces flicker, the patterns on t-shirts shift, hallucinations of giant bugs can be brought to screen without looking massively out of place. Where it works best is with the 'scramble suits' worn by the cops to keep their identities a secret. The suits flick through hundreds of different images at a time, creating an almost disorientating effect, but realising Dick's idea perfectly.
But it's not just a pretty picture. Far from it. The overall tone is dark, and I feel a great sadness when watching Arctor's decline. There are moments of light with Robert Downy Jr's energetic and ever so slightly dangerous Barris, and Woody Harrlesson's idiotic Luckman. Watching their demented conversations about bicycle gears, or Barris' attempt to make a gun silencer, gives some light relief. But if Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas is the brightly coloured, loud-mouthed uncle of the 'films-about-drugs' family, then Scanner is the poetic, yet clinically depressed teen.
Having read the book, I suffered from the 'hang on, I'm sure that bit doesn't go there' phenomena. Some details were left out (understandably to keep the 100 minute run-time, though it's a shame the extent of Arctor's confusion isn't fully developed) and other events were in a different order. But overall the essence of the book was captured successfully.
Richard Linklater is one of the most diverse working directors today, having worked in a wide variety of genres, from coming of age comedy (Dazed and Confused), comic farce (School of Rock), romantic comedy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset), and now a drug thriller in A Scanner Darkly, a little known but supremely entertaining film that boasts outstanding visuals and some solid performances to boot.
As you'll see from the film's poster, the film isn't live action in the traditional sense - it comes from a technique he pioneered on his film Waking Life, called rotoscoping, where a film is filmed in live action, and then drawn over with computers to give a fantastical animated look. It's a unique look that is unmistakable, and works very well considering the film's constantly fleeting notion of reality, underlined by some nifty plot twists in the film's later scenes, and of course, for a film about drugs, where the intention is an escape from reality, it couldn't be any more apt.
The premise revolves around the loss of the drug war in America, and how a highly addictive and debilitating illegal drug called Substance D has taken hold on the country. The government, with increasing desperation, are installing surveillance systems and rallying up informations in order to catch the dealers and stop this epidemic.
For much of A Scanner Darkly you may be pretty confused, but I assure you, it all ties together in the end. Bob Arctor (Reeves) is an undercover police officer that lives with drug users Ernie Luckman (Harrelson) and James Barris (Downey Jr.), who provide the film's main source of humour, with their philosophical (and stoned) discussions about life. Donna Hawthorne (Ryder) plays Arctor's drug peddling love interest also.
Visually elaborate and thematically conscious, Richard Linklater's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel is a mind-bending outing that challenges viewers as much as it dazzles them. Certainly compelling, but not always focused.
This surreal psychological animated drama is an acquired taste. Its marmite. You either love it or you hate it - and I can understand why. It is quite a hard film to follow, and at times can be quite slow to those who don't fully appreciate the storyline. I am one of those people who loved it.
I thought the rotoscoping technique the film used was brilliant and complimented the story and the characters incredibly well. Keanu Reeves was surprisingly good given his usually wooden nature,. Robert Downey Jr. is brilliant as always, Winona Ryder is a complicated junkie, and she is also good, and Woody Harrelson gives up a great performances too.
But like I said, you may not enjoy it or you may love it, but there's rarely an in between. This a very bleak, strange piece of indipendant film making and you have to be into the story from go to like it.
I muist admit that I may have missed the point of this film as I found it quite confusing at times.
It is set in the not too distant future, in a society wher everyone is under surveillance by the authorities using a variety of bugs and satellites. Keanu Reeves plays an undercover agent involved in a world of drugs who loses the distinction between his two lives. The film follows him and his friends in their chaotic mixed up lives and how Reeve's charcter Arcter tries and eventually fails to keep up with his two opposing characters.
The story is only half of it with A Scanner Darkly. It has an all star cast Keanu Reeve, Winona Rider, Robert Downey Junior and Woody Harrelson. All give terrific performances, particularly Downey Jr who is at his overacting best. The cast list though hides this film's most interesting feature, that it is an animation. The film was filmed as a standard movie might be but the frames were then individually drawn and animated. This allows for a style mixed between the two that is visually stunning but lets the actor's skill still shine through.
The story of the film is a little hard to follow, although I think if I watched it again I'd get more out of it but the animation is such that it draws you in.
I'll start out with an apology there there isn't much substance to the review of this movie. Its because i found it very hard to follow but here goes.
I haven't read the book/story this is based on & the actual plot of the film is a bit difficult to follow but still very good. The whole filmed then hand drawn shading thing is brilliant. Keanu Reeves was pretty good, I loved Winona Ryder. Robert Downey Junior was brilliant as the paranoid doctor. Woody Harrelson equally brilliant as the stoner friend.
This is a society blighted by super addictive drugs that are being created by the company who is trying to "cure" all those taking that drug. The visuals of the film are done in a hand drawn style over the prefilmed content, it gives the film a very unique look that makes recognising some of the actors not an easy thing to do at certain times.
All in all, it was a very hard plot to follow but looked great. To sum up, its sci-fi, its weird, it looks incredible and it has a decent cast trying their best to explain a VERY complex plot.
America is in the midst of a future, dystopian battle against drugs. Using an intrusive system of State surveillance, the cops have set up a myriad network of informants and undercover operatives to counter the distribution of the widely available Substance D. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate the drug supply chain by posing as a drug user and befriending crooks caught up in the drugs racket. When on-duty, Arctor's identity is protected by a constantly changing, digitized suit that continually scrambles his appearance. Code-named Fred, he reports regularly to his superior, Hank, along with the resident medics who keep a check on his mental and physical health. Arctor uncovers a lead by developing a relationship with Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder), a cocaine user, hoping that she will lead him to people higher up in the drugs chain. As the effects of Substance D begin to take their toll, Arctor finds distinguishing between his role as a police officer and partner in crime with the other housemates more and more difficult as their paranoia increases and the undercover cop finds the boundaries between reality and a drug-infused alternate existence more and more of a problem.
"A Scanner Darkly" was released in 2006, directed by Richard Linklater and based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. What's unusual is that it was filmed digitally and then animated using interpolated rotoscope (transferring the film to Quicktime for a 15-month animation process) over the original footage. This gives it a cartoon appearance albeit you can see the character's features very clearly defined at times. Originally shown at the festivals in Cannes and Seattle, the movie has had critical acclaim which triggered my interest in watching it in the first place. The movie certainly has an A-list cast including Keanu Reeves in the lead role, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey, Jr. I am a fan of the author's work and have been fascinated by Philip K Dick for some time. Dying in 1982, his work has led to a cult status with a number of his novels translating to the big screen including "Total Recall", "Minority Report" and the magnificent "Blade Runner" to name but a few. With such an illustrious list of great movies associated with Dick, I desperately wanted to like "A Scanner Darkly" and there were good things in there.
Fans of Dick's work (known as Dick Heads?) will recognise many familiar themes from his books paid due homage in Linklater's movie. With the main thrust being around the battle against drugs and the lengths the police will go to in order to get a result, there's a certain paranoia set within an authoritarian State that features in many of Dick's other stories. Big Corporations, the hallucinogenic world of drugs and the impact on ordinary lives are all brought to bear in what is, essentially, a tight, clever story with a notable twist at the finale. The imagination employed in both the scramble suits and the police force's ability to visually record and track most of the population by a system of voice recognition media and telescreens is futuristic even if it has a certain "Big Brother" feel of voyeurism to it and for those that have seen the excellent "Minority Report" then the concepts will be familiar.
However, the run time of 100 minutes is hard work. Graham Reynolds provides the musical score but it's a constant tinkling, twilight sound that definitely creates a dream-like backdrop but also fails to change the mood for the majority of the film's viewing time. It's difficult to gauge acting performances when the effects are clearly designed to take pride of place but I didn't get along with the similarly concieved "Sin City" and here again, I simply couldn't see what these visual effects were meant to add. I guess there will be some reasoning around creating a comic book feel on-screen but it's something that doesn't work for me and the whole script plods along, failing to engage or excite the audience at any point. Maybe there's a certain irony that Reeves actually looks as cartoonly wooden in this film as he does in more conventionally shot movies with even his delivery of the script both low key and staccato. Harrelson and Downey Junior look and sound as though they are permanently on speed and maybe that's what was intended but, again, it was nigh on impossible to find any empathy with any of the characters which was only enhanced by the unique way in which the film was shot.
"A Scanner Darkly" is a 15 certificate with adult themes. The movie has won awards and has, on the whole, been well received by the critics. For me, the whole idea around shooting the movie like a cartoon, the sound track and the lack of general engagement made it a long couple of hours out of my day. For fans of Philip K Dick's work then it will probably be an essential addition to other screen adaptations of his books and for those with more patience than me then you may find me being to harsh. Quite frankly, I was really disappointed and absolutely wouldn't recommend this to anyone other than die-hard fans.
Thanks for reading.
DVD available at Amazon from £14.01
What does a scanner see?
Into the head? Into the heart?
Does it see into me? Clearly? Or darkly?
Originally having gone to see this film at the cinema, I was debating about what to expect from Richard Linklaters A Scanner Darkly. I had been utterly intruiged by the ghoulish advertising and darkly presented posters, but lingering in the back of my mind was the constant image of what Linklater had directed so far. From the family orientated, metal-headed antics in School of Rock to the light hearted underdog story of Bad News Bears a year later, his films are usually great for a laugh. This preconcieved opinion of what was to come was soon shattered, as I realised that this was not going to be another funny but forgettable Channel 5 afternoon film, but a dark and challenging masterwork, that would turn Linklaters reputation an its head. Cor!
Anaheim, California, and seven years from now America has lost the war on drugs. Twenty percent of the population are addicted to Substance D- otherwise known as Death. It destroys the link between the two hemispheres of the brain, leading to complete mental deterioration and, as increasingly explored in this film, paranoia.
Substance D. "D" is dumbness, and despair, desertion-desertion of you from your friends, your friends from you, everyone from everyone. Isolation and loneliness... and hating and suspecting each other, "D" is finally death. Slow death from the head down.
Keanu Reeves is Robert Arctor, an undercover narcotics agent assigned to infiltrate the drug supply chain. On the one hand, he is Fred, a non-existant codename, dressed in a scramble suit to conceal his identity. He is the ultimate everyman. On the other, Arctor is a drug user and a lowlife, friends only to those he is monitoring. He lives in a beaten down house with his friends Jim Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), Freck (Rory Cochrane) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson). Arctor develops a love interest in fellow addict Donna Hawthorn (Winona Ryder) and is frustrated as Donna refuses Arctor's sexual advances and Arctor's roommates question the nature of their relationship.
Arctor soon finds himself increasingly addicted to Substance D, as his mental state deteriorates into paranoia and despair, especially when the time comes for him to become a Scanner, and spy on himself
Everything is not going to be OK
From the graphic and disturbing opening images of Frecks aphid infestation, accompanied by the teary twang of guitar, it becomes clear that the viewer is in for a two hour rollercoaster ride of horror and surreality. To some, this will be a treat. Fans of Donnie Darko and Fight Club, will feel very much at home with the concepts and feelings associated with this film, but many will find it just too dark. There are some moments that will cause even the most accustomed of cult-veterans to recoil in sadness and shock.
The plot is flawless and challenging throughout, designed to keep the viewer thinking. The happenings are never anything less than inspiring, thought provoking and moving. With more twists and turns than the Sixth Sense, the plot unravels brilliantly along with Arctors mind, until its mind-blowing and saddening climax. Having said that, the plot is incredibly complex and difficult to follow, and may take several viewings to fully understand and appreciate. Brilliant, but complex almost to the point of unintelligability.
Underappreciated also is just how funny this film can be. Granted, its obviously not a comedy, but the drug-induced ramblings and insane actions of the housemates can be darkly funny, often raising a wry smile.
But what did disappoint for me was the underdevelopment of Donna and Arctors relationship. I feel that too much focus was placed upon solely Arctor as a character, without exploring the connections he had with the people around him, though this is absolutely understandable when having to condence a jam-packed and relentlessly relevant novel into a two hour slot.
The characters are wonderful and diverse, and every actor and actress gives an absorbing performance.
Keanu Reeves, an established veteran of surreal sci-fi, doesnt fail to impress, playing both Arctor and Fred with distinction. He creates a perplexing, deep character in Arctor.
Winona Ryder, depite playing one of the films smaller roles, is fantastic as Donna, and Harrelson and Downey Jr. invent hilarious and eccentric characters that never fail to raise a smile, contributing very well to the feel of the film. No doubt though that this is Reeves show, as most of the screen time is on him, even taking long periods out of the brain-razzling action to deliver a monologue from Bobs brain.
The score was provided by composer Graham Reynolds, and featured a mainly acoustic score, that worked really well with the darkness of the film. The composition and recording process took over one and a half years (the unusual time allotment was due to the film's time-consuming animation process) and it shows- being well thought out and gripping throughout. Impressively, the film features several Radiohead songs, (Fog, Pull Revolving Doors, Skatterbrain (Four Tet Mix)", The Amazing Sounds Of Orgy and Arpeggio) as Thom Yorke worked very closely with Reynolds in the film.
Unsurprisingly then, the music is dark and atmospheric, to the point of disturbing, making it rather fitting.
But what truly makes this film stand out from the rest is the use of Interpolated Rotoscoping. It sounds very scary, but this is what turns conventional live-action footage into beautiful, animated stylization. This is no cartoon though, instead, the Rotoscoping accentuates the arbstractness of the film. It is haunting to watch, without detracting from the film. Shown off particularly with the scramble suit- a mix of millions of images of different people, forming a vague blur of faces and features, the effects are beautiful. They won the OFCS AWARD for BEST ANIMATION TECHNOLOGY last year, and quite rightly so.
The idea of Rotoscoping is particularly effective as it makes you feel like you are a scanner, spying on the characters, This makes for very absorbing viewing, and well worth the 500 hours of animation that was put into it. Superb.
DIFFERENCES TO THE BOOK:
Of course, this film is an adaptation of Philip K. Dicks 1977 novel of the same name. Editing has meant for some changes to the original version, listed as follows:
The film opens with seven years from now ; this would mean it takes place in 2013, whereas the original text was set in 1994. This is an indication of how this film has been updated and revamped for modern viewers. Eg. some of the technology has been updated - cell phones replace pay phones.
The novel's characters of Jerry Fabin and Charles Freck are combined into Freck.
All mention of the 'cephalochromoscope' (or 'cephscope'), a recreational device belonging to Arctor which he suspects as having been sabotaged, has been removed.
A number of subplots were not included in the film, such as Arctor visiting a female friend affected by domestic violence, Donna's hate towards the Coca-Cola company and Arctor's attempt to admit himself to New Path in hopes of tracking down a drug smuggler believed to be hiding there.
The special features are also very entertaining.
The following extras are included: the theatrical trailer; Weight of the Line, an animation tales feature; One Summer in Austin, a documentary on the filming of the movie; and audio commentary from Keanu Reeves, director Richard Linklater, producer Tommy Pallotta and Phillip K. Dick's daughter, Isa Dick Hackett.
The featurettes offer an interesting insight into how and where A Scanner Darkly was filmed, as does the cast and crew commentary. It is always interesting to hear what Linklater has to say about his work, and his ideas about the film are enlightening. It was also fantastic to hear the voice of Dicks daughter, Isa, and to get a look at Philip K Dicks probable thoughts about the film adaptation, and her presence sparks and interesting discussion about the process of adapting the film from the novel, which may not have been included in her absence.
But by far the best feature was the one on Rotoscoping. It was truly wonderful to see how the animated characters were brought to life, and really makes you appreciate the time and effort that went into creating this film, both in and out of the animation studio.
In conclusion, A Scanner Darkly is nothing short of revolutionary! Granted, it will not be everyones cup of tea, but I found it saddening, beautiful, moving, enlightening and darkly funny. I came out with a lot of questions in my mind (and a slight throbbing!), and came to look at the world differently ever since. It is evidently a cult-classic in the making, and is nothing short of thought-provoking. If you want to watch a film that is dark and inspirational, but dont mind sacrificing a lot of brain energy, time rewatching and a neurofen or two, then look no further than A Scanner Darkly.
£4.98 inc. delivery
Classification: 15 years
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: 22 Jan 2007
Run Time: 120 minutes
Number of discs: 1
Main Language: English
Available Audio Tracks: Dolby Digital Surround 5.1
One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming A Scanner Darkly
The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales
There is something a bit boring about the average science fiction author. Lots of the time they are very intelligent blokes that do not always have the greatest social skills. However, some buck the trend and set out on their own path. One such author was Philip K. Dick. Why philosophise about the wonderment of future societies when you can get out of your gourd on top quality drugs? It was with this drug fuelled aura that Dick came up with some of his most impressive stories and strange titles. Who can forget Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or We Can Remember It For You Wholesale? Better known in film form as Blade Runner and Total Recall. With these and other successful films adapted from his work could one of the closer stories to his life work?
Bob Arctor is a man addicted to a new and powerful drug so addictive that if you try it once you are hooked and you can never get off it. He lives in a house with fellow drug users Barris and Luckman. This would not be too exceptional, but he is also an undercover cop. Things become even stranger when Arctor is assigned to go undercover to investigate himself, you see as an undercover police officer he wears a suit at work that means no one knows who he is, not even his colleagues. This means that when he is assigned jobs they do not know if they are assigning him to himself! Confusing! Things are even more mind-bending as the paranoia effects of the drug that Arctor is taking start to make him doubt that he even is a police officer. Is there more going on in this world, or is it all just the ramblings of a drugged loner?
The main aspect of this film that will capture the viewers attention will not be the complicated storyline, but the film making technique used. Richard Linklater is currently one of the most eclectic film makers in Hollywood as he bounces from indie project, e.g. Before Sunset to box office smash hits e.g. School of Rock. One technique that he uses in his films is to cover the film itself with animation. He did this a few years ago in Waking Life and the same eye catching technique is present here. All the actors and background are coloured in, making it feel like a CGI cartoon. It really adds to the sense of over worldiness the film portrays and parallels the effects that the drugs have on the protagonists. I found it very striking and interesting, but I can imagine that many people will find it nauseating and completely uncalled for. This is just one area of the film that will divide the audience.
As the synopsis I tried to write incoherently shows, the story may also divide opinion. It is a Philip K. Dick special in that you never know what is real and what is imaginary. In films such as Total Recall this concept is watered down and made into an acceptable action film. However, in A Scanner Darkly Linklater does not shy away from the complex nature of the story, but instead delves straight in. I thought that for such a complex idea the film actually proved to be very understandable and I was able to comprehend what was going on. Linklater should be praised for creating intelligent science fiction and it is the attention to the story that made me like this film.
The script and actors were also a joy. However, I can also see why some people hated them. The script does not actually go anywhere for large parts of the film and the dialogue between the different drug fuelled characters is very sketchy. However, I thought that the style of the dialogue was excellent when spoken by the actors. Keanu Reeves as Arctor is decent enough as the main character as he is able to play spaced out (it is pretty much his default setting). It is Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson as Barris and Luckman who really shine. The scenes that see these two characters having petty arguments does not move the story on at all, but are very fun to watch.
The entire film and its execution is a lesson in dividing opinion. One person will see a funny and interesting science fiction-concept led film, whilst another person will see a nausea inducing, confusing mess. I tend to lean towards the film being very good as I love a great concept. I was able to see past the languid pace and extraneous use of language, as I loved the actors involved. There is no doubt that that A Scanner Darkly has some issues, but it is like eating bananas dipped in peanut butter few people like it, but those that do, will love it.
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr et al.
Price: Amazon uk £11.98
CD Wow £10.99
The extras are pretty standard a Directors commentary and a couple of featurettes. The featurette on the way the film was animated is probably the most interesting aspect.
I am always one for giving absolutely any film a go and especially those that look a little bit different from the normal drivel we get coming through. This is why when I saw the trailer for a scanner darkly I thought this looks a new concept for a film and the animation I have to say looked pretty spot on and so different to what you usually see in film. I decided it didnt look good enough to rush out and buy but renting it was definitely a good option so a couple of weekends ago me and my sister sat down to watch it and what a truly rubbish film it was.
We are taken into an apartment of a guy (Charles) who is covered with bugs writhing all over him. He is desperately trying to brush them off him, his dog and his apartment. The second they get off him though the next second and they are back. He is panicking about it and looks to be constantly hallucinating.
We are then taken to a conference in which the guest speaker is Bob Arctor who is covered in a body suit which constantly changes his appearance so he is not caught out by cameras. He is an undercover cop who looks out for people taking drugs. A new drug called substance D is out in force on the streets of L.A and with everybody being curious it is getting to be a problem.
Verdict on the Story:
To be honest this is all I can tell you about the story as you do not really get much more from the film. What I found annoying is that the film begins and within ten minutes you are bored because nothing much has gone on and the script is so monotonous and is very uninteresting. The problem is that the story does not really kick off until a good 45 minutes into the film so by this point you are really ready to turn the film off.
The actual concept of the film is extremely good in my opinion as the fact they have done this very clever animation which looks amazing is brilliant but I think they have concentrated a lot on how it looks as they can get a lot more in the film with managing to do everything animated than they have with the story. The characters seem like they have no depth but I do think the problem is that the script is not engaging enough.
Cast and Characters:
Keanu Reeves Bob Arctor
Rory Cochrane Charles Freck
Winona Ryder Donna Hawthorne
Woody Harrelson - Ernie Luckman
Robert Downey Junior James Barris
Verdict on the Cast and Characters:
The cast is absolutely superb with a lot of well known people in the lead and supporting roles. With regards to the characters I do thin they made good choices as Keanu is exactly the type of brooding but slightly dangerous character that Bob is. I didnt especially like any of the cast in their roles but I think it is interesting to see them all in animated form.
The characters on the other hand I did not like at all as they annoyed me so much purely because they were not very strong and made the film duller than it already was. They had no background and thanks to the script you didnt really get any feel for how they are thinking. I also found that they were unbelievable and didnt get over any urgency in the film considering the topic. I dont think any of them are memorable at all but it is all down to the script not being up to scratch in my opinion.
Things to Know:
Price - £11.98 from Amazon
Runtime 120 minutes
1 Disc DVD
There is a directors commentary on here but to be honest I only watched ten minutes and it was quite interesting to hear how he wanted the film to look and be but I had just hated the film so didnt want to listen to him for another two hours. There is a trailer which is pretty standard and then there is a feature about how it was filmed which I enjoyed as I loved the concept of doing real life animation.
I just really didnt like this film which is a real shame as I thought I was going to enjoy it. My sister felt the same as me as she thought it had no defined story and that it was lacking a script which grabbed your attention immediately and constantly. I think that the fault lies that it is a very slow moving film and yes the animation looks amazing but without the script and characters to match the film just doesnt work.
My overall impression of the film is that it is very messy with so many loose ends not being tied up and I just think they have jumbled up the story and it just doesnt work. The characters needed to have evolved more instead of just being there to watch they needed to come out as strong but they are even weaker than the story. It is a shame but one of the most interesting looking films for a while has turned out so badly.
In conclusion I have to give this DVD one measly star as I really did hate it. It is one of those films that afterwards I sat there thinking I have truly just wasted a couple of hours of my life and if I am to confess I did forward the film at certain parts just to make it go by quicker. The features are small but enjoyable I suppose but the main feature is so bad I would not waste my money or time giving it a go. You have been warned.
Thanks for reading.
"A Scanner Darkly" is based on the novel by Philip K Dick. Once again the work of this sci-fi writer is taken to the big screen. The story is set rather ambiguously "seven years from now" in a world where everyone seems to be spying on everyone else - the kind of place the UK will be like when they introduce identity cards and extend the laws on terrorism.
Richard Linklater's film stars Keanu Reeves as undercover narcotics policeman; Bob Arctor. He plays the role of a narcotics investigator working undercover but ends up getting addicted to the very substances that he is supposed to be investigating (how careless). His main mission is to bring in the manufacturers of a new, deadly illegal drug called Substance D. Arctor wears a scrambler suit that turns him into a walking hologram so that no one can get a fix on his identity, that is, it becomes impossible for any voice- or visual-recognition software to identify the person wearing the suit. Arctor is forced to spy on his addicted friends that include Jim (Robert Downey Jr), Ernie (Woody Harrelson) and Donna (Winona Ryder), a dealer with a seemingly endless supply of drugs with whom he has an affair. Unfortunately Arctor develops a split personality and it is this confusion over ones identity that becomes the running main theme of the movie. The overall plot might be a bit too confusing for some but that is probably a necessity in this type of film.
In many ways "A Scanner Darkly" portrays an Orwellian drug induced landscape. It is an unstable world in which identities blur and realities shift and distort under the constant influence of mind-altering substances. There are no objective viewpoints. The government's war on drugs has utterly failed, and now exists only to provide those in power with an excuse to oppress and control society (sounds familiar?). Wars are no longer fought against nations or governments but against thoughts and ideas. Meanings of individual identity become blurred and are fragmented further by Substance D; a drug that facilitates the onset of schizophrenia. In this dystopian near future, perception and truth are enmeshed in irrational concepts, incoherent conspiracy theories and the overwhelming basic need to survive on the street.
The movie takes on the appearance of a graphic comic book with the live action footage traced over and digitally coloured in by computer; something referred to as 'interpolated rotoscoping'. For anyone who is familiar with them, the effect is similar to those paintings by the Photorealist School of painting in the 1970s. In a detailed commentary in the extras Linklater mentions that he wanted to "turn everything into a borderline hallucination", to give to the audience the same sense of shifting reality experienced by the film's main protagonists. However, rather than enhancing the characters and landscape the technique somewhat serves to dehumanise the figures and reduce the rich texture of their world. The characters appear rather subdued and distant. Reeves performance is OK but his monotone delivery is a bit tiresome; he is often boring enough even when he isn't reduced to a mere cartoon figure. To some extent one is reminded of the animated film "Fantasy". The animated effects are impressive on some level but reduce the tension and drama of a real life rendition. There's more humanism in a Goofy or Daffy Duck cartoon, although to be fair it was probably the directors intent to partly dehumanise the characters.
Despite my sarcastic personal criticisms however, those who are into sci-fi, new technology and new ways of making cinematography might find this film an enjoyably bizarre and inspired hallucination of a movie. It should also satisfy those addicted to the paranoid vision of P. K. Dick and his novels or Linklater's previous efforts.
The extras include a detailed commentary; post production and diary provide some interesting insights.
1hr 40mins (15)
© Zmugzy February 2007
How well you respond to Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly depends on how much you know about the life and work of celebrated science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. While it qualifies as a faithful adaptation of Dick's semiautobiographical 1977 novel about the perils of drug abuse, Big Brother-like surveillance and rampant paranoia in a very near future ("seven years from now"), this is still very much a Linklater film, and those two qualities don't always connect effectively. The creepy potency of Dick's premise remains: The drug war's been lost, citizens are kept under rigid surveillance by holographic scanning recorders, and a schizoid addict named Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is facing an identity crisis he's not even aware of: Due to his voluminous intake of the highly addictive psychotropic drug Substance D, Arctor's brain has been split in two, each hemisphere functioning separately. So he doesn't know that he's also Agent Fred, an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate Arctor's circle of friends (played by Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, and Robert Downey, Jr.) to track down the secret source of Substance D. As he wears a "scramble suit" that constantly shifts identities and renders Agent Fred/Arctor into "the ultimate everyman," Dick's drug-addled antihero must come to grips with a society where, as the movie's tag-line makes clear, "everything is not going to be OK." While it's virtually guaranteed to achieve some kind of cult status, A Scanner Darkly lacks the paranoid intensity of Dick's novel, and Linklater's established penchant for loose and loopy dialogue doesn't always work here, with an emphasis on drug-culture humor instead of the panicked anxiety that Dick's novel conveys. As for the use of "interpolated rotoscoping"--the technique used to apply shifting, highly stylized animation over conventional live-action footage--it's purely a matter of personal preference. The film's look is appropriate to Dick's dark, cautionary story about the high price of addiction, but it also robs performances of nuance and turns the seriousness of Dick's story into... well, a cartoon. Opinions will differ, but A Scanner Darkly is definitely worth a look--or two, if the mind-rattling plot doesn't sink in the first time around. --Jeff Shannon