A SCANNER DARKLY
Reviewed by: Andre Manseau
Robert Downey Jr.
What's it about
In the future, everyone's hooked on a new designer drug called "d". Bob Arcor is a narcotics police officer who leads a double life, as he's also a junkie, living with two other users. Chaos ensues.
Is it good movie?
When I originally saw the trailer for A Scanner Darkly, I thought it looked to be a badass, incredibly unique movie that I simply had to experience for myself. Fast forward a few years to the summer of 2006, when the film finally got a limited wide release. I figured, at the very least, i'd be in for an incredible looking movie, but also fully expected to be entertained.
So, after having watched this movie multiple times, I have to report to you, faithful readers.
I can't stand it.
I never want to watch this movie again, and that's not because it's necessarily a 'bad' film- as you might say to a girlfriend, "It's not you, it's me!". Clearly, it took a lot of work to put together, and obviously someone thought that the film's bizarre nature was working, but I think this is simply a case of pretentious filmmaking. I believe that A Scanner Darkly was made for uptight film cynics, elitists, if you will, who can watch the film, and then explain to everyone how they "got it" and spout on about its brilliance.
I, on the other hand, do not see the brilliance of this film, and have a hard time believing how anyone could truly understand it. Don't get me wrong, the basic points, I understand: Reeves' character is having a hard time distinguishing between reality and fantasy, and that makes up most of the film. On top of this, paranoia is running rampant, as Arcor's two drug buddies (Woody Harrelson in an awful wig and Robert Downey, Jr. in a stupid hat) are running around, screeching and freaking out, puzzling as to who's after them. Even the corpse of Winona Ryder shows up!
This isn't to say that there's nothing redeemable about Scanner. It is indeed an original film, there's nothing else out there like it, that's for sure. Its bizarre nature is reminiscent of Vanilla Sky; that movie hardly made any sense either. The biggest selling point would have to be the rotoscoped animation, which is eye-popping and gorgeous. It's almost cel-shaded (seen before in Waking Life), and works very well with the film's idea of seeing things in the abstract view, not being able to tell if things are truth or fiction. This method of animation was painstakingly created, and really works with the film.
That being said, A Scanner Darkly is not at all my cup of tea. Many times I was left scratching my head, or saying "What the hell was that?", often never to get an answer of any sort. Conspiracy buffs, this may just be the movie for you, but I think that this Scanner is better off left in the dark. Weird for the sake of weird just doesn't entertain me.
Video / Audio
We're treated to a simply gorgeous 1.85:1 widescreen picture that has to be seen to be believed. Even if you don't like the flick, slide this disc into your home theatre, mute it, and watch this on your big screen. Looks fantastic.
Audio is also a treat, a clear 5.1 Dolby track brings you quasi-animated schizophrenia in all of its glory!
One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming A Scanner Darkly is our making of featurette, and focuses mostly on the life of Philip K. Dick, the story's author. It adds a fair amount of insight as to when the story was written, during the Nixon era, an era of true paranoia and fear; people were under surveillance, at times when completely innocent. That being said, some believe Dick was excessively paranoid, but one would need some serious fuel to cook up something as twisted as this flick.
There's also a commentary track with Keanu Reeves, director Richard Linklater, producer Tommy Pallotta, author Jonathan Lethem, and Isa Dick Hackett, Dick's daughter. I had a hard time listening to this commentary, because the male voices all sound so similar, you can never tell who's talking. That being said, it is clear that there's a lot of information on this track, and that the film was a labor of hard work, and love.
Another featurette, The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales, is an awesome look at how much work went into the rotoscoping animation technique the film employs to dazzle you with its visuals. It also stresses the importance of the abstract visual style in relation to the themes of the film. Awesome stuff.
Trailer's here too!
The disc's extras really add a lot to the comprehension of what and why this film is what it is. However, I had had enough of it by the time I'd finished watching the extras. If you dig bizarre flicks, or you're really tired of the same old Hollywood bull, this one is going to be up your alley, and you should check it out.