A Scanner Darkly


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Rating: R

Keanu Reeves as Bob Arctor
Robert Downey Jr. as James Barris
Woody Harrelson as Ernie Luckman
Rory Cochrane as Charles Freck
Winona Ryder as Donna
Sean Allen as Additional Fred Scramble Suit Voice (voice)
Mitch Baker as Brown Bear Lodge Host
Cliff Haby as Voice from Headquarters (voice)
Steven Chester Prince as Cop

Special Features:
Commentary by writer/director Richard Linklater, Keanu Reeves, producer Tommy Pallotta, author Jonathan Lethem, and Isa Hackett Dick (daughter of Philip K. Dick)
“One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming A Scanner Darkly” featurette
“The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales” featurette

Other Info:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 100 Minutes

The following is from the DVD cover:

“What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart? From the novel by Philip K. Dick – the sci-fi legend whose works-to-film include Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report – comes A Scanner Darkly, brought to the screen by filmmaker Richard Linklater with an edgy graphic-novel look.

The time: just beyond now. The place: suburbia. The story: a twisted, funny tale of people hooked on Substance D. And of a government that cheerfully destroys its citizens – their rights, their relationships – in order to save them. Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochrane play strung-out friends terrified of each other and of spies, Keanu Reeves plays a spy who’s also one of the friends… until his two personalities begin to split. Enjoy the paranoia. Nobody’s watching you. Really.”

“A Scanner Darkly” is rated R for drug and sexual content, language and a brief violent image.

Man, this is one really trippy movie. I’ve seen a lot of movies featuring drug induced hallucinations and dialogue, but this one certainly stands out. In the bonus features they try to spin this as more sci-fi or an undercover cop drama, but the fact remains that the vast majority of this film features the drug fueled conversations between the main characters. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s confusing, sometimes it’s paranoid, sometimes it features bizarre hallucinations. If not for the excellent cast and the unusual animation, this would be extremely hard to watch. And with the exceptions of a couple of excellent scenes (one where the lead characters try to figure out where the extra gears went on an 18 speed bicycle and another where they try to figure out what went wrong with a car engine), it is a bit tedious to watch. It doesn’t help matters that the plot is rather complex and simultaneously filled with plot holes.

As already mentioned, the cast is great. The standout among them is Robert Downey Jr. as James Barris. His paranoid delusions, potentially dangerous behavior, and imagined expertise at all things mechanical make him amusing to watch. The film is its strongest when he’s on the screen. Rory Cochrane is also memorable as Charles Freck. His drug hallucinations and constant twitches show just how far over the deep end a drug addict can go. Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder are also good, but it doesn’t seem like a major stretch of their acting abilities to seem stoned.

The animation is hypnotically bizarre. It is perfectly suited for this surreal, drug themed film. The animation is essentially rotoscoped over live action footage and the result is art that is highly stylized but motion that’s photo-real. A suit that hides undercover cops’ identities is also beautifully realized as the facial characteristics constantly shift.

In the end, A Scanner Darkly is not a film for general audiences. It’s story is too convoluted and its scenes too trippy to have mainstream appeal. This movie is mainly for fans of the lead actors, fans of director Richard Linklater, fans of Philip K. Dick, and anyone that enjoys hard sci-fi and cyberpunk novels. I personally found it interesting to watch but ultimately a little too weird for my tastes.

The bonus features are rather light but they cover most of what you should care about. There’s a commentary with writer/director Richard Linklater, Keanu Reeves, producer Tommy Pallotta, author Jonathan Lethem, and Isa Hackett Dick (daughter of Philip K. Dick). It’s a great cross section of interested parties that offer a lot of insight into the bizarre story. “One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming A Scanner Darkly” is your standard ‘making of’ featurette. It’s about 25 minutes long. It not only shows behind the scenes footage of the filming of the movie, it also shows vintage interviews with Philip K. Dick talking about his story. Rounding out the bonus features is “The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales”, a 25 minute featurette covering the animation of the film. They interview the animators, go over the artistic styles of the various characters, and more. It’s pretty cool and well worth checking out for animation fans.