An undercover cop in a not-too-distant future becomes involved with a dangerous new drug and begins to lose his own identity as a result.
Visually amazing yet flawed---Let's start by saying that Scanner would be worth seeing just for the amazing visuals. The 3d graphic novel look of this movie is beautiful and original although unequal in terms of quality as if different teams worked on different parts (which is in fact the case). A very special mention has to be given to the totally incredible and unique scramble suit. The plot was quite interestingly complex yet felt disjointed at times. The dialogs which were supposed to be a highlight were sometimes suitably absurd yet not overly clever or memorable. Midway through I did feel a little bored and I had trouble caring for the druggies characters although it probably wasn't the point.I never felt particularly emotionally involved, I felt detached (very much like the characters when you think about it). The first character you encounter (Freck) was played way too stereotypically in an exaggerated cartoony kind of way. He constantly annoyed me when he was on-screen. Fortunately, the other performances were better with the standout being the always good Robert Downey Jr. Even the usually wooden Keanu Reeves worked well in his role.Rating: Visually, Scanner Darkly would be a 8/10, story wise it would be a 6/10 so let's average it to 7 out of 10
Beautifully animated, speculative, but slow---Recap: Bob Arctor lives some different lives. In secret he is a detective under cover trying to stop the highly addictive and very dangerous drug Substance D. But in his line of work he slowly becomes addicted to the substance himself. To complicate matters further he is given the task to run surveillance on himself and his friends, this by his superiors that don't know his real identity. But nothing much is clear when everything is hidden in layers of secrets.Comments: The first thing I noticed while watching was the high quality animation. Telling by how the figures moved and the likeness of the actors it was clear that it was based on normal film, and turn into animation. An interesting idea in itself, but also a way to more easily insert those special effects and fictitious elements that is there.With special effects I mean gadgets and effects that are not possible today (or at all). Not explosions or gunfights or stellar futuristic surroundings that almost have come to be standard when a Philip K Dick-novel have been filmed. Of those, this film has none. Actually the pace of the story is slow, very slow. So slow that it at times quite frankly becomes dull.Yes, it does have some very interesting elements with all the deceit and mystery. Also the dystopian view of the near future bears watching. The ideas in this story are captivating. But it is told in such a slow pace that it is sometimes easy to lose interest despite these ideas. Maybe also the choice to animate makes it harder to connect to the characters, I don't know. All I say it actually was a little dull at times.6/10
Hazed and Dumfused---"Waking Life" was simply dumb, a collection of clever ideas or various forms ill handled. Though it was adventurous in a couple ways, it lacked the edge it could have had. So instead of changing the lives of a few people, it entertainingly mollified many.This is much, much better. It attempts something that had structure and effect before it was a film. What it had going for it was Dick's (by now, finally) famous technique of layered observation, frangible motivation and passion. That passion was the most intense until "VALIS," and came from his own drugged life. It is a worthy book, possibly finding a new audience today with a new generation of thugs in government and drugs in life triggering newly emerging forms of paranoia. What the film adds are some tricks that allow more literary internal dialog than is usual. I think it is simply because what we see is different enough that we allow the filmmaker more latitude than usual to extend conventional internal conventions: visions, dreams, metaphoric stories-within-stories and of course voice overs.But there's more: It has some actors that understand the effects required. Robert Downey Jr in particular chills. This is his personal story as well. His own disaster was caused in large measure by our intrusion into his life, and having us literally watch him while the story is about being watched makes it more visceral and disturbing than the book could ever be.The animation technique employed here works for me in all regards except one. That's because it is something still unfamiliar, between the abstraction of cartoon and the texture of "reality." The idea of pulling colors from the filmed palette is wise.What fails for me is the cloaking device, which in the book is simply a blurring. Here what they try to do is serially overlay many visual personalities. I understand the practical reason; our eye needs to be kept busy. But it fights the terms of the alternative world they have created with the other elements of the technique, which have a calmness that we accept because it is closer to natural than artificial. It may be simply that the animators had to design roughly because of the number required, and these seem more cartoony than whatever else we see.But all in all, I allow the deficiencies, and I suppose you will too.Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
Finally, a director who gets Dick---In the near future, the federal government has secretly gotten into the drug business because it gives them (and local police departments) an excuse to do 24/7 surveillance on the entire population. The drug in question is a new one, a powerfully addictive drug called Substance D.A chain of drug rehab clinics called "NewPath" is exempt from the surveillance. And for good reason: they actually grow, at remote farms, the flower that substance D is made from. These farms are manned exclusively by ex-addicts whose brains have been fried by the drug, so there's no possible breach of the secrecy. It's a perfect closed system.Drug agents at the local Orange County Police Department have figured out where Substance D is really coming from and have tried and failed to infiltrate the NewPath farms. So they come up with a plan: they will covertly program one of their narcs to bring them back a sample of the Substance D flower, then fry his brains on the drug and get him sent to the farm.Undercover agents in this future disguise their identity from one another by wearing "scramble suits" (the reason for this is not made clear in the movie; it's because some of the undercover agents may be double agents working for the Substance D agency and hence they need the anonymity).Bob Arctor (Keanu Reaves) is an undercover narc for the Orange County PD, under the code name "Fred." His superior is a woman named Donna (Winona Ryder), working under the code name "Hank". As part of their plan, Donna assigns "Fred" to do holographic-scanner surveillance on Bob Arctor, ie himself, knowing that this will help speed up his mental deterioration.Outside the office, Bob believes that Donna is a low-level drug dealer and is buying from her, hoping that she will eventually reveal whom she buys from. He is also smitten with her, and they hang out as if they were a couple, but she is adverse to physical contact. She tells Arctor that this is because she's a coke addict, but in truth, she feels for him deeply, knows she is intentionally destroying him, and couldn't bear to get physically involved with him.Arctor's roommate, Jim Barris (Robert Downey), is paranoid and unstable and attempts to frame Arctor as a "drug terrorist" for reasons unrelated to the main plot. However, this plays into Donna's hands. Eventually, "Hank" has to admit to "Fred" that "he" knew that "he" was assigning "Fred" to watch himself. "He" tells "Fred" that they were really after Barris all along, but that's just a cover story.Eventually, Arctor's mind is destroyed, as planned. The destruction mostly takes the form of a growing inability to recognize and differentiate among people. At one point, Arctor picks up a blonde girl and, while in bed, hallucinates that she's Donna. This hallucination is repeated when he plays the scene back on the holographic scanners. (On a metaphorical level, Arctor is seeing into the reality that should have been, where he and Donna would actually be lovers in a perfect world free of evil.) Finally, "Fred" forgets that he's Bob Arctor. Donna takes him to NewPath, and he is eventually sent to a farm.Ex-Substance D addicts are highly suggestible and ordinarily don't even see the Substance D flowers growing among the corn. But because of Arctor's training, he can see them, and he picks one and puts it in his boot as a gift to take back to his friends at Thanksgiving. The plan has suceeded.(One of the things that will jump out at you on a second viewing is the way they program Arctor with suggestions of giving Donna a blue flower, or giving his friends a gift.)8/10- Overly talkative and badly paced, the film is nevertheless one of a kind. A unique, psychedelic, sci-fi drug movie, the film perfectly captures the tone of P. K. Dick.Worth 2 viewings.
"What Does A Scanner See? Into The Head? Into The Heart? Does It See Into Me? Clearly? Or Darkly?" --- Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves)---"A Scanner Darkly" (2006) Directed By: Richard Linklater Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, & Rory Cochrane MPAA Rating: "R" (for drug and sexual content, language and a brief violent image) I was immediately intrigued by "A Scanner Darkly" for one reason?and one reason only. Its stylish visuals and next generation animation techniques made the movie look very, very cool. After seeing it, I can honestly say that what originally interested me about the movie?well, that is all there really is at all. The movie is surprisingly self-indulgent and shockingly, horrendously, mind-numbingly boring. I, literally, found myself staring at the screen, not caring what was happening with the characters. Why? Because, frankly, "A Scanner Darkly" is not a good movie and features unlikable and painfully annoying characters that fail to bring any sympathy from the audience. Though things do pick up in the second half, I was far too disjointed from the movie to care. In all actuality, the movie's only positive point (despite a relatively solid cast) is its ambitious style and interesting animation style. But, excellent visuals do not make a movie good. Beauty, after all, is only skin deep.Bob Arctor (Reeves) is an undercover narcotics agent leading a very complex double life. He reports to his superiors, yet lives his life as a "Substance D" user and dealer. His life, filled with a colorful cast of characters, becomes shockingly confusing and very whacky. This plot is very similar to a 100-minute acid trip. I suppose that maybe, to get the full effect of the movie, you need to be drugged out of your mind?because, honestly, all of the characters are. I don't do drugs and I'm not about to try them just to enjoy a movie. "A Scanner Darkly" and its dull plot are just not entertaining at all. Couple that with some of the most annoying characters of the year and you have a truly bad movie. "A Scanner Darkly" is, unfortunately, a strike-out.The performances in this movie are hard for me to analyze, because the characters are written to be so dull and bothersome. I would say that Keanu Reeves gave a subdued performance, making his character far less annoying than the others (in fact, his was the only character I gave two cents about)?but Reeves always underplays it. He hardly ever really pops out of the screen. Robert Downey Jr. is funny for a time and then he just becomes irritating. It worked partially, I suppose. Woody Harrelson overacted his way all over the place, doing everything but back flips to garner audience attention. The same goes for Rory Cochrane, except twice as bad. Twenty minutes in, I was praying that he would step out into heavy traffic and end the misery that his over-the-top performance was causing me. Winona Ryder, like Reeves, underplayed it. She was definitely right for the part and I respected her performance. As this movie is slightly animated, I must note that I cannot be sure how much of the actors' performances were them and how much were the animation. I felt that I should make that clear, before continuing.Frankly put, I did not like this movie. "A Scanner Darkly" is not my cup of tea. It may be for some people and it clearly is, because I am in the minority by not liking it. However, it is not without its positives. The animation style is intriguing and ultimately beautiful. It gives the movie an original feeling. Richard Linklater's direction also works very well. That isn't very surprising. He's a wonderful director. "A Scanner Darkly" is based on Philip K. Dick's personal drug experiences (?) and the most touching, intimate, and realistic part of the entire movie is the dedication to all of his comrades who were killed or were permanently disabled by their addictions. When reading the list of names and the final message, I almost desired to watch "A Scanner Darkly" again in hopes of finding some heart buried beneath the pretentious exterior?but, alas, there was none. The only part of the movie that expressed any genuine thought or care was the dedication?and, unfortunately, that wasn't enough.Final Thought: Though visually-stunning, "A Scanner Darkly" is ultimately a disappointing, boring film.Overall Rating: 3/10 (C)
What you read is not always what you see---The film did not set me on fire,but it did try to be faithful to the novel. If it inspires the viewer to read the book or the work/s of P.K.Dick then it has done its job. The animation format used had no influence on my viewing pleasure,it was neither good nor bad,it did not distract me from the theme of the movie. Keanu Reeves I thought was decent in the role of Bob,whether this is due to the colouring effect or not is debatable. Seriously though,Mr Reeves has a limited appeal as an actor to me,but I actually thought he did a good job. I read the book 20 some years ago and enjoyed it immensely,as always the film can never convey the entire book,but I was finally pleased it made it to film in a semi faithful way.
Imaginative and original---At first glance, you'd think A scanner darkly was style over substance. That is very much wrong. If you peeled away the trippy layers of rotoscoping, you'd still have a very cool and original movie. The writing is really tight and builds up a great and paranoid setting.The characters are very varied. Keanu Reeves, who does a decent job, is a somewhat apathetic washout, a role that fits him well. For all the Keanu-haters out there, I can say that he is not the sole star of the movie. This movie is much more about his friends, a mixed bag of drug-addicts and dopers.Robert Downey Jr. does a fantastic role as the manic, phony-eloquent pseudo-intellectual Barris. He's very believable and you can't help get a bit annoyed by him even as you laugh. He has some great lines, and he delivers them superbly.Winona Rider's Donna is a character we don't get to see enough of. The scenes she's in are good, and she certainly looks and acts like a burnout.Rory Cochrane is even more creepy as Freck, the worst case of the little group. You can feel your skin crawling as soon as he goes on-screen. For those who have read the book: Yes, the opening sequence is the same.Then there's the under-appreciated Woody Harrelson, funny and realistic as Luckman. His burned-out logical jumps and paranoid outbursts are perfect.A benefit of the rotoscoping is that supporting roles can for once look like natural people. Think about it. In your average Hollywood flick, there are professional small parts actors and actresses. The same small group of people perpetually turning up as doctors, gas station attendants, brokers... how real does that feel? I'm sure Linklater doesn't care anyway, but it just seems more natural with unknowns when they're drawn. A small point but there might be something to it.The real benefit of the rotoscoping, of course, is that it looks good. Every frame is like a cutout from a graphic novel or some pop art. For a drug movie, you couldn't ask for anything better. As tempting as it must have been, the animation team has however limited the really trippy sequences to where it matters. All in all, there are only two or three hallucinatory scenes. The general floatiness of the animation, however, gives the movie a fluid and slightly hallucinatory look in general.Combine all of the above and add a healthy dose of paranoid music by Radiohead and you've got a cult classic and a great piece of art. Not to be missed by those who appreciate film.
Absolute best adaptation of book to screen.---1 Corinthians 13:12"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known".In 1977 I was digging through a pile of books that had their front covers pulled off and thrown in the garbage. In this pile I found a book by Phillip K Dick.That book happened to be A Scanner Darkly.This made me pick up the book and take it home and read it. And what I read was one of the most depressing stories I have ever read in my life: I can honestly say that at the time I read it, I really did not have any idea what Dick was trying to say. But for some reason, I was attracted to the story and I read the whole book in about 2 days. 30 Years Later, I believe I understand now. Which validates the bible verse on which this whole work is based: What we do not understand will eventually be revealed to us.Part of this film has to do with how we perceive reality, another part touches on what we do to lessen our daily pain. I really was not surprised by how the story ended. The book is not an exciting (and boring) tale of space opera, but it is one of the best works of speculative fiction ever written. And as such, it had become one of the most important books I have ever read.And so I was surprised to find that this book was being filmed. I was interested in it when I saw that it was following the styles of such films as Sin City, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and Linklatter's "Waking Life" - However, I did not know how deep the animation well was.As I watched this story unfold, I saw that this film used more of Phillip K Dick's actual dialog than any other film based on his works. As I kept watching, I understood that the story that was filmed was almost exactly the same story I read 30 years ago. No gunfights, explosions, or chase scenes were inserted. There is only one large liberty Linklatter took with the story: It is at the end of the film, I do not think Phillip K Dick fans would mind this small liberty taken. I can't say what it is, due to it being a spoiler.If anyone is scratching their head after seeing this film, they ought to avoid films with substance and go back to the Phillip K Dick books that have been destroyed: Bladerunner, Total Recall, and Impostor, which bear little or no resemblance to the original books and short stories they were taken from.I always judge movies on their Honesty. This one is an Honest movie. The story it tells is a hard one to swallow: Do you believe in what you see, or do you see what you believe? Where does reality divert from hallucination? Although this film deals with drug use and abuse, it also challenges our perception of what is going on around us.The animation is something else: It is a marvel. I was surprised to see how it was done, each frame animated by hand. If any other story was being told, this would not have worked.Coming back to this comment after a couple of years, there is really nothing else I can add to this comment. This film is visually well done, which allows the viewer to absorb the story that is being told.
A new Heart of Darkness from the suburbs of America---Every once and a while a movie will come along which can expand our understanding of reality -- A Scanner Darkly is just such a movie. From the very beginning, the multitude of themes explored by this excellent film are on display. What is real? What constitutes the human identity? To what extent is our identity cohesive, or to what extent is it broken and deteriorated to the point of absurdity, paradox, and nothingness?On its surface, A Scanner Darkly, the latest Hollywood adaptation of a novel by Philip K Dick, is a movie about a house full of lovable, laughable drug addicts, living in LA in the near future. One of them, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is involved not only in living the drug-soaked life of mediocrity with his friends, but in fact works for the police department, and spies on them, both in person and through a series of hidden TVs placed in their midst. Problem is, Arctor has become addicted to the favored drug of his clique, (Substance D.) As a result, his reporting, and even his mental well-being, become extremely questionable. There many political overtones to the script and to Arctor's predicament. For example, the movie seems to ask: what would it be like to live in a surveillance society? How does the drug-induced paranoia of the protagonists mirror the paranoia of a government obsessed with the activities of these harmless ne'er-do-wells? And does big business foster a climate of dependency that it uses to extend its influence over an addicted population?But the most interesting themes to me which A Scanner Darkly examines are philosophical and psychological. In their extreme, they are displayed in the highly unstable personality of Freck (Rory Cochrane,) Arctor's friend whose descent into Substance D-fueled pathology has markedly outdone the others. Freck's grasp on reality is tenuous. His unceasing hallucinations and desperate physical reactions to Substance D render him unable to function at any level. The fact that Freck's moral compass, even in his diminished state, is perhaps stronger than his more sober acquaintances, adds pathos to the portrait of this lost and frail man.Nevertheless, it is Arctor's decline which is most fascinating, most observed, and ultimately most harrowing. His awareness that his mind is failing becomes like a tragic flaw of the classical variety. All around him he sees and hears signs that his faculties are deserting him, and yet, nothing he does can break his fall. In particular, his effectiveness as a undercover officer, and his relationship with his girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder,) become casualties to the impact of his brain damage. Several wrenching scenes between Donna and Arctor demonstrate how their affection for one another co-exists with an odd isolation which is almost beyond words.Increasingly, the viewer begins to feel Arctor's descent, as the narrative becomes skewed as a parallel to his confusion, and our understanding of his reality evaporates along with his disappearing consciousness. A series of voice-overs, including one in which Arctor concludes that he is "cursed, and cursed again," are particularly effective in evoking his internal devastation.By the end of the film, very little is certain, except that Keanu Reeves has given a haunting performance as an Everyman who has been pulled under the surface, that Philip K Dick, to have inspired such a story, must have had a close-up view of the landscape of the broken human psyche, and that Richard Linklater has provided us with an intense glimpse into the dark heart of cinema.
It works here and there but doesn't hang together that well and fails to bring out the ideas and themes within the material---In the near future a powerful new drug substance D is hooking users with every new hit. Losing the battle against the drug, the LAPD place an officer undercover as a substance D user. While the officer's identity is kept secret from his colleagues and superiors, he himself starts to lose touch with who he actually is meant to be. Becoming hooked on the drug himself and becoming friends with the people he is meant to be informing on, the officer starts to suffer a breakdown with memory and concentration loses combined with a loosening grip on reality.I had reasonably high hopes for this film but also the fear I have when anyone takes on material that some have called "unfilmable". Written at a time when his marriage had broken down and he himself was struggling with his drug use and split identities, Dick's material does offer much of interest as long as it can be delivered in such a way to be engaging and interesting. "Making sense" was not one of the qualities I really needed, which was just as well since narratively there isn't a lot to follow along with. Parts of it are funny, parts of it are trippy and parts of it are dramatic. However none of them really come together to produce anything of that much value. It is a shame that the ideas over identity, drugs and the morals of the war on drugs are not better played out. As it is I didn't think there was enough of interest and, with the narrative being so basic, what remained was surprisingly dull.The use of the rotoscoping was a smart move and also serves as an interesting hook for multiplex audience (and I include myself therein, so it is not a snobbish reference) that have perhaps not seen it before. Linklater produces some good effects this way and it is hard to think of another approach working as well within the context of the material as it does. Sadly this is not enough to carry the film along, although it will be enough to satisfy some sections of the audience. The cast do the best they can within this unsuccessful mix and most of them are individually good here and there. Reeves is a natural stoner but he doesn't convince with his breakdown and confusion that well; he isn't helped by the lack of focus in the script but he can't lift it regardless. Downey Jr is very funny and convincing and wards off the boredom when he is near. Harrelson tries to follow suit but with a dumber character he just falls flat. Cochrane is more enjoyable and the animation really aids his performance. Ryder is OK but she has too much of the narrative to carry and she cannot do it.Overall this is an OK film at best. It is sporadically interesting, funny and engaging however it cannot find any consistency of tone, pace or engagement. The material is good enough to throw up interesting ideas and themes but Linklater sadly doesn't manage to do much with them across the film. The use of animation over the film cells is really well crafted and works well to support the material ? it is just a shame then that the awareness and control that Linklater in this area he seems to lack in others.