I guess some people could come to this film thinking, Keanu Reeves + Science Fiction = Action picture. It's not. It's closer to an Indie sensibility, and probably one of the best things that has happened to Sci Fi cinema in a long time, because it actually does something intelligent.
Of course, the reason it is so intelligent is that it follows Philip K. Dick's novel of the same name (okay so that means Hollywood is now only 40 years behind literary sf) which is based on Dick's own experiences with counter culture and his time spent amongst drug addicts in suburban America. As such the whole thing is slightly trippy, hence the use of rotoscope to deliver the sense of unreality experienced by addicts, dealing with shifting reality and shell games (all is not as it seems) amongst normal blue collar stock. Reeves plays Bob Arctor, a narcotics officer whose true identity is hidden from everyone so that he can effectively infiltrate a ring of users that may lead him to a big dealer. Unfortunately, Arctor is an addict himself and his superiors (who don't know who he is) suspect him of being part of the problem. So begins the sense of paranoia.
Much of the film is spent detailing the interactions of the group of stoners, much of it self-destructive, and has some pretty funny but sad performances by Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder. And that sets the tone. The film is by turns funny and tragic, much like the source novel, with a big reveal at the end that is, in its way, slightly optimistic.
So it's not a classic, and if you're just wanting escapism this probably doesn't have enough explosions, but what it is is a damn fine film and good step forward. And it's probably the most loyal Philip K. Dick adaptation ever. (Let's face it, Blade Runner was not Do Androids Dream of Electric sheep, no matter how good it was.)
on 3 December 2006
A Scanner Darkly was my first Phillip K. Dick novel, and was a surprisingly difficult read. Difficult not just to get a fix on his writing style but to get my head around what Dick was trying to say. In the end though, it was worth it, being one of those experiences where the moment the last page turns, the realisation comes of how profoundly brilliant and unexpected the entire thing has been.
The film strays very little from the book; in fact, `straying' is the wrong word, as Linklater has really gone all out to be faithful to the original story here, with an obvious and unflagging respect. In the name of continuity one can appreciate that some changes were necessary, for example, the complete omission of the character of Jerry Fabin, instead coalescing he and Charles Freck into the one body, but none that will permit anyone to moan. Most of the big scenes from the book are here, gloriously visual, and the ones that while missing, are not missed (for example, Arctor's visit to an abusive drug dealer's girl).
The film, while by no means short, does seem to be truncated in a way that hampers the progression of the story. Arctor's mental descent was a huge part of the novel, with many mind-boggling pages spent following the slow death of his brain cells and the gradual division of his brain from his mind and his mind from his ability to live. The film doesn't give a different version of events, but how quickly it all occurs gives a feeling of slight uneasiness and all seems just a little off-kilter. Perhaps this is a blessing after all, as Linklater could easily have decided to go down the time-ignorant route and spent a good fifteen minutes devoted to artistic shots and meaningless, predictable, endless prose as Arctor's world unravels.
A Scanner Darkly is about a number of things, namely drug addiction, relationships and their ensuing fragility, state control, corruption, ends justifying the means and personal hell, but comes nowhere close to being a lecture in morality. It is one of Dick's most personal pieces of writing, and I don't believe he was really trying to say anything, just to tell a story; people's stories that, while packaged in a box that screams the colours of science-fiction, are far from complete works of fiction.
on 4 May 2008
All in all, this is one of the better film adaptations of Dick's work, although probably for aficionados only; the uninitiated would almost certainly be confused and exasperated.
It follows the novel closely, and the rotoscoping is effective and unsettling, especially when depicting Arctor's 'scramble suit'. But the animation is, oddly, let down by the acting; Rory Cochrane is over-the-top as Freck, and Barris, whilst suitably sinister, is often unintelligible thanks to Downey's rapid, mumbled delivery. Keanu Reeves puts in a solid, tortured performance, and we warm to Winona Ryder's Donna as the film progresses.
But somehow the film fails to successfully capture Arctor's growing paranoia and his tenuous hold on reality, or the hopelessness felt by all the characters as they wander, drug-addled, though a surreal Californian suburban landscape.
Dick has not been well served by Hollywood. Even Blade Runner only scratched the surface of the complex novel on which it was based, and others, like Total Recall or Paycheck, come nowhere close. Minority Report was surprisingly faithful to Dick's short story, although lost several brownie points for (a) starring Tom Cruise; and (b) a predictable dose of Spielberg sentimentality at the end.
One day, maybe, someone will make a film of a PKD novel which actually works, one which captures the freewheeling weirdness of his plots, without losing their humour and essential metaphysical content - Ubik, possibly, or even Palmer Eldritch. But I'm not holding my breath.
on 9 January 2011
A Scanner Darkly is the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's semi-autobiographical book by the same name. It is a dystopian vision of the future set in Orange County, America. The main protagonist, Bob Arctor (Reeves), is a covert operative of the Orange County police force, sent to infiltrate and report on the users and dealers of a mind destroying drug, Substance D. The crux of the film is that Arctor, through use of this drug, looses his perspective on reality as a law enforcement officer and begins to investigate his alter-ego drug using self.
If you're looking for a film with lots of guns and fast paced action sequences, this is not the film for you. It's a slow burning, thought provoking picture which wallows in an atmosphere of murk, confusion and drug induced paranoia. Despite this, there are moments where this film's dark and trippy sense of humour will not fail to put a smile on your face. It has an all star cast but seeks to give you something different and altogehter edgier than you might expect from the mainstream industry.
This film is massively under-appreciated, and so few people have even heard of it - which is strange considering the casting. Take a chance, break from the crowd, get a film that will blow your mind... if you let it.
on 10 November 2013
As many other reviewers have noted, this is a particularly faithful adaptation of the novel 'A Scanner Darkly' and while it's a pleasure to see certain scenes played out almost word-for-word, this also serves to be its main downfall as it doesn't really feel like the storyline has been optimised for the medium of film.
In the novel, Bob Arctor (played by Reeves in the movie) suffers a state of drug-induced mental decline as his personality splits into two beings. PKD sets this up (and later pulls the trigger) using various literary and structural techniques to make it clear that he is becoming confused and while some of this material is included in the form of narration, you can't help but feel that the movie would have benefitted from experimenting with new visual sequences to help hammer this point home. It would obviously be a departure from the source, but you could argue that it's more important to suit the material to the medium rather than simply being faithful.
There are a few more negatives but I feel that the above is the biggest problem with the movie. I personally like the animated style, although the added budget and time spent to achieve that affect could have been put to better use by approving upon the above problems. The animation does work particularly well during the opening sequence, which is one of my highlights of the movie and the book.
But, with the above criticisms aside, this DVD is currently listed at £2.99 and there's really no excuse to not give it a go if you're even at all interested! At the very least, you'll get a movie that quite clearly respects its source material and there's not a lot more you could ask for from this kind of film.
on 18 April 2009
Now here is a interesting proposition, a semi autobiographical book by the late, much lauded writer Philip K Dick, adapted by the man who directed "School Of Rock" ("A Scanner Darkly" not exactly being an obvious follow up), featuring Robert Downey Jr, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson playing a group of drugged up, progressively paranoid individuals who basically just hang around exchanging o-so-very-paranoid chatter about almost everyone and everything around them. I confess to being a quite a lightweight when it comes to Philip K Dick. Of his writings I've only read "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep" and was startled that such a fascinating read could be altered, borderline scrapped and still be made into one of the most celebrated films ever made, you should know the one. I've seen "Minority Report"(adapted from a series of short stories by Dick) and Total Recall and while I enjoyed both, particularly the former there's something to be revelled in "A Scanner Darkly" seeing what is supposed to be a faithful adaptation (last time I use that word I promise) of one of Dick's works particularly one that is a very personal piece of writing and partly because of this the film is a tough one to dissect. Paranoia, drug use, basic human rights, identity and sacrifice are all major themes explored here viewed through the brilliant mind of Dick and the wildly creative Richard Linklater who shot the film digitally before using animators to rotoscope over live action footage giving the film a highly stylised and distinctive look, like that of a graphic novel come to life but in a more literal, cartoon-like manner as opposed to something like "Sin City"
"A Scanner Darkly" opens in bizarre fashion with the sight of drug addict Freck (Rory Cochrane) trying to rid his body, home and dog of imaginary little green insects crawling all over his body, which he is only seeing due to a typical side effect caused by Substance D, a pivotal plot point and a very powerful drug that eventually wreaks havoc with the mental capacity of the user, such as that of burned out undercover narcotics agent Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) who comes to wearily describing the drug he's becoming addicted to as "dumbness and despair and desertion...elation loneliness hating and suspecting others, and finally slow death". As a cop Arctor wears a scramble suit, an odd creation, which could only work within the film's unique rotoscoping process, which contains over a million fragmented images of men, woman and children that constantly move around. This special suit keeps Bob's identity secret from those around him though its function is to prevent fellow officers knowing who he is. Bob's personal life is filled with colourful drug addicts, his roommates, Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Barris (Robert Downey Jr) who both happily make the most of Substance D. The director Richard Linklater makes the most of a very brilliant, on form Downey Jr working with an edgy character that conducts such interesting experiments as creating homemade silencers for sixty-one cents as well as attempting to extract cocaine from aerosol cans. Downey fills Barris with an wonderfully erratic energy along with a sense of intellectual superiority over all those around him, he talks the talk like all good bluffs but his homemade silencer and cocaine trick aren't up to much amongst other ideas and fantasies concocted by this darkly amusing, edgy, paranoid and absolutely brilliant creation that the actor brings giving a great contrast to everyone else be it the Reeves character who is either laid back, dazed or playing a purposeful cop, or the similarly strung out yet honest and likable Ryder character as well as a very over the top Woody Harrelson who, in comparison to Downey, Reeves and Ryder gets saddled with a comic yet slightly limited stoner and unlike another addict played by Rory Cochrane doesn't get to go to the darkly comic regions we see Cochran's in.
While Downey, Harrelson and Cochran's characters appear to be Bob's friends he is romantically involved with a small time drug dealer and fellow addict Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder), often a confused young woman, possibly due to the fact she's drugged up on Substance D and cocaine to the point where she robustly rejects any form of sexual contact. Yet she's an oddly warm figure in the film, the only real female presence and her relationship with Bob Arctor pays off by the time we come to a surprisingly poignant climax that re-affirms the tender soul in Donna while giving her a whole new complexion in the proceedings. Looking back over the film, not a great deal happens in comparison to the far more elaborate films based on Dicks work, there's a considerable amount of simple drug fuelled chatter among the burn-out group Arctor hangs around with. As an undercover cop who is experiencing severe problems with Substance D he begins to lose sight of his own identity and due to leads connected with Downey's character ends up investigating his own group of friends as surveillance cameras are secretly placed all over his house. As problems with D rise Arctor begins to experience difficulty seeing what's right in front of him, even wondering whether a life he had, involving a wife and children was merely a very detailed creation within his own mind. His addiction eventually renders him with two personalities, one, his undercover cop monitoring his everyday life as Bob Arctor and his day-to-day life as Arctor. These are the same person of course but when we start Arctor is fully aware of his identity despite exposure to Substance D and it was only on the second viewing that I took real notice of the changeover, which eventually leads to a tragic finale for this troubled individual.
The distinctive look of "A Scanner Darkly" may put some off, though in my opinion the performances are strong enough, particularly Downey's and Ryder's (though Cochran's character, as the actor himself feared does become little more than a cartoon) to survive the transition. If not the look, then the off beat nature of the story is sure to alienate certain viewers and produce a few negative remarks for a film that may only ever obtain a very select "cult" following, but you don't need to be a particularly adventurous film fan to give this a look, or to experience something that on a cinematic level, at times is actually quite meaningful. An open mind certainly helps in any case.
The film is ok, it's pretty interesting but I'm going to talk about the High-Definition features:
Visual: Incredible. I don't really need to expand on that, but I will. The sharpness, colour and level of detail is mind-blowing. This is definitely a film to showcase the quality of High Definition! The work that's gone into this film is incredible and it really makes the end-piece fantastic to watch.
Audio: The audio is solid, well delivered and equalised. There's nothing wrong in this department.
Features: You get a commentary with Linklater and Reeves which is ok, if a little boring. The real juicy bits are the two long documentaries supplementing the film. The first is an indepth of how the film was adapted from the book, with cast and crew interviews including the author of the original book!
My favourite extra feature is the 'How we did it' supplement; where the crew show us how they went about creating the cartoon from the original video source, and interviews with the cinematographer.
Also to note is that this Blu Ray disc is REGIONLESS, so it will work on UK PS3s and Blu Ray players as well.
Overall, a welcome addition to the blu-ray franchise and certainly a film to showcase High Definition's potential. Hope this helps.
on 28 March 2007
It is widely accepted by those in the know that Philip K Dick wrote some of the most important and imaginative science fiction of the past 50 years. However, another thing that is widely regarded as a truism is the fact that Dicks work is notoriously difficult to adapt for the screen, either loosing much of what made it special and thereby gaining acceptance, such as Total Recall adapted from We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, and Spielberg's Minority Report, adapted from the Dick short story of the same name but abandoning much of the paranoia of the original work in order to reach a wider audience, or attempting to stay true to the source material, and thereby alienating much of its target audience, the case in point here being Bladerunner, a critical disaster on its release and now regarded as one of the best movies ever made. Thankfully, in adapting Dick's seminal work about drugs and identity, Richard Linklater has managed to hold onto the core of what makes the book great.
Set in the not to distant future, the film concerns itself with the life of Bob Arctor, played with the usual sense of disconnection by Keanu Reeves, a habitual drug user who appears to have no goal in life other than to get high and hang out with his equally directionless junkie friends, played with a certain sense of comedy by Robert Downey Jnr, Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane. However, what none of them know is that Arctor is really an undercover cop called Fred, who is using this identity to investigate a new, highly addictive drug called substance D (the D stands for death), a drug so addictive that one use gets you hooked (to quote one memorable line "there are people who are Substance D addicts, and there are people who haven't taken it yet"). Unfortunately, it's not long before Arctor becomes addicted to Substance D himself, and as a result he begins to loose his sense of identity.
Doesn't sound like much of a plot, and really it isn't, but this is not a movie about action and excitement. Like the original book, the movie concerns itself with the individual's sense of self, and the effect that prolonged drug use can have on this, a narrative tool the Dick's has used in a number of his works. That Linklater manages to successfully transpose this idea to the screen and make it the films core idea is a testament to the fact that he both directed the film and adapted the book himself, and is clearly in love with the subject matter.
The other most significant thing about this movie is the way it is presented, using a technique known as rotoscoping, whereby a filmed image is painted over, giving it the look of animation. That this technique can at times appear quite unsettling, as background objects appear to move slightly and perspective can be altered in some very subtle ways, only serves to enhance the films themes.
This is an amazing piece of cinema, certainly worth a look if you are interested in intelligent, thought provoking cinema, and if Linklater occasionally allows the film to wander, particularly in some of the "sitting around talking" scenes, and can't quite get across the full, horrific effect that Substance D has on Arctors rapidly fracturing personality, it is not through want of trying. Abandon your preconceptions, and give this film a go, you never know, you might just find something you like.
One of the excelllent things (I think) about the Amazon DVD rental service is that you're tempted into renting movies you wouldn't go to the cinema to watch - what a pain spending c£15 on two tickets, drinks, nosh etc only to be disappointed. It's worth a gamble with the rental scheme.
So, A Scanner Darkly - any good? Well, in short, yes, very good indeed. Cast - excellent. Keanu Reeves plays the lead in true to form Keanu style, which fits very well into the overall paranoia feel of the film. Great support from Robert Downey Jnr and Woody Harrelson - the former truly fantastic I thought. Winona Ryder ably assists too.
The animation - superb. Cericel style colouring over live action works brilliantly in this film. Don't be put off - it really does work and adds to the rich texture of the movie.
The story - great. A dark, mind disintegration of a plot, with a couple of twists, told expertly. Having seen other Philip K Dick adaptations in the big budget Hollywood style (Minority Report etc - which are very good themselves), this is highly original and, one senses, much closer to the thought processes of the author and the brooding atmosphere he wanted to convey.
So, all in all, I can highly recommend this. Enjoy!
on 29 November 2010
A dark and paranoid view of drugs written by Philip K Dick, the same science fiction author who penned the stories which became the films "Blade Runner"(Do androids dream of electric sheep?)which was completed shortly before Dick's death, "Total Recall" (We can remember it for you wholesale) and "Minority Report".
The subject deals with the near future (7 years from now) and the consumption of Substance D or Death, a drug which is nearing saturation point for which the drug enforcement agencies are still trying to find the source and the supplier to combat its supply.
Substance D eventually destroys the users mind, with both hemispheres of the brain competing with each other causing "crosstalk" inside the users head.
Keanu Reeves plays the drug enforcement officer "Fred" who is also the drug user "Bob Arctor", who scores his drugs from Donna (Winona Ryder).
Bob shares his home with two friends who arealso drug users,one of whom, Barris (Robert Downie Jr, starts feeding information about what Barris beleives Bob is doing to the Orange County Drugs team which gets Bob observed by "Fred" and the paranoia really sets in.
With "Fred" and Bob Arctor being the same person,"Fred" is observing and reporting on himself to his superiors through using secret cameras in his own home to gather evidence on himself and his friends.
Nobody knows who the drug officers are, not even their colleagues,as they wear "scramble suits" which project the images of random peoples faces and clothing on the outside of the suit every few seconds with their voices being distorted to keep their identities secret. All the officers run the potential risk of drug addiction, as the officers have to fit in to the roles they have to play.
The only hope for addicts is New Path,an organisation who are sanctioned to get addicts away from Substance D and help rebuild their lives free of the dependency on the drug.
There are some moments of humour in the film, such as the argument about the missing gears on a racing bike,making a gun silencer for under two dollars, a thouroughly botched suicide attempt and how to isolate cocaine from an after sun product.
Philip Dick drew some inspiration for the book from his own and his friends drug use and the effects of the drugs on his friends,their mental and physical health. The book was written a few years after Dick's breakdown and his attempts to come to terms with what had happened to him.The fear of being observed and watched by others and eventual paranoia is prevalent in this film and in a number of Dick's books.
A film for fans of films that are a little bit different, with the film itself using the Rotoscope method of "animating" over the filmed live action which renders it almost like a comic book, with its delineating lines and colouring.
Well worth a watch, Richard Linklater's film captures some of the sadness around the "children who stayed out to play too long" as Dick referred to those friends who had their minds altered and lives shortened by drug use.