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A Scanner Darkly [2006] - 5.97

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

Customer reviews (av rating: 3.5):

Rating: 2:
Oh no! : Such a dissapointment. I had really high expectations for this film, but my god, just how wrong was I! Any votes higher than 3 stars are ultimately sympathy votes and nothing more.

The film is constantly trying to be something it's not, thinking that it is some kind of super intellegent and thought provoking thriller. I feel sorry for the poor people who had to sit down and do such wonderful animation on such a tragedy of a film.

No. NO! Don't even rent. Instantly forgettable, but shouldn't be! Such a dissapointing movie flop!

Rating: 5:
Twisted and outstanding : This film was tragic, moving, saddening, hilarious and frightening. Although it has been labelled as sci-fi, I wouldn't call it as such - it is set in the future but I don't believe it is really much different the world we have today.
This film addresses many questions on issues which include drugs, the use of CCTV, the use of covert operations and the growing paranoia induced by all these issues.

I would describe this film as one of those that starts at the end, in other words I was more interested in what happened after the film ended, and it left me disappointed finding the ending cut short a film which could have delved so much deeper into the human mind. However, that utterly explains the true brilliance of this film - leading you into a world that you cannot leave, cannot stop thinking about as you try to resolve the issues it raises. It lets you, the viewer, do the rest of the work.

The animation was stunning, it did not detract from the film but added to the level of abstraction. I'm not sure if it was intended but it felt very much as if I was spying on the characters and the animation only added to that feeling, you knew the characters were real only you were looking at them through an animated screen as if emphasising that you were watching them through a device. A TV screen, within a TV screen so to speak. I found the characters incredibly perplexing - played by Winona Rider, Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr and Rory Cochran. None of these characters were their 'true' selves whether influenced by drugs or people these characters were playing characters within characters, whether they were aware of it or not.

The plot line was not a traditional plot which tells a set story from beginning to end. It seems as if the plot was snapshots of the characters lives stuck together in order for the viewer to piece together the story it meant to tell. The story is told in the way that follows the laws and nature of the characters world, not our world.

I was left feeling moved and enlightened by the film and even now I am still asking questions about the many aspects and layers of the film both political and philosophical.

I would say it was a cross between Vanilla Sky, Fear n Loathing in LA and 1984 by George Orwell. Enjoy!!

Rating: 4:
It sees clearly. : In the not too distant future, America has deemed its population expendable. The 'war' on new (and highly addictive) drug Substance D is nothing but a fascade to keep it in circulation, the people hooked on it, afraid of one another, watched and monitored at all times.

Paranoia and fear run riot in a playground made from drugs and a Government with a laissez-faire attitude towards their people; while the film itself, another adaptation from the awe-inspiring imagination of Philip K. Dick (also responsible for Minority Report, Total Recall and Blade Runner) is host to a visual treat - which'd be expected having had a 19 month post-production - with knock-out performances from Downey, Harrellson, Reeves and Cochrane as the paranoid drug addict friends who suspect everything and keep the truth for themselves.

Rating: 4:
One of Dick's finest, darkest novels gets a faithful, sharp translation to the big screen : First and foremost this movie is tragic, dark, funny and moving with eye popping visuals in the form of the animation used to tell the story. It also doesn't the usual science fiction escapist fare that moviegoers usually get. It's much closer to the more serious side of the genre. It won't be for everyone.

Set "7 Years from now" "A Scanner Darkly" seems more topical now than when the novel came out in 1977; undercover police officers use Scrambler Suits to hide their identity (it makes them look like everyone and no one--it's a very cool looking effect)allowing them to try and infiltrate the drug world and keep their anonymity. The war on drugs has basically failed with 20% of the population addicted to a new nasty drug called Substance D that destroys the brain.

By the way amazon.com listed the major fact I'm listing below without stating it as a spoiler but it does give away a signficant aspect of the plot.
**Spoiler Below**

Fred (Keanu Reeves) has been assigned to keep an eye on Bob Arcotor and his circle of friends. There's one problem--Fred IS Bob but doesn't realize it due to the ingestion of Substance D an illegal drug that Fred and other police officers use to be accepted by the drug users and dealers.

**End Spoiler**

The big question here--is the film good? Absolutely. Richard Linklater has done an outstanding job here and this is probably the most faithful film version of one of Dick's stories I've ever seen. "Blade Runner" managed to capture the themes and essence of Dick's original novel Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? as well as the basic plot but in its own unique way. Linklater retains the major plot points (and major chucks of the novel as well) AND manages to create a unique looking film that captures Dick's sarcastic dark vision equally well.

Extras: The most important one is the "Making of" featurette. It's a little less than 30 minutes but incorporates ALL of the major talents involved discussing the making of the film including Phil Dick in archival footage shot in 1977. It also has a brief excerpt of Dick reading from his novel and visually we see the footage before animation and after. It's a pretty cool featurette overall.

Next we get a featurette on how the film was translated from digital video to digital coloring/animation via rotoscoping (where you trace over the original image and treat it like an animation cel creating a realistic looking cartoon as a result. This techinque began to achieve popularity with Max Fleischer and Disney in the 30's and 40's). It's a fascinating glimpse into seeing a film being changed from one format to another.

The film looks terrific in its presentation here with nice extras (none of them fluff). The commentary track by director Linklater, his producer, Dick's daughter and Jonathn Lethem a Dick scholar/writer is full of fascinating tidbits although it takes a bit before it picks up steam. Overall this is a terrific film although not for everyone. This isn't escapist sci-fi but a harder edged dark look that's faithful to Dick's novel.

Rating: 4:
Great performances in an animation : The animation is not Toy Story it is much grittier and allows the viewer to feel the sense of paranoia that the author and screenwriter wanted, it therefore adds to the film. I came away thinking that the performances were superb and this is a case where the whole cast come together exceptionally well. The added features on the dvd give an interesting account of the author and the genesis of this movie.

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