A Scanner Darkly
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A Scanner Darkly 2006

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...

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What an amazing movie! I was absolutely glued to the monitor for 95 minutes. The story took a while to unfold, and every twist left you questioning what you'd already seen, but in the end you were thinking 'Holy Crapoly'! Slightly sci-fi, slightly crime drama, slightly social commentary, the visuals were simply outstanding, the story compelling and the acting was excellent. I would recommend this movie simply for it's artistic quality alone.
Richard Linklater has produced a film that is arguably the best Philip K. Dick interpretation since Blade Runner. Given the difficulty of the material he had to work with, I'd have to say that he did a very good job. It's been about 15 years since I read the book, but the film does go to great efforts to capture the story and I think it works.

This kind of film is not for everyone. Most P.K. Dick film adaptations are taken from his short stories. AFAIK, this is the first serious effort to do one of his later novels. In the mid-1960s, Dick's style changed from more traditional Sci-Fi / alternate history style of writing to his signature style of creating stories where the nature of reality is constantly in question. Sometimes it's due to the influence of a completely unfathomable alien, and sometimes it's a human thrown into a situation where reality is uncertain.

Seasoned readers of P.K. Dick, especially fans of the novel "A Scanner Darkly" will be able to follow the film pretty easily, but for those who haven't become accustomed to Dick's style this film is going to take a little work and a little thought to understand. I fully expect that a lot of critics will completely fail to understand the film as well and some of the early reviews bear this out all ready.

On a broad level, the story is an allegory about, drugs and drug use and the war on drugs and the human toll of the whole thing. It even addresses some of the farce that surrounds the medical rehabilitation community and pharmaceutical companies. It's also about mental illness, which Dick, who had schizophrenia and depression, suffered from for much of his life.

At face value, the story is about a Narcotics officer, Bob Arctor, in near-future Los Angeles who is so deep in cover on a drug assignment that he ends up being assigned to investigate himself. In the process of the investigation he becomes addicted to an extremely dangerous drug that eventually causes its users to develop psychoses. Bob is no exception. The story proceeds from Bob's point of view as he slowly goes mad, less and less sure of what is real and what is not. The genius in the story is that Dick brings the audience into Bob's head, and we're there struggling to understand reality as well.

The characters in the story and their experiences are loosely patterned on people that Dick knew in his real life. The character of Bob Arctor is loosely based on Dick himself. There is at least scene in the movie, a questionable burglary, that was based loosely on an event from Dick's life. He once reported a burglary and then later said that he was not sure whether or not he had actually burglarized himself and then forgotten about it.

The film is brilliantly cast and performed by Kenau Reeves, Bob Downey Jr, Winonoa Ryder, and Woody Harrelson. Linklater manages to get a multi-dimensional performance out of Reeves. Robert Downey is absolutely amazing as a drug-crazed paranoid, Ryder works as the love interest and foil, and Harrelson manages to ape some comic relief.

In fact, most of the cast seems to have been (wisely) selected from people who are known to have drug problems. The film was filmed in live action and then painstakingly animated using a digital rotoscoping technique that works really well here. In fact the film took a lot longer to make than expected and Linklater missed several important schedule deadlines that were planned for the film.

Linklater felt (and correctly it turned out) that this film required a much more realistic level of animation than Waking Life. None of the animators working on the film had much experience with this level of detail using the digital rotoscoping technology (in fact no one did, really) so the film ran way over schedule and over budget. Linklater was clearly charting new territory.
(click here for an example of the animation style)

Still, it came in at about $9 million and in time for the summer movie season. Most of the actors took the union minimum plus a portion of profits. This interesting article from WIRED, describes some of the problems and setbacks that occurred during the filming that even went to the point that the lead animator, Bob Sebiston, who originally developed the "Rotoshop" software at MIT, was locked out of the studio and a new person with more "business experience" in animation was put in charge of the project. That had repercussions down the road when the software needed tweaking for a complicated shot and Sebiston was gone.

In the end, I predict that this film is destined to be a major cult classic. Right up there with the likes of Blue Velvet, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Liquid Sky, etc.

I recommend it. Check it out.
If dialogue-driven, intellectual game playing centered on paranoid, slacker-type drug addicts, and undercover narcs in a (slightly) futuristic world leaves you cold, then Richard Linklater's (Before Sunset, School of Rock, Waking Life), Before Sunrise, Slacker) adaptation of Philip K. Dick's 1977 novel, A Scanner Darkly, won't be for you. To be fair, A Scanner Darkly isn't for most moviegoers, but you probably knew that already. If, however, you found Linklater's philosophical essay-film, Waking Life or Linklater's earlier foray into anti-narrative eccentricity, Slacker, to your liking, then A Scanner Darkly might, just might be what you're looking for in your next moviegoing experience. Everyone else, though, will find A Scanner Darkly an unfocused, meandering talkfest, a science fiction/paranoid conspiracy thriller where the "thriller" aspects are nowhere to be found.

Seven years from now, Orange County, California. The United States has become a surveillance society. Civil liberties have eroded or disappeared in response to real and perceived threats, primarily from rampant drug use and crime. The police can track and detail almost every movement without the need for judicial authorization. Anyone, everyone can be tracked down and suspicious activity monitored electronically. Despite the loss in privacy, drug use, drug abuse has become rampant, thanks to a new drug, Substance D(eath). Substance D is a highly addictive psychoactive drug that causes euphoria, hallucinations, and brain damage. In the wake of epidemic drug abuse, the New Path Center for Recovery has stepped in with treatment programs for addicts. Meanwhile, the government, local, state, and federal, uses undercover agents to track down and shut down the supply of Substance D.

Officer Fred (Keanu Reeves), an undercover narc, has been assigned to investigate Robert Arctor, a drug dealer. What officer Fred doesn't know is that he's Bob Arctor. In effect, he's narc'ing on himself. Thanks to a "scramble suit," a high-tech suit that constantly changes the user's outward appearance, no one knows Fred's real identity, including his superiors at the police department. As Arctor, Fred lives in a rundown, one-story house with two unstable drug addicts, Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson). Another addict/friend, Freck (Rory Cochrane) has become obsessed with imaginary bugs, scratching and showering constantly. Arctor's "girlfriend," Donna (Winona Ryder), will supply him will party with him, but can't stand physical contact of any kind. Back at HQ, Fred "scans" Arctor and his cohorts on computer monitors secretly installed in Arctor's home. Slowly, Fred begins all is not right with his world.

Unfortunately, A Scanner Darkly has more than its share of storytelling problems. Linklater ha no one to blame except himself. Linklater was either too reverential toward the source novel or simply lost himself in Dick's social and political commentary and forgot the basic demands of good storytelling, e.g., dramatic conflict, rising tension, an antagonist, and an active central character who challenges the status quo. Instead, Linklater allows his secondary characters, Barris, Luckman, and Freck, to take over the film for long stretches of time, leaving Arctor with nothing to do except look stoned and respond semi-coherently to remind his friends (and the audience) that he's in the same room or in the same car.

That's not to say Barris, Luckman, and Freck aren't entertaining when they're onscreen. They are, providing A Scanner Darkly with much-needed black humor and energy, but Linklater's failure to focus on Arctor's internal and professional conflict deprives A Scanner Darkly of a meaningful emotional or dramatic payoff. Where Linklater should have used a series of escalating personal and professional crises to take Fred/Arctor to the point of no return, he circles around Fred/Arctor's deteriorating mental state inconclusively. By that time Fred is forced to confront his dueling personalities, Linklater has little left to add, except a predictable, third-act reveal and an ending that's as unsatisfying as its optimism is unearned.

But the disappointments don't end there. The combination of rotoscoping and animated backgrounds, first used in Linklater's Waking Life, add little that couldn't have been accomplished through a combination of live-action and CGI. Even where the characters' subjective hallucinations are given objective expression onscreen, the content of the hallucinations are surprisingly unimaginative. A Scanner Darkly does have one major plus worth mentioning: Radiohead provided A Scanner Darkly with an appropriately bleak score. That's something, right? For some moviegoers, a more-faithful-than-usual adaptation of a Dick novel (rare, given that most of his novels and short stories have been "reimagined" beyond recognition for the big screen), drug-fueled humor, visuals, and music, will be enough. For most moviegoers, it won't be.
One of the 3 most awaited films for me,A Scanner Darkly is in every fashion satisfying and worth the wait.I simply put this one of the more Philosophical,metamorphic,and provoking thrillers and not to mention the coolest part-animated films put on screen.Everything here was exactly what I expected and more.Knowing that this film is helmed by the ultra ambitious and talented Richard Linklater,with a spellbinding cast.I had 100% satisfaction.Expecting a Sci-Fi film in the likes of Blade Runner,and Minority Report.

It's dealing with the same thing that Blade Runner and other Phillip K.Dick's stories has dealt with.It questions the meaning of life and existence and goes beyond that to ask those questions.Of course,like all those thoughtful films,it doesn't provide any answers but just asks those fascinating questions.By the way,Who's watching us?

Writer-Director Linklater yet again gives a striking cerebral experience in A Scanner Darkly ,a film adaptation of one of the most beloved sci/fi short story writers.Reportedly based on his own real life experience,Philip K.Dick is a visionary short story writer where the story's main focus has always been the importance of being human. Like Waking Life,Linklater really pushes the envelope by giving the film its necessary surreal looks with its rotoscope animation.Creating a haunting, highly stylized vision of the future.A technique he successfully incorporated in Waking Life,but only this time that technique has been taken a little further.

It is a future where America has lost the war on drugs and that every one ,almost, even cops have started taking drugs.A famous substance D is being popular among citizens of suburbia and it is almost unstoppable.An undercover cop Bob Arctor(Reeves),is assigned a task to take down couple of his friends who are using that drug.Soon, he is in a strange world where he can't tell the difference between the real and the surreal,he doesn't know who to believe and whom not to.This also leads him to his split personality.And then he is lost.His mind is totally lost.Nothing becomes what it seems.Identity becomes an illusion,and for them paranoia becomes salvation ,as someone ,something,somehow,somewhere is always watching somebody.

It has a similar Post-apocalyptic feel ,like Blade Runner.It's designed that way.I mean ,honestly,I believe that our society in the future will be grim and dark.We will be and are living in a dystopic future.Everything around us is getting aggressively worse and we can do nothing about it.Everything around us is surrounded by computers with highly advanced technology.Everyone fears someone.No one can be trusted,there's no one to believe.Everyone's addicted ,everyone is two faced.And that's what makes this film so complex.What is the real world?

As a writer,Linklater knows how to produce an intriguing element.He manifests the books smart idea and gives you a film with powerful visuals.Although it may have seemed that turning a film like this into an animated film is totally faulty,the animation over live action shots actually helps heighten the surreal impact of the film.Like Waking Life,this film really has strong affect on the audience.

The director carefully explores Arctor's mind,who he becomes from who he was.It's a very psychological and complex journey of ones mind,a theme often included in Dick's books.The designs and looks of the film are way beyond impressive.It's as if Keanu Reeves has found himself another visually stunning Matrix movie.The film looks really awesome.The visuals are simply fabulously insane!

The main strength of the film is its visuals.The animation over live action shots are impressive,the story is very well detailed and film is perfectly handled.But there are some drawbacks/flaws.The animation sometimes hampers the films dramatic impact.There are scenes which could've looked better if they were shot in live action.But still,its a unique experience altogether.And should be well received and hopefully becomes a cult success.

Performances are all solid.Especially one from Downey Jr.He is the man who really makes his roles and characters juicy and fun.And surprises are on his side.Reeves is adequate and hopefully no one would blame him if this film fails to achieve success ,he was perfect for the role.Thanks to his dark,brooding looks and dry expressions.He brings the necessary tension and emotions of his character.While Wionna Ryder is not that impressive.Harrelson goes along with Downey as another standout psycho drug addict.It's actually hard to justify the performances when the characters look so animated and sometimes it's hard to identify their emotions properly.

The director deserves a special praise for his effort to bring something this complex into realization.I love the way he crafts his films.It's just fun to watch and it's also thoughtful at the same time.He injects lots of humor,especially in the scenes between, Keanu,Robert and Woody.And dramatic allegory,which never really reaches a very high level due to its animation.

This film does join the ranks of Minority report and Blade Runner and other successful Dick adaptations for its impressive handling of the subject.However,it can't meet the perfection of those films.But as a mesmerizing black comedy,it's still very close to perfection and it's worth a look,at least for its visuals.Especially if you want to escape from the Big Budgeted Hollywood crap coming out every two or three times a month.And most especially,if you admire Dick's and Linklaters's works.
"A Scanner Darkly" isn't another summer blockbuster. Watch it with an "independent film" state of mind because that's what this film is, only with unique visuals. Director Richard Linklater actually borrows two of his previous techniques for "Scanner": the "day-in-the life" approach from "Dazed and Confused" as he chronicles the goings-on of a drugged-out, heavily-monitored society, and the rotoscoped animation from "Waking Lives" which provides its unique look. Sometimes the animation will have a "shifting" effect on the people and their surroundings, other times it'll look like 2-D images in a 3-D world, and then there's the really BIZARRE imagery...

"A Scanner Darkly", from author Philip K. Dick's original work, takes place in a society that's so monitored that special agents must wear "Scramble-suits" to hide their appearance and voice. One such agent is "Fred" (Keanu Reeves) as he's assigned to observe notorious drug-smuggler Robert Arctor, the smuggler's girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder) and their drugged-out friends Barris, Ernie and Charles. As if the numerous surveillance cameras weren't bad enough, society is also strung out on a designer-drug called "Substance D". There are "recovery centers" to help addicts, but it would seem the cure is just as bad as the disease. "Fred" has had to take this drug in order to properly go undercover, but the results have taken an unfortunate turn - "Fred" and Robert Arctor are the SAME PERSON.

The best parts of the movie are the scenes with Barris, Ernie and Charles. Robert Downey Jr. as "Barris" provides some of the most surreal and hilarious dialogue ever written for a film, Woody Harrelson as "Ernie" can go from calm to violent in 2 seconds flat, and Rory Cochrane as "Charles"... you'll have to actually see for yourselves. The movie is more of an close-up look on this strung-out society so there's no real plot (and no Hollywood "happy-ending", which is not necessarily a bad thing). The parts involving Reeves' and Ryder's characters tend to drag and slow the movie down, but the story does pick up a little near the end. (The "scramble-suit" voice does make Keanu Reeves sound like a legitimate actor, though.)

Director Linklater has given a unique and engrossing observation into a society "getting progressively worse". There are frightening parallels to real problems as the so-called "war on drugs"(and who really controls them), government overstepping its boundaries and the public's diminishing rights of privacy. "A Scanner Darkly" has been designed, much like "Substance D", to make us consider how similar our own society is becoming like theirs. It's a world where the path to addiction and the road to recovery may be one and the same...
animation was very good and of course Keanu is still good looking
Pirates was a cluster flock, how about an hour less?
This is a horrible comic-esque movie that doesn't have significant humor or a plot line that intrigues you. If you strip the story down to what it is, it isn't a "thinking" movie, it's a dull movie with an amateur paranoid plot. It's a snooze-fest that feels like a comic book dream on acid. It seems like a druggie wrote and directed the film, and that you need drugs to watch the film. I cannot express how much of a waste of time this is - as artistic as it might be. You leave the theater worse off than when you came in. A little part of me died tonight.


Directed by Richard Linklater
R (for drug and sexual content, language and a brief violent image.)
100 min.
2006
FlawlessOne of the best and truest-to-form novel adaptations I've ever seen. It lifted much of its dialogue and narration directly from the text; the details, right down to the look of Arctor's house, are exactly how I imagined them when I read the novel. I was amazed how little they had to trim from the novel for it to fit in two hours, so great editing.Just as a warning, you will (and should) feel very uncomfortable in the scenes when Arctor has begun to lose his mind.The rotoscoping is gorgeous.The comic timing is perfect.A triumph for Warner Independent after the overhyped and underwhelming CapoteOverall Grade: A+