A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Another adaptation from a Philip K. Dick story, though I have to confess that I don’t think I’ve actually read this one.

I was, I must admit, somewhat nervous about this movie, as it is rotoscoped (a form of animation where they draw over the top of filmed actors/scenes) and I’ve had bad experiences with rotoscoping in the past – namely Ralph Bakshi’s truly awful The Lord of the Rings (1978).

But in this case it actually worked, the quirks – mostly in the form of scenery moving quite strangely if the camera tracked at all – of the medium made the unsettled nature of much of the movie (the key characters are drugged up to the eyeballs and paranoid/delusional most of the time) even more disturbing.

The story, set in the not too distant future, involves an under cover police officer (Keanu Reeves giving the most animated role he has in years) known by the code name of Fred, as he spirals towards destruction through his use of a highly addictive new drug called Substance D, as well as his friends and girlfriend – all of whom are also on D, amongst other things.

It’s dark, with constant surveillance of phone calls, cameras on all city streets (and hidden in many private homes) and brutal police tactics being used to suppress the people.  But to be honet, the tory doesn’t really fixate on that stuff too much, it spends a great deal more time enjoying the company of Fred’s crazy drugged up friends, played by Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane with Winona Ryder as Fred’s girlfriend (more like friend with no benefits, though, poor guy).

To single out any of the performances would be unfair on the others, as all these actors put in truly stellar performances – really! – even through the animators paint.

Considering the mostly quite dark subject matter, there are some inspired comedy scenes, including a delightfully delusional scene in which Barris (Downey Jr.) arrives at Fred’s house (where he’s been crashing) wearing lemon yellow bike pants, on a new mountain bike he’s just bought, and then proceeds, with the help of the rest of the crew, to discover that his 18 speed has actually been modified by the gypsies who sold it to him to have either 9 or 8 speeds.  Though of course it’s perfectly fine, it’s just a probably stolen bike.

To understand the bike joke, you have to watch the film, and I strongly suggest that you do.

It drags a little near the end, when a bunch of unneccessary exposition happens with Fred and Winona Ryder, and at least half of the big twist is really obvious, but so what, the rest of the film is absolute gold.

It’s just one more time, at 1.30pm on Wednesday July 19th at the awful Civic Theatre (nice decor, terrible seating) but will almost certainly be out on a more general release some time after the festival.

2 thoughts on “A Scanner Darkly (2006)”

  1. Was this film put through a computer filter to create that effect or was is done by humans.

    If you haven’t seen and the BBC Monkey Dust series I bet you would enjoy them. Its a cynical, dark world and each segment is nicely melded into the next, often very funny and sometimes you just wonder what they were thinking.

  2. It’s got a really clean bright look that I don’t think traditional cell animation can manage. The raw footage was probably all sent to Korea where they scanned it all into computer and then painstakingly worked it frame by frame. It’s actually a really nice effect.

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