A Scanner Darkly (2006) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
241 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
extraordinary and faithful adaptation of one of PK Dick's most personal
imaginarytruths7 July 2006
When someone on a trip starts to wig out, you take them someplace quiet and talk soothingly and assure them that everything's going to be OK. But as the tagline of this film makes clear, for these characters everything is most definitely NOT going to be OK.

For those who haven't read the book, it's important to know what you're getting into. PK Dick wrote this novel as a way of telling the story of how he and his friends in the early '70s damaged and destroyed themselves with drugs. He tells this story within the framework of a surreal science fiction thriller, but many of the scenes are straight from his own experiences with the unpleasant consequences of people using drugs and disintegrating mentally.

This film does an amazing job of capturing the feel and tone of the book as well as the paranoia, perceptual distortions, and chaos of hallucinogenic overindulgence. Add to that a story that only gradually emerges from the madness, but by the end brings in a lot of heavy ideas such as the existence of free will, whether ends justify means, etc. There is a sense of consequence to what happens in the film, a sense of despair at what has been lost. So this story of drug-addled losers becomes the story of the human struggle for identity and meaning.

I have a couple of minor quibbles regarding scenes from the book that only partially made the cut (no explanation for the significance of "If I'd known it was harmless I would have killed it myself, no little kid to explain how 6 and 3 gears means 18 speeds). Still, most adaptations of PK Dick stories take a few basic ideas and try to shape them into more conventional films that fit into established genres. Even when it works, such as with Blade Runner or Total Recall, it's not really PK Dick. Not so this film. This is PK in all his dark and perverse and deeply thoughtful glory.
420 out of 452 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
mstomaso29 July 2006
Thanks to Rick Linklater and the Dick family for allowing a Scanner Darkly to re-envision Philip K. Dick's great novel without straying from its central themes and story line. Good film adaptations of literature are very often collaborative efforts between two or more artists - the writer and the director (and sometimes her/his production team). Make no mistake - A Scanner Darkly IS one of these collaborations - it is definitely a Linklater film - from the spare but very effective and hypnotic Graham Reynolds sound track to the disturbing but mesmerizing holosuit scenes and the pseudo-philosophical paranoiac banter between Harrelson and Downey's characters. In fact, I remember the last time I read Dick's novel - around the time I heard Linklater was directing this film - thinking that some of the scenes in the book could be lost in Linklater's wonderful film "Slacker".

Linklater and Dick are a perfect match.

The story is about a deep-cover narcotics officer (Reeves) who is in danger of becoming one of his own targets, since he has become addicted to a very popular and addictive hallucinogen - Substance D (AKA "Death") The cast is all very good, and extremely well suited for their characters. But here again, we are seeing Linklater's interpretation of the novel. He saw the comedic potential for the Barris character and played it up by giving the role to Downey and presenting Harrelson as a combination of loyal side-kick and straight-man to Downey's sometimes overpowering Barris.

What the story is really about is the culture of recreational drug use and addiction. Its portrayal of this is on target, and though the subject is treated with some sympathy, the contradictory messages, denials, and complex rationalizations permeating that culture also come through powerfully. In this manner, the film nails the book spot-on.

Reeves is perfectly cast as Arctur. His subtle and somewhat detached style is exactly what was needed for this complex and sympathetic character. And although some have stated that he was "blown off the screen by Downey and Harrelson" I couldn't agree less. Downey is louder and more domineering, yes, but Arctur is not a loud, ultra-dynamic, paranoid, and could not be played in a way which could compete with Downey's character.

Although I believe Winona Rider to be very talented, I had my doubts about her in the role of Donna - one of my favorite characters in Dick's novel. However, once again, Winona exceeded my expectations. I have never seen a bad performance out of her.

This is great casting, period.

While these are not criticisms, I feel obligated to make a couple of comments comparing the book and the film. First, the film is not really as dark and disturbing as the book. I can not explain why in this review - you will have to see it to understand why I say this. Second, I was very slightly disappointed by the reduced role of Donna in this film. Third - though some have commented that the film was hard to follow and that they felt they could only really get it if they read the book - I can only say that this is probably intentional. Yes, many of Linklater's films are non-linear and can be hard to follow for those who expect to have things explained to them. Linklater is, if nothing else, an artist and doesn't seem very interested in linearity or explanation. And the original work by Dick is no less ambiguous. In fact it is, in my opinion, more ambiguous.

This film does a great job of bringing to the screen one of the most intelligent and emotional works of science fiction ever written. My thanks to all involved.
177 out of 198 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Must for Fans of Dick and Linklater
flawless200330 April 2006
I've never written a review on this site before, but since I've just been at the first screening of this movie at Brandeis, I feel like writing a few comments. First of all, visually this movie is incredible. The roto-scoping is a vast improvement over Waking Life (and that's on a crappy screen with the film only 95% completed.) Despite the overall dark nature of the film, the dialogue is at times hilarious, and at the screening the audience erupted into laughter several times. Now, on to the story itself. I never read the Phillip K. Dick novel, but from what I could tell, the movie stays faithful. This is not a popcorn thriller; like I said, it is very dark. As the producer Erwin Stoff said after the showing, the movie reflects the bad experiences Dick had with drugs during his life. Apparently the producers bought the rights to the book from Dick's daughters at a reduced rate because they promised to be faithful to his vision, and I could definitely see the effort that was put in in order to accomplish that. Overall, I enjoyed this movie very much. Admittedly, it was hard to follow at times. But, as with the other Linklater films that I have seen, A Scanner Darkly is worth seeing for the interesting dialogue, esoteric characters (especially Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson, who provide many of the films laughs), and stunning visuals. It is not a plot-driven movie at all; the story as described in the IMDb summary, which is more or less accurate, is just a framework from which to express Dick's stark and angry vision of the ravages of drugs on society. Those seeking visceral excitement will be disappointed, but those looking for an intelligent, bleakly funny, dream-like, thought provoking experience that is incredibly grim yet not entirely hopeless, will be rewarded. A Scanner Darkly is definitely not for everybody, because its pacing and animation style are not mainstream(the same is true of its release schedule: only 4 theaters on July 7, 8 the next week, and so on). However, for fans of Linklater and/or Dick, this is no doubt a must see, and you should mark July 7th on your calendar.
365 out of 430 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Great movie...Someone finally "gets" it...
darfoo10 July 2006
Hollywood has tried so many times to capture the feel of Philip K. Dick terms of his style and writing. Films like Total Recall, Paycheck, Minority Report, all were playing to the lowest common denominator and really lost a lot of the feel that Dick conveys in his writing. Blade Runner came close, but it still missed the essential darkness that Dick brings to each and every one of his works.

Enter "A Scanner Darkly", aside from the Interpolative Rotoscoping that the film maker used to put the graphical images of this movie together and give it an amazing visual feel all its own, the vision and imagery conveyed by the film are as true to Dick's original as any movie has come. I left the theater feeling overwhelmed, touched, and changed, much the same way as when I'd finished the book. This is rare, and it is decidedly a beautiful thing.
344 out of 409 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
one of the more imaginative, thoughtful, complex possible 'cult' films of the decade
Quinoa19847 July 2006
It's not very often that Phillip K. Dick's writings get adapted well on to the screen. Films like Paycheck and Impostor might have there moments, but there is much lacking where high-tech action scenes and dreary direction replaces more of the thought in his work. Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, however, could be part of that handful of films (the others Scott's Blade Runner and Spielberg's Minority Report) that do justice to his sensibilities as both a science-fiction spinner and social satirist. The technique he uses to add some imagination is, at first assumption, interesting but a little outdated. Rotoscoping the live action with animation has been done since the late 70's, and Linklater himself used it for maybe his most philosophically complex film Waking Life. Here though the same technique he used before is put into a narrative that, compared to Waking Life, is non-linear to the point that it is very faithful to Dick's work. But there's more than meets the eye, literally, to what Linklater is doing with his technique. It really does fit the mood of the film, one where to abscond is almost second nature, but the control over thought and the similarly powerful self-destruction comes at high prices for decent people.

To discuss the story would have to involve much explanation of the characters, who they may (or may not as case is) be, and how drugs make up the integral, damned environment. Keanu Reeves is in one of his best performances, arguably, as Bob Arcter, apart of dealing what is called Substance-D, a very detrimental narcotic that sooner or later starts to play serious tricks on a person's mind (left brain vs. right brain is in many scenes). But Reeves is also Officer Fred, who has been assigned to infiltrate a group of addicts who might lead him and his police force into the higher networks of drug distribution. Those around him in his "undercover" state are James Barris (Robert Downey Jr), Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), Charles Freck (Rory Chochrane), and in one of the most crucial parts to the story Donna (Winona Ryder, quite a good comeback part). The theme of dehumanization around such technologies as a scanner in this film, where Fred/Arctor takes footage from the dingy home he usually hangs out in, are also akin to other pieces of Dick's work. I'm reminded of the tragedy in Minority Report of the cop who gets hooked on an illegal drug, and for what purpose in that story is made quite clear.

In A Scanner Darkly, however, the lines of morality are never totally clear, and the ambiguity goes along as little pieces start to fit together. While I might hold it as being one of the great Philip K. Dick adaptations, it's not to say that it is quite different from the others; this is not too far removed from what Linklater's style of dialog. To be sure to not please all in the sci-fi crowd, it's actually closer to being another of Linklater's 'in-the-now' stories of characters who talk, and talk some more, and it forces one to pay attention as opposed to having the dialog go light for more action. Downey Jr., who delivers one of the best supporting turns of the year, maybe has the most words to speak, as he's a character with few real morals but almost too much on his mind. And him along with Harrelson's character help define some of the pressing facts that go into looking at drugs in a movie. There's real paranoia, real mis-trust, a shifting of cognizance that becomes startling. One scene in particular, when Reeves is in bed with a woman and can't figure on if she is really SHE or not, and then goes over in in video, is an excellent take on the depths to which Substance-D- fictional for the film's sake but related to many real substances- and how the style connects very much so to the substance (no pun intended) in the film.

The style itself, provided by the animation directors, gives some immediate fascinations for the viewer. The whole idea of a character putting on a suit and being able to shift around faces and clothing at a second a clip provides such catching beats each time. The variations in certain scenes work very much as well. And there are more than a few instances where the style of rotoscoping itself, which makes the film seem immediately like a 'take drugs and watch this movie', is called into question. One might then ask before going into A Scanner Darkly, where the control of products that act as controls &/or inhibitors, is anti-drug or pro-drug. That I cannot quite, completely answer, though I might lean more to the former. Linklater, not just Dick, has several potent questions among others that may fizzle that are posed into the film, especially towards the last ten minutes. And what is even more surprising, and closer to being a relief, is that the film isn't even too preachy either. In fact, I was laughing through scenes in the middle bulk of the film, as Downey and Harrelson's characters made for some very sharp, witty lines and odd actions.

In short, it's got a different, 'quirky' artistry that combines some very good cinematography with so much that is tested with colors and shading and tones on the actors and settings that I will have to watch it again to take it all in. And the actors, more often than not, are completely fit in their roles, even when they suddenly reveal that all is not as it seems (I loved some of the twists that pop up). A cool premise and a superb use of abstractions as reality in the midst of the darkest satire of the year.
278 out of 343 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Absolute best adaptation of book to screen.
XweAponX7 January 2007
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.
174 out of 214 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Pure Phillip K. paranoia
illusionation17 July 2006
Saw this film today in a theater with no air conditioning on the hottest day of the year...pretty fitting for a movie about claustrophobic paranoia. I'd been looking forward to seeing this from the first time I saw the trailer. Whatever can be said about this film, there is no denying it's totally unique look. After awhile, you begin to get used to the rotoscoping and then suddenly, there will be something thrown in that will call attention to itself and remind you that you are watching animation. I am a fan of Dick's work, but have not yet read the novel upon which this film is based. Great performances all around and kudos to Linklater for his fantastic vision. The film could be considered a bit talky to the average moviegoer, but is much appreciated by fans of cerebral sci-fi. Fascinating premise is told through interesting blend of suspense and comedy. Not for everyone, but certainly worth a look. Certain to become a cult classic.
111 out of 139 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Breathtaking! Linklater Scores With A Gem.
roarkish12 July 2006
I am not a huge Linklater fan. His films usually give me a good laugh(Slacker, Dazed and Confused) or they present interesting concepts that will stir up good conversation(Waking Life) or they are for children(School of Rock). I don't consider him a great filmmaker but I would consider him an interesting storyteller and probably a great guy to talk to.

A Scanner Darkly changes everything. Even though Phillip K. Dick wrote it, Richard adapted the screenplay perfectly. I found that the film ran like a combination of Tarantinoesque chronology(Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs) and a Nolanesque confusion(Memento). The rotoscoping animation was used perfectly to highlight the cinematography. I left the theater with a sort of David Lynchish feel(Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive) but the plot lines were actually sewn up more neatly.

Having seen the film only once, in no way am I saying that A Scanner Darkly compares with the films I've mentioned, but with multiple viewings I am guessing that I may rank it somewhere close.

I can certainly see how someone that has never taken any psychedelics or ingested any type of psychotropic substance might feel less enthusiastic about some of the themes but I can't see them denouncing the film for that reason.

If you have ever gone on a "trip" then you will be instantly able to relate to some of the particular scenes.

I thought that everyone acted brilliantly in their particular roles. Keanu's agent should win some sort of award. Mr. Reeves is not in any way a credit to Shakespeare but his agent always seems to find certain roles that suit Keanu's tendencies.

I think it is undoubtable that this film becomes a cult classic. I hope it fares well at the box office because I would like to believe that the world is starting to appreciate good film more than it has of late.

If you enjoy a good "mind-bender" of a film that doesn't stop resonating in your head until days after you have seen it, then A Scanner Darkly is for you. If you go to the theater simply for spoon-fed entertainment, see this film anyway and hopefully you will wake up and have an original thought some time soon.
131 out of 174 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
What you read is not always what you see
Newtbick28 January 2007
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.
16 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Dick fans and drug film lovers rejoice
julien-5226 June 2006
I love Philip K. Dick's work and was pleased with this adaptation of "A Scanner Darkly." Keanu Reeves does a really good job in the lead - he's in his element here - but he's really upstaged by Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson who engage in some surreal and hilarious conversations. It's like you're sitting with a bunch of guys tripping. Needless to say, some of the dialogue is hilarious, and I can see this film becoming another cult classic. (When they talk about two hemispheres being separate, I couldn't help but think about "Repo Man.") As for the animation, I found it a bit distracting. I think I would have preferred the use of CGI when it came to the agent suit that continually blends the faces of about 1 million people so that the agent isn't recognized. If you like drug films, then this is a must see. If that's not your bag, then you might have some problems with the film. It's sometimes obtuse and the story a bit convoluted. It's best to sit back and experience the film. It's a drug trip in itself.
130 out of 180 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Imaginative and original
MrVibrating8 January 2007
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.
10 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Radiohead fans will love this movie.
Deckard-1622 July 2006
For some reason I can't get separate the way I feel about Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac albums from the way I feel about this movie. If you love adult sci-fi that is complex and strangely moving then this is a must see movie. This captures Philip K. Dick's spirit better than any movie since BLADERUNNER and is even more difficult to pin a reaction on. SCANNER is a more intimate film. Anybody who has seen Richard Linklater's mind boggling WAKING LIFE will be instantly familiar (and comfortable) with the way SCANNER looks. The rotoscoping technique doesn't seem that much further evolved from WAKING except for the scrambler suit whose effect is a continuous wonder to behold. The look beautifully suits the story because they both speak to the large disconnect that has happened in our society via technology. Interpersonal and immediately accessible intercommunication devices have allowed us to avoid real communication and immediate interaction with our surroundings and the people who inhabit them at any moment on a grander scale than ever before. I find it rather depressing and annoying when my current reality in interrupted by a bloody cell phone (unless, of course, it is mine that is ringing). Dick's work often addressed alienation and sinking so far into your own that reality became a liquid element usually washing us up onto the shores paranoia and madness. SCANNER evokes this strangeness in a way few movies ever have.
114 out of 183 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
It works here and there but doesn't hang together that well and fails to bring out the ideas and themes within the material
bob the moo29 August 2006
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.
14 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Visually amazing yet flawed
Quebec_Dragon23 May 2009
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
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Hazed and Dumfused
tedg7 October 2008
"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.
10 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
unique style gets slightly tiring
SnoopyStyle20 April 2016
It's seven years in the future. The country is struggling with 20% of the population addicted to a new drug Substance D. In Anaheim, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover agent who wears a scramble suit which changes his appearance like a chameleon. The drug war is supported by private corporation New Path. Bob is himself addicted and starting to lose his mind.

This is an unique movie of an original style. The rotorscoping animation style is hypnotic. It's not for everybody. It can be maddening to watch as the madness of this world can infect the audience. It's a visually weird movie. It gets tiring to watch. It may be better as an animated short than a full-length feature. The talkative story can also wear out its welcome.
8 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining" – Samuel Beckett (Molloy).
sparkster2423 August 2006
By this quotation Samuel Beckett was trying to show us the different realms of reality – a notion later developed and promulgated by Jean Baudrillard. The idea of different realities can be traced back to the beginning of the enlightenment with Rene Descartes famous aphorism 'cogito ergo sum', meaning 'I think, therefore, I am'.

This film is based upon P.K.Dick's novel which outlines a situation rather than following a hardcore narrative. A new hallucinogenic drug - substance D (which just so happens to take the initials of the film) - has got 20% of the population addicted and through the eyes of different addicts we follow different peoples' lives including dealers and policeman. Later on in the film, these roles will become more perplexing as the drugs taking over.

Set in the future, the audience views the characters in Japanese Animation in order to put them under the effect of the drug. Under the narcotics, the audience is always confused as to what is going on. The film centres on the paranoia (and unconscious creativity whether good or bad) that goes on as a result of the drugs. It is clear that both director and novelist have learnt a lot about hallucinogenics. In this warped world where reality is severely distorted, the film asks the audience many fundamental questions: what is reality (Baudrillard)? Are we under the influence of someone else (Descartes)? Does it matter (Satre)? It has been argued (for example, in Kant's epistemology,) that 'reality' is a subjective interpretation of an objective world. By contrast, Empiracists (such as David Hume,) may argue that we cannot ascertain anything. This debate is prefaced by 'The Matrix'.

The only criticism that can be made of this film is it lacks 'universal' appeal. Its target audience are those who can draw upon their own experiences (like any other film -) or those who can draw upon a wide range of academic knowledge on the subjects in question. Thus, this film has been made for someone with a level of understanding, experience and/or intelligence and will not appeal to the 'unthinking man/herd' (to quote Nietzsche). I would call this an artistic film because of the messages behind it and that in itself means it will cut out the 'uncultured'. However, like any other 'culture', to truly enjoy the film you need to give it your full attention otherwise you will not fully understand the sheer depth of the film. I'd also like point out that this is the ONLY film (so far) I have rated 10/10 and that's because I don't see how a film like this could have been improved upon. Everything in it has been through and well worked. No criticisms!
11 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Just May be Worthwhile with 3-D Glasses and Acid.
freeist28 September 2011
This movie fails like an iron kite: it just has a serious design flaw. Usually I could find some saving grace about a bad movie. Most often I think I could see what the director or scriptwriter probably intended, especially when they make an effort to select rich source material, like a Philip K. Dick's most personal story, and then film it in such a different way.

That's not true here. I can't really see what Director/Screenwriter Richard Linklater intended with this adaptation. There's no spark; I can't admire anything here. It's one thing to not be impressed, but instead of wishing scenes were better, or wishing he had given the script just one more rewrite, I wish he hadn't tried at all.

Why? First let's talk scenes that come to nothing. Such as the car being sabotaged. Don't get your hopes up, it doesn't lead to anything. Or ones like the bicycle scene, where the stoner humor was so lame Cheech & Chong should have busted them. Then whimsical scenes like James Barris' (Robert Downey, Jr.) "silencer," designed for slapstick, ends with a lame punchline and also leads absolutely nowhere.

How about characters that also go nowhere? Major characters, like Ernie (Woody Harrelson), who simply drop out of the plot never to return. In his last scene, he almost died, setting up some major character conflict. But I guess it wasn't important after all. Sorry I almost got interested. How about other, purportedly important characters who seem like walk-on parts, like Winona Ryder's?

The film has no flair or style to it. When I saw the look, I thought things would bet interesting once the hallucinations started, but so little was done with the animation (except for the scramble suits, interesting for ten minutes), I began to wonder if the entire purpose of the rotoscoping was to camouflage Keenu Reeves' usual flat performance and immobile face. If so, it didn't work. He was still uninterested, and uninteresting. When it comes time for some philosophical narration, his flat voice just does wonders for it. It's like Linklater wasn't happy that I just didn't understand it, he wanted to make sure I didn't care, either.

I swear, if this movie didn't have the muddy, slapdash animation, nobody whatsoever would be praising it. It would universally be considered a bomb. The Philip K. Dick fans would be calling it a total misfire, the animation fans (a lot of crossover there) of course, would say nothing, and drug crowd (pro- and anti-) would both admit it's dull and jumbled.

I could think of only two things I liked: Robert Downey Jr's performance as Barris (though he does seem to be doing a Jeff Goldblum imitation), and a suicide scene that was hilarious. Even with the latter, though, the character offing himself seemed to have almost nothing to do with the plot. I can't figure out why he was in there to begin with.

However, those count for little in a movie that's so boring. Even a hundred minutes felt long when most the scenes seemed like they could be cut without losing anything. It's talky. There's no action. There's no chemistry between Keenu Reeves and Winona Ryder. Add to that the fact that the characters don't look real enough, and the animation doesn't make them more intriguing. It simply gets in the way of connecting with any of them.

Generally, I don't take drugs, don't recommend them, but if you're given a choice between meth and this movie, take the meth.
12 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Boring and Pretentious
blackhawk667 August 2006
I found "A Scanner Darkly" to be boring, pretentious and unremarkable. Obviously, that is a minority opinion. I am not a fan of Phillip K. Dick, particularly, but I do appreciate some of his work. I have enjoyed some of the many movies based on his work. This is not one of them. I can't remember being as bored by any other movie as I was by this one. I disliked the characters, what they were doing, what they were saying, and how they were presented. The dialogue is pretty true to how drugged stoners talk, but unless you are a drugged stoner it is mostly boring to listen to (I admit there were a few actually humorous moments, but not enough to make watching the film bearable). The film has pretensions of making a "statement" about drug use, but the story is so convoluted and so full of plot holes that any meaning is completely lost. It is hard to tell if there are any actual performances in the movie. The animation is the only thing the movie has going for it and even that lost its novelty after the first ten minutes and simply became distracting. This is a relatively short movie but it felt much, much, much longer. It seemed like it would never end. I can see that this movie will appeal to druggies and to art film fans who prefer movies that are dark, depressing, poorly acted and don't make any sense (a comprehensible story is a negative for an art film). Why anyone else would want to see it is beyond me.
27 out of 50 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Excellent -- the most faithful Phillip K. Dick film adaptation to date
Orion5929 December 2006
This film was released with virtually no publicity and had the incredible bad luck to be released on the exact same day as PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST. It is a *very* faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick's classic sci-fi novel of the same name which does not stray from the book's plot and characters at all and uses lots of dialog straight from the printed pages. A truly noteworthy effort.

Dick's complex and paranoid story of an undercover narcotics detective in the near future being assigned to spy on and report on *himself* (in his undercover guise) is more germane to today's world than it was in 1977 when the novel was first published. It takes place in a world where widespread public video coverage, facial recognition software and constant surveillance are near-universal and the authorities are running wild in their latest "war on drug terrorism", trying to stamp out a new hallucinogen called "Substance D".

A SCANNER DARKLY has an wonderful cast: Keanu Reeves in the lead, with high-energy supporting performances by Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder -- all of them playing the undercover Reeves' stoner friends.

But here's the catch: The director took their live-action performances and then revived the old rotoscoping technique to turn his footage into an animated film (!). Although rotoscoping has been discounted in this age of high-end 3D animation, in this case it is used with great artistic flare. No attempt is made to make the results look "realistic" -- instead you get a surreal and impressionistic vision that really works well with the subject matter. But at the same time, they were careful not to overlay the actors faces with excess graphic work, so that the performances of Keanu Reeves and the rest of the cast come through very strongly -- perhaps even stronger than they would have if they had been presented as live-action.

It really is a superb film that clearly went over the heads of the studio execs, the distributors and the theater owners. And of course, it was up against the most financially successful blockbuster since RETURN OF THE KING and TITANIC, so it never had a chance at the box office, which is a shame. It has plenty of wild and funny moments along with the weird, quirky and dark paranoid scenes. It has now gone to DVD and hopefully will make some well-deserved additional money for the producers as it gains cult status -- which I have no doubt it will do, now that it is available to be seen by a much larger audience. Highly recommended, but expect to give your eyes and brain an enjoyable workout.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Highly visual and compelling movie--darkly.
travisvincent26 December 2006
A scanner darkly takes a few minutes to get use to. This movie didn't draw me in immediately with its storyline because its a bit hard to untangle. What did draw me in was the way in which it was filmed. Filmed in live action and then animated the film is visually arresting. I often spaced out of the storyline and sat in awe in the way in which it was filmed. Keanu reeves plays a spy who is trying to track users of substance d, a new deadly drug. He is also one of the people strung out on that very drug. what follows is a bit confusing at times but when the end comes, its pretty much spelled out for you and that awesome but then the movie ends and you don't see the final results of all of his effort. This is one nude scene with keanu, animated none the less but its full frontal. Robert downing Jr gives a really great neurotic performance ans woody harrelson plays strung out like no one can. A scanner darkly is a great movie and is worth seeing.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
This film has butchered a great Philip K. Dick book
IbleSnover21 July 2006
This film has completely missed the ENTIRE point of the book which is, that the book is told from the point of view, of detective Fred, undercover as Bob Arctor - ie from INSIDE HIS HEAD - first person.

This movie is like most other normal films, ie the viewpoint - is predominanty us looking in at the subjects, ie third person.

The only lip service to the book's first person viewpoint - are the completely flat and dull narrative by Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), and that what we see is generally a 3rd person view of the distorted events that Fred/Bob Arctor sees - but it doesn't work. Seeing the distorted events on screen is not the same as knowing what Bob was thinking as he saw them... The narrative is completely lifeless, the ridiculous animation effects are detrimental, because they DETRACT from the reality of the scene. No one who watches this film can possibly imagine that they are seeing what is, to Bob Arctor, reality... its a pathetic caricature, whereas Dick's book is more like a complete immersion into another person's warped and ever more deranged mind.

Having Fred/Bob on screen all the time also completely buries the nuances that the book develops around his gradually splitting personality. In the film, Fred/Bob is just one idiot that we are watching on screen. In the book, inside Fred's head, we see Bob recorded on video surveillance... and its great to see the little mental slip-ups that Fred's disintegrating mind makes, and how easily they make Bob seem like someone else... and it feels weird.. because a few moments ago, we were inside Bob's head, and the transition has been pretty seamless...

This film captures none of that. Linklater and the other idiots who made this film deserve to be shot.

Not since Total Recall has a P. K. Dick story been turned into such a crap film - and in fact, Total Recall, is absolutely craploads better than this rubbish. Total Recall was entertaining, although shallow, but its makers did a far better job of interpretation and interpolation, because they made it from quite a short story. In A Scanner Darkly, they had a whole book, and a great one... and they completely failed to make a decent film out of it.

This film is so bad, on so many levels - but the essence of its failure can be seen by this little comparison:

Take a person, place him in an empty room, staring at a blank wall. Then have a great author transcribe his thoughts into words. The result will be ... something. The more vivid his imagination is, the more you're going to get. It might be interesting, it might not, but at least there will be something, unless the guy is brain dead.

Then, take a video camera, point it at a blank wall, and press record. Then watch the recording. Utter boredom. And it will never be anything else. That is essentially what Linklater has done in this film. He has filmed ... nothing...

The genius of Philip K Dick's book, was not what happened, to the characters, in the plot, etc ... the genius was in how he described what was going on in Bob Arctors head etc.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although very different to what this film SHOULD have been, does show that this sort of weird, distorted, surreal, paranoid material CAN be turned into a great film. F&L begins with Depp's character hallucinating that he's being attacked by giant bats while he's driving. A Scanner Darkly begins with Jerry's hallucination that he is covered in giant crawly aphids. And, again, although the films are very different, the parallels don't end there...

Johnny Depp's narrative in Fear and Loathing, DOES help the audience get into his f*@&#ed up head ... Hunter S. Thomson would've been proud of that film...

Harrison Ford's narrative in Bladerunner is pretty average, but the film is brilliant in every other way and doesn't rely on the narrative - as can be seen from the directors cut.

Keanu Reeves narrative, in A Scanner Darkly, fails utterly, as does every other aspect of this film. Philip would've been disappointed, but not surprised...

This film is a complete failure. I give it 0/10.
24 out of 49 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Just good enough.
Boba_Fett113823 April 2012
With the use of rotoscoping, this clearly was an experimental project, that didn't entirely paid off, by the end.

Its techniques and visual style help to make this an original movie to watch but when you look past this, the movie has little else to offer. The main story doesn't always work out that compelling, since most the time it is just meandering around and there isn't really being a good enough conflict in it story. At least not in its first half. It tries to create this but it doesn't ever get handled or developed properly enough and doesn't work out, until its last half hour, or so.

For me the movie was just too often about nothing. I know that it's supposed to about the slow descent of a drug addict, so not everything is supposed to make sense or follow a fast paced, action packed main story but surely they could had spiced up things a bit more at times, with some shorter sequences, some more interesting dialog and by letting its main characters do some more interesting stuff. Some character now instead come across as redundant ones and too many of them don't help to let its story move along.

And while the whole rotoscoping thing in this movie helps to make it unique and gives the movie a strong visual style, it was not something I was always too fond of or impressed with. Sometimes when the camera moved around the effects looked flat, literally. And besides, the whole effect looks like a layer, which you can simply apply to your movie, with any random big editing program. But apparently it all wasn't as easy as it looks, since post-production for this movie went on for 18 months.

The one thing I did really like about this movie, was Robert Downey Jr.'s performance. It was the highlight of the movie for me and the only thing that was truly fun and interesting about it. Lots of other great actors also appear in this movie but none of them works out as well as Downey Jr. did. And no, Keanu Reeves is not horrible, his character is just kind of flat but I think this was more due to its writing and directing approach, that deliberately tried to make his character one that was more of an introvert one.

An interesting movie experiment, that didn't entirely worked out but is still worth a watch.


2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Faithful to the novel
dave13-19 February 2008
This movie succeeds not only at re-telling the story of the novel but in actually re-creating its intellectual landscape. PKD writes about perception, and often in terms of failure to make sense of or to be able to trust what is being perceived. What is truth, when one's own mind may be lying as an effect of drug use? Can anyone be trusted in a world in which everybody seems to be spying on everybody else? Are paranoia and psychosis even meaningful in such a world? These are the questions that permeate through the world of the book and are effectively raised in the world of the film. It is also an indictment of the effectiveness of the 'War on Drugs' that a 35 year old novel can be effectively translated into today's terms and still seem relevant. We see the same old anti-drug tactics and they are no more effective and no less dishonorable than they were in PKD's day. The odd rotoscoped look of the film is either mesmerizing or distracting depending on your point of view, but it makes for a rare and original viewing experience, alternately nightmarish and cartoonish. Recommended.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
an interesting movie which could have been handled better
vailsy25 January 2008
for me the biggest problem with this movie is that the creators of it are artists with no real comprehension about what it would be like to be the subject of a law enforcement or government related conspiracy

the makers almost certainly would have benefited by talking to some people who have actually been the subject of this kind of process. for example ex government or law enforcement employees who have been the subject of an internal investigation for example, wrongly accused, set up, put under surveillance etc

as a result too much air play is given to the 'druggie' or artsy elements, and Keanu Reeves just gets carried along like a piece of flotsam instead of fully engaging with or reacting to the situation he is facing. We feel his paranoia slightly on a drug induced level, but it never really permeates any deeper

even the druggie side of things isn't handled too realistically. all we really get are drug taking caricatures, and we never really get inside their heads

i did find the visual style to be interesting, and mostly enjoyed seeing how it altered the soundtrack. Since the visuals are not strictly real, the sound is invited to follow suit. Overall they had much more flexibility with regards to the sound than usual, and didn't technically have to record sound during production at all. As a result the soundtrack is very stripped down, quiet and claustrophobic, and quite experimental. It has a definite edginess and character to it, but again i do feel that so much more could have been done beyond the sonic weirdness

this is an interesting movie but it could have been a much more enjoyable one with a greater understanding of the subject material
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed