Title: A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Studio: (Warner Bros.)
Director: Richard Linklater
Featuring: Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane, Mitch Baker, and Keanu Reeves
Contemporary cinema circa 1980 to present would be in a sad state of affairs were it not for the ability of some filmmakers to take the paranoiac fantasies of Philip K. Dick‘s novels and short stories and turn them into richly imagined SF movies that resonate deeply due to their philosophical underpinnings, mostly those revolving around the nature of reality and consciousness and the ability of the state to police and monitor its people with extreme prejudice. I mean, just imagine a world never influenced by the artistic vision that is Blade Runner (both Dick’s source novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” and Scott’s insanely vivid film).
PKD, as the late author is known by fans, wrote some incredible insights into the future… in much the same way the writing of Arthur C. Clarke presaged the Space Age in the mid-1960’s, PKD’s work presages a future that has largely come true for us in the present. The rise of 24/7 monitoring of the populace in Western countries, the creation of new forms of mind-altering substances, the Information Age in general… PKD was on the cutting edge, and in many ways, though as dead as dead can be, he still is. Richard Linklater’s animated film version of A Scanner Darkly is truly faithful to its source material. Though of course there’s the consolidation and restructuring that occurs with literary adaptations, the film represents a very accurate view of PKD’s vision for a future where a drug called Substance D has sway over a large part of the populace, though the film centers on Orange County, California and a lone undercover narc/cop whose codename Fred (Keanu Reeves in a somewhat multiple role) belies his real identity, and with the help of a “Scramble Suit” Fred’s identity is never truly known, even to his superiors. Fred is also known to the Substance D./drug underground as an addict named Bob Arctor, and it’s through this persona that we get to meet the other characters involved in the drama of substance abuse and a police state that’s possibly in collusion with the manufacturers of Substance D.
It’s a twisty little film that takes some careful viewing to discover the troubling philosophical issues at its core. The nature of reality and consciousness, primary to PKD’s work, are toyed with here by using an animation technique that Linklater and his head of animation, Bob Sabiston developed for another of his films, Waking Life. The result is pretty cool looking, definitely versatile in terms of underscoring the character’s psychological state, and trippy throughout. The Scramble Suit is wonderfully realized in a way that would have been difficult in live-action, even using CGI. On the whole this is, again, an actor’s film, with powerful performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Rory Cochrane in particular. Downey Jr. is simply astounding as usual, and there are some hilarious scenes of paranoiac banter that he enriches with his often rapid-fire delivery and gesticulations. Woody Harrelson is also pretty funny as a drugged-out slacker, and Reeves is his usual dour self. Winona Ryder comes off admirably as Donna, who has a bit of a intriguing background herself.
In all, the film is a slow moving, but visually engrossing view of PKD’s constant conundrum: how best to live in a society where reality is fractured and you may not be totally who you seem, even to yourself.
The Blu-ray disc transfer is sharp, clean and wonderful looking, but though it’s not quite a showcase disc it comes close because of the rotoscoped animation techniques used in the film. The video resolution is at 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85 widescreen. The audio offered borders on sub-standard for a hi-def release in my opinion, as this soundtrack of this film is as interesting as its look… here we are offered an English only Dolby Digital 5.1 (Plus) mix. Subtitles can be found in English, French and Spanish. Features include an audio commentary by Keanu Reeves, writer/director Richard Linklater, producer Tommy Pallotta, author Jonathan Lethem and Philip K. Dick’s daughter Isa Dick-Hackett. There’s a making-of feature called One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming A Scanner Darkly, another one called The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales and a theatrical trailer. Not a bad package all-in-all and worth picking up if you’ve even got a passing interest in Philip K. Dick’s novels and short stories.