Scanner Darkly

11 ratings (11 Epinions reviews)
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A Nightmarish Vision of the Near Future

Sep 8, 2006 (Updated Sep 18, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Interesting visual style, fascinating concept...

Cons:... but this film doesn't seem to do much with the premise.

The Bottom Line: Do you really want to enter a drug-induced nightmare and be forced to stay there for a couple of hours? If so you may actually like A Scanner Darkly.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

A Scanner Darkly is based on Philip K Dick’s novel, which was inspired by his own battle with drug addiction. It follows an undercover narcotics cop (Keanu Reeves) and his strange friends including James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), a self-styled expert on everything including Substance D addiction. Substance D is the new drug sweeping America and 20% of the population are addicted to it already. The film is set 7 years from now, which makes believability a little iffy, but the theme of drug addiction is relevant even if the scenario itself isn’t entirely plausible. Getting to the root of the Substance D problem is what Reeves’ character is trying to do, which is proving difficult as no-one seems to know where the drug is actually coming from. Local dealers are easy targets in the big brother world of 24-hour surveillance on every street, but getting higher up to the really big players seems impossible. Added to this, the main character isn’t aware that he’s part of a bigger plan…

The whole film is done with a new animation technique that is (as far as I could make out, I haven’t read up on it) achieved by having live-action run through an algorithm to achieve a comic-book like effect with heavy black outlines to everything, and digitally retouched by graphics artists frame by frame. It’s quite an eye-catching style, and is possibly based on a throw-away comment to Reeves’ character during a medical examination about Substance D affecting the visual sense. It doesn’t take long however before this effect becomes nondescript and it doesn’t make up for the lack of depth that the characters have. The acting wasn’t exactly bad, Reeves was fairly monochromatic but that did fit his character, but it certainly wasn’t inspiring.

I also had a problem with the plot. The initial premise was quite fascinating but was either confusing or predictable by turns. I strongly suspect that this is going to be a film that, like The Matrix, has a cult following who claim that everyone who doesn’t rate it highly simply doesn’t “get” it. I admit there are some bits that left me wondering what on earth it was all about, whereas one of the big plot twists near the end I saw coming miles away. It didn’t help that the movie seemed squarely aimed at juvenile delinquents – repeated crude language and gratuitous nudity throughout the film. In the end I just lost interest with the whole thing, which was a shame as I had really been looking forward to this film. It starts off quite interesting and looks unique, but the story failed to hold my interest and the look soon gets old. In fact the film didn’t work for me in some ways because it too effectively portrayed a drug-fuelled hallucinatory nightmare – it’s just that the nightmare doesn’t stop at any point in the movie. The stream-of-consciousness bits would have worked okay in print, but Keanu Reeves muttering on didn’t strike me as particularly inspiring or even particularly thought-provoking.

It does manage to make drug addiction seem even more horrific, which at least means that it achieves something good. As entertainment it really didn’t work, at least not for me. Very much an acquired taste, I think. Don’t expect to like this just because you enjoyed Bladerunner and / or Minority Report.

Other Information

Rating: R for drug and sexual content, language and a brief violent image (UK rating 15)
Runtime: 100 min

See Also

Top Ten Science Fiction Films



Recommend this product? No


Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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