A Scanner Darkly Richard Linklater

A Scanner Darkly was the first of two remarkable film adaptations put out by Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, School of Rock) just this year. (The second, Fast Food Nation, is still in theatres.) Based on Philip K. Dick’s dystopian 1977 novel, Scanner is set in a shabby near-future ("seven years from now”) in which a good part of the populace is hooked on a particularly nasty pill called Substance-D. The authorities maintain a rigid system of control through constant surveillance; the hero, Fred (Keanu Reeves), is an undercover operative for the state. Under the alias of Bob Arctor, he keeps tabs on his coterie of drug buddies (Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane) and on his girlfriend/contact (Winona Ryder). As hints of conspiracy and betrayal mount, Fred/Bob’s grip on reality, and on his identity, proceeds to unravel badly. Like Linklater’s 2001 masterpiece Waking Life, Scanner is visualised with rotoscoping technology, where live-action footage is painstakingly animated till the end result eerily blends human and cartoon movement. Here, the visuals are astonishingly fluid, bleeding almost imperceptibly from animation into live-action and back again. The end result hauntingly captures the dissociated mental state of the hero, his comrades, and the society at large. Far more than in most sci-fi movies, Scanner depicts the mundane everydayness of life in its future world; the characters sit around displaying the voluble capacity for talk that is a Linklater trademark but the more fantastical elements (the scramble suits the agents wear to hide their identities, Fred/Bob imagining his friends metamorphosing into bugs) emerge with uncanny ease. The film makes Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch look like a tidy academic exercise by comparison. With stellar contributions from the cast (and Reeves giving a career-best performance), A Scanner Darkly establishes Linklater as, if not the best, certainly the most original and unpredictable American director of his generation. The extras on the DVD include two separate "making of” documentaries. The on set doc with the actors provides fascinating glimpses of the film pre-rotoscope, while the one with the animation team reveals that their work took a staggering 18 months to complete. There are too-brief clips from a vintage interview with Philip K. Dick and a laidback commentary by Linklater, Reeves, producer Rick Pallotta, author/consultant Jonathan Lethem and Dick’s daughter, Isa Dick Hackett, that isn’t quite as incisive as you’d hope for, given how multilayered and complex the movie is. (Warner)