DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

A Scanner Darkly, Blu-ray (2006)

This is the second interpolated-Rotoscoped feature animation effort from Linklater, whose first film using the technique was the groundbreaking Waking Life.

Published on May 7, 2007

A Scanner Darkly, Blu-ray (2006)
A Scanner Darkly, Blu-ray (2006)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder
Director: Richard Linklater
Based on a Philip K. Dick novel
Studio: Warner Home Video 82966
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9, 1080p HD
Video: English DD 5.1, DD. 2.0
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary by Reeves, Linklater, Producer Tommy Pallotta, Author Jonathan Lethem and Philip K. Dick’s daughter; “One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming A Scanner Darkly;” “The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales;” Theatrical trailer
Length: 100 mins.
Rating: ****

This is the second interpolated-Rotoscoped feature animation effort from Linklater, whose first film using the technique was the groundbreaking Waking Life. The entire feature is shot on film just as with a standard motion picture. It is edited and “locked down,” then turned over to the animation specialists who draw right over each frame of the screen images on their graphic computers and create an entirely animated film – but one in which the characters move in a natural and believable manner rather than the jerky movement of most animated films. Also, their facial expressions are much more subtle and varied. A number of technical innovations have been developed since the making of Waking Life and many were used in A Scanner Darkly.  The animating process was expected to take nine months, but it required just twice as long to complete.

The plot centers around an illegal drug known as Substance D, on which a large percentage of the population is hooked. It can cause its users to develop split personalities. Which is what has happened to undercover cop Fred, who is working to bring down  Bob, who deals in the drug. But he doesn’t realize that Bob is the other side of his split personality. Paranoia is cultivated extensively – both caused by the drug and also by the authorities who secretly bug Bob/Fred’s house with hidden video cameras and mics. There’s also plenty of loopy humor, much of it centered on one of Bob’s friends who lives in the house with him, played with paranoiac gusto by Robert Downey Jr. The actors mention in the extras how they sort of exaggerated some of their roles in view of the fact this would be animation in the end.

Much is made of the “scramble suit” which Fred and the other drug agents wear, and which constantly shifts the wearer’s appearance thru thousands of men, women and children with different clothing. Perhaps Dick’s novel has a logical explanation for the gadget – which lends itself ideally to animation – but I didn’t get one from the film. All the animation is rather stylized, and seems to make light of what I understand is a stronger message of the perils of drug addition in the novel. I actually enjoyed Waking Life more, and it also has plenty of fantasy/dreamlike images in it.  I think Blade Runner and Total Recall did a better job realizing a Philip K. Dick story on the screen.

The hi-def transfer is lovely, but most animated features look great on standard DVD, so I’m not sure if this is that much of an improvement. The two featurettes are quite fascinating. You can now enjoy them while watching the film, but who would want to to that?  The interactivity with the commentary track is not anything special because most remotes have an Audio button which lets you switch the various audio tracks during the film.

 - John Sunier




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