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Overall Rating

Awesome: 29.03%
Worth A Look: 20.97%
Pretty Bad: 1.61%
Total Crap: 4.84%

6 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Scanner Darkly, A
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by brianorndorf

"Robert Downey Jr. playing a paranoid drug addict. Yeah...whoopee."
3 stars

The way Richard Linklater envisions “Scanner Darkly” doesn’t quite match the limp pace of the film. The rotoscoped animation is wonderful, and assists the picture in realizing difficult futuristic concepts. But the actors let loose in this thing have no reigns, and the minute they open their mouths pontificating on paranoia and drugs, “Darkly” just dies.

In the near future, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) lives in a dilapidated commune-like home with his paranoid friends (Robert Downey, Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane), and is slowly succumbing to the psychoactive drug “Substance D.” He’s also Agent Fred, an undercover cop assigned to spy on Bob and his dealer girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder). As the drug begins to take a toll on his brain, Bob/Fred finds his consciousness melting away as he tries to maintain focus in his investigation, while his doctors and superiors start to recognize that he might be too far gone to complete his mission.

In perhaps author Philip K. Dick’s most personal novel, “Scanner Darkly” was an incisive comment on the drug-laden counterculture of the 1960s, exploring the themes of governmental surveillance and the debilitating effects of stimulants to predict a corroding future world of fear and control.

To best adapt Dick’s tale for the big screen, writer/director Richard Linklater has returned to the rotoscoped animation technique he employed for another mind-bender, the 2001 patience-tester “Waking Life.” Shooting the actors live on sets, and then painting over the footage to slash the leash of reality and putting the story into the scope it needs, Linklater has created the ultimate home for Dick’s work, which has often been abused with excessive production demands and glammy stars (“Total Recall,” “Minority Report”).

The thick-lined representations in “Darkly” throb and mutate around Bob/Fred and his crew of loonies, lending the picture the correct tone of pulsating mistrust to blossom from. Using a simplistic but effective animation design, “Darkly” looks tremendous, and the multi-colored visual scheme really gives the viewer something interesting to dig into, along with successfully realizing the sophisticated sci-fi ideas of the story (Fred’s identity protecting “scramble suit” is perfectly achieved).

However, whatever societal truth Dick was attempting to reveal with his book isn’t carried to its fullest potential by Linklater’s direction. Frequently letting the actors go off on wildly hallucinogenic, feverishly suspicious rants, “Darkly” quickly becomes exhausting as the filmmaker gives free reign to the actors to plunge the minutiae of drug-addled madness. Linklater puts the story on hold often for these frantic, tail-chasing sequences, and hires actors who’ve been down this road one too many times (Downey Jr. has cornered the market and then some playing jittery wackos), thus leaving the impact of the scenes sour and the acting derivative.

With a tale as dense as “Darkly,” steering the production away from a concentrated effort to nail the crux of the plot down seems like a wasted effort. By the end of the film, where Bob/Fred’s character arc brings him to the very source of his woe and the blinds of trust are finally ripped off, the moment is lost to Linklater’s dramatic haziness.

“Scanner Darkly” is a vividly interpreted film, and perhaps Dick fans will find more to play with here than the average viewer. But as a rotund demonstration of visual imagination and social insight, the absence of focus just murders the effort.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 07/07/06 09:33:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell visionary but very overrated 1 stars
1/10/10 Jeff Wilder Stylistically well-done with some genuine substance 4 stars
11/22/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 3 stars
8/31/08 Scarlet Keanu can act; RDJ steals the film, and thank God he's back 5 stars
5/08/07 hedd Love the book and this was better than expected 4 stars
4/25/07 Dude amazing 5 stars
2/19/07 Mia One word to describe it - bland. Reeves not at his best, & generally poor quality. 1 stars
2/02/07 Indrid Cold Don't see what the point of the rotoscoping is. Most of the plot is pointless too. 3 stars
12/15/06 Donny Martwick Its Awww right. 4 stars
12/09/06 kaz FINALLY in Oz!! Witty,sad & thoughtprovoking.. 5 stars
11/11/06 matt Enjoyable, but difficult to understand 4 stars
10/19/06 Joan Montserrat Very faithful to Dick, a unique movie that makes no cheap concessions and strikes for deep 5 stars
8/21/06 Adam This film was a lot deeper than I suspected. I really enjoyed it. Very true to addiction. 5 stars
8/08/06 gemma depicts overall a druguser comprehension 4 stars
8/06/06 jcjs so fine, mnd blower, go on weed helps too, just splendid right on, wowsa wowsa wowsa 5 stars
7/25/06 Mortis Faithful to PDK, excellent performance by all actors, A must see 5 stars
7/24/06 shane swank more faithful to Dick than others yet not quite there yet. despite flaws its relevant today 4 stars
7/24/06 malcolm interesting for about 20 minutes 2 stars
7/21/06 Agent Sands Much better than Waking Life. Downey and Harrelson are the highlights. 4 stars
7/17/06 Ronald Pottol very glad I saw it 5 stars
7/16/06 ogaga efevberha fantastic and really inspiring 5 stars
7/15/06 zeitgeist FINALLY a good PKD adaptation. Humorous, metaphorical...Brilliant. 5 stars
6/13/06 Kelly Garcia I am a fan of the book. Fantastic adaptation. Smart, funny, timely! 5 stars
6/11/06 San Lamar wait for dvd 3 stars
5/21/06 John Deere It's the 1978 "Lord of the Rings" all over again. Awesome. 5 stars
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  07-Jul-2006 (R)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006



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