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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 EricDSnider

"Sure, it's nice to look at. But then what?"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Richard Linklater lost some street cred with "School of Rock," which violated true independent-film principles by being a box office success, and "Bad News Bears," which broke the rules by being a crappy remake. But the maverick director is back to his experimental roots with "A Scanner Darkly," a futuristic sci-fi story told, as was his 2001 film "Waking Life," through the magic of rotoscoping.

You may not know the word, but you've seen the process. It's when the images in a regular live-action film are traced over by animation artists, frame by frame, giving the movie a real-but-animated look. (Those of us of a certain age recall with fondness A-ha's "Take on Me" music video, which used rotoscoping extensively.) "Waking Life" was rotoscoped to enhance the movie's feeling of surreal dreaminess; "A Scanner Darkly" seems to be doing it just for the sake of doing it. If it weren't quasi-animated, there would be almost nothing about the film worth noting.

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick -- whose works have inspired films both good ("Minority Report," "Total Recall") and bad ("Impostor," "Paycheck") -- "Scanner" is set a few years in the future, in a heavily surveilled America where 20 percent of the citizens are addicted to a new illicit drug called Substance D. An organization called New Path is providing rehab for recovering D addicts, but their methods are mysterious and their treatment centers are not open to public scrutiny.

Officer Fred (Keanu Reeves) is a cop working deep undercover to expose a drug ring -- so deep even his co-workers don't know his true identity. (A costume called a scramble suit obscures the physical traits and voice of the wearer.) He shares a house with some paranoid burnout drug addicts, including Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson. (Well, OK, characters PLAYED by Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson.) One of them rats out someone named Robert Arctor as a drug dealer, unaware (as are the cops) that Robert Arctor is -- ta-da! -- Officer Fred.

Soon Officer Fred is being instructed to plant bugs in Robert Arctor's (i.e., his own) house and to secretly monitor all activities in the home, all in the interest of ferreting out the dealers and addicts. You can imagine what such an assignment does to the already rather schizophrenic Officer Fred, who's been taking Substance D himself to aid in infiltrating the drug ring.

A pretty decent premise, you'll agree, but the story doesn't give it the respect it deserves. Instead, it's used as a stepping-stone to a larger, more complicated treatise on the government's abuse of power (one of Dick's favorite themes). Which is all well and good, except "A Scanner Darkly," for all its intriguing visual elements, turns out to be a rather mundane story, not particularly surprising or twisty or inventive.

Acting-wise, it's like a greatest hits collection: Harrison and Downey play crazy people, and Reeves exudes his usual dull confusion. Winona Ryder is in there, too, as a friend of Robert Arctor's.

I think some people will be tricked by the unusual visual style into thinking the film is more interesting than it is. I say look beyond that at what's actually happening and you'll realize that without the rotoscoping, the movie would be completely undistinguished, competent but only mildly entertaining.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 04/18/06 14:15:02
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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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