A Scanner Darkly (2006)
R Dir: Richard Linklater | Warner | 100 min.

Review By: Fusion3600 | January 28th, 2012

Plot: What’s it about?

In the not so distant future, mankind is imprison by addiction, a dependence more powerful than any known addictions that had been documented. This addiction plagues over one fifth of the population, a trend that threatens to decimate mankind if it continues untouched. The source is Substance D, also known as Death, a drug that once taken, is almost impossible to give up and destroys the brain. The process is slow however, so the user’s mind degrades a little at a time, sometimes to the point that the person has no idea what is happening. In order to battle the Substance D menace, a police state is granted and a special squad of undercover agents is let loose to shut down the dealers and sources. One such agent is Fred (Keanu Reeves), who has been assigned go undercover and obtain as much information possible about a dealer known as Bob Arctor. What should be a routine mission is complicated, as Fred and Arctor are the same person. But because of extensive use of Substance D, his brain has separated into two different personas, each unaware of the other. As his mind holds on by a thread and more Substance D is poured into his system, what will become of either of his personalities?

Although Philip K. Dick was one of the world’s greatest science fiction writers, overall his work hasn’t been adapted well to the screen. This is no fault of Dick’s, more to blame are unskilled directors and writers, who take great concepts and turn them into mediocre or downright miserable motion pictures. Now we can add A Scanner Darkly to the short list of effective Dick adaptations, as this is a faithful and well crafted take on the material. Richard Linklater took some minor liberties here and there, but these served to update, not reinvent. Linklater handles the story with great skill, keeping the same tone and bringing the plot to life on screen with wonderful style. As great as the story is and as well as Linklater transfers it to film, the incredible visuals are what push the movie to the next level. The technique of painting over live action works quite well for this concept, as if this is a living graphic novel. The style just seems to suit the material so well, as if it were designed to be produced in this fashion. Dick’s storytelling matched with this cutting edge, sometimes dream like visuals creates a striking presentation. The cast is impressive too, with Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, and Robert Downey, Jr., all in fine performances. A Scanner Darkly is a great movie in all respects, so I am left to give it a most high recommendation.

Video: How does it look?

A Scanner Darkly is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The visuals are crucial here, given the unique design, so the transfer needed to be excellent. As it happens, the transfer is just that and the visuals come across in vivid, pristine fashion. The animation looks great here, nothing is lost in the translation. I found detail to be high, but keep in mind the visual design doesn’t always allow for the usual kind of refinements. The colors run the spectrum, depending on the needs of the scenes, so sometimes the hues are vibrant, other times more restrained. The same holds true for black levels, which vary scene to scene, but remain true to the intended visuals. I can’t wait to see this in high definition, but until then, this transfer is terrific and should tide fans over until that next generation release.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn’t as impressive as the visual transfer, but the audio is still solid and offers no reason to complain. The surrounds are active often, but power isn’t the name of the game, instead the focus is on low key, immersive elements to build the film’s atmosphere. A lot can be heard in the background here and it all sounds great, thanks to a sound design that takes us right into the material. The music is loud and clear also, with good presence that adds life to the experience. No problems with dialogue either, as vocals are crisp and clear throughout. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French, just in case you’ll require those.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Richard Linklater and Keanu Reeves lead a roundtable commentary with several others, a discussion which yields some great insights into the production and the material. In addition to the usual production anecdotes, the group talks at length about Dick’s work and his ideas in general. You can tell Linklater has a passion for the material and this was a very personal project, which I think shows on screen as well. You can also watch two featurettes, one on the animation process and the other a general behind the scenes piece, but both are rather brief. This disc also includes the film’s theatrical trailer.

Disc Features
  • (1.85:1) Aspect Ratio
  • Video Codec: MPEG-2
  • Audio: Dolby Digital
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Audio Commentary
  • Deleted Scene(s)
  • Featurette
  • Documentary
  • Digital Copy
  • 1 Disc Set
A Scanner Darkly