Sci-Fi Storm

A Scanner Darkly Blu-ray review

by on Sep.12, 2010, under Movies

A Scanner Darkly, Blu-Ray caseAnother movie released last Tuesday as part of Warner Bros. big Blu-ray release was [asin=B003M8NGQM]A Scanner Darkly[/asin], based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Philip K. Dick. A relatively low-budget film, it is animated in an unusual computerized rotoscope method done over live action filming, so the characters resemble their real-life actors.

Set in a not-too-distant future where America has lost its “war” on drugs, Fred, an undercover cop, is one of many people hooked on the popular drug, “Substance D,” which causes its users to develop split personalities. Fred is obsessed with taking down Bob, a notorious drug dealer, but due to his “Substance D” addiction, he does not know that he is also Bob.

Based on a classic novel by Philip K. Dick and starring Keanu Reeves (Constantine, The Matrix trilogy), Academy Award®-nominee and Golden Globe®-winner Winona Ryder (Girl, Interrupted, Mr. Deeds), Academy Award® and Emmy-nominee and Golden Globe®-winner Robert Downey Jr. (Good Night, And Good Luck, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), and Academy Award® and Golden Globe®-nominee and Emmy-winner Woody Harrelson (North Country, The People vs. Larry Flynt). Directed by Academy Award®-nominee Richard Linklater (Me and Orson Welles, Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused). Filmed in live-action and then animated using the same critically acclaimed process that Linklater used in his previous film, Waking Life.

This is a bit of a bizarre story and can be a bit hard to follow, but the conversations among Arctor’s housemates was often amusing. The ending, like other Dick stories, seems a little ambiguous.

One of the things Hank/Donna is trying to uncover is how the New Path Corporation’s rehab facilities are funded. Arctor, after years of addiction to Substance D while undercover, is suffering a form of brain damage and is sent to one of the facilities where he is assigned to work on a farm. While walking through the corn field, he find a row of blue flowers – the flowers from which Substance D is derived. He leans down, picks one, and puts it in his boot, saying it is for his “friends”. And the movie ends.

I believe that despite the damage (his addiction was intentional on the part of his superiors, as a way to get an agent into New Path), Arctor retained enough of himself that he knew he had to get that flower back to his superiors – his “friends”.

The ending itself is a bit of a bummer, with Arctor having been basically destroyed for the sake of the investigation, but there is a glimmer of hope in his finding the flower and hiding it – both for himself (that there is enough of him left to reverse the damage) and for the world (an end to Substance D and hopefully the drug-fueled brain damaged culture).

Unfortunately I didn’t find the story particularly engrossing. I don’t know if it was the distraction of the animation, trying to figure out what was going on, wondering who Hank would turn out to be, or the rapid-fire dialog, but it had difficulty getting the point across to me.

I have not seen the movie in the theater or on DVD, so I’m not sure how the Blu-ray version compares. Given the animation, I’m not sure there would have been an improvement visually. And the audio is only available as DD5.1 – not even high definition audio or alternate language tracks, so it seems more like it was a straight DVD upconvert (the video at least is 1080p). Interestingly, they omitted one of the extras included on the DVD, about some of the behind the scenes stuff.

What you do get is:

– Full length commentary track featuring writer/director Richard Linklater, producer Tommy Pallotta, Keanu Reeves, author Johnathan Lethem and Isa Dick Hackett, daughter of Philip K. Dick.

– The Weight of The Line: Animation Tales (20:46) – Creating the animated feature from the live action.

– Theatrical Trailer (1:59)

This is among the cheaper Blu-ray releases so I don’t see the lack of features as a big deal, but I also don’t see a need to update from a DVD to a Blu-ray in this case.


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