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3.8 out of 5 stars
A Scanner Darkly (Widescreen)
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105 of 113 people found the following review helpful
This is a movie you definitely want on DVD - because you'll want to watch it first with just the movie playing, and then after that with the audio soundtrack that includes director Richard Linklater, actor Keanu Reeves and most importantly the daughter of Philip K Dick. The insights that she provides into the movie and the storyline are priceless.

It's important to realize that Philip K Dick usually wrote about characters, not action sequences - and specifically, he wrote about those in society who did not "fit in" well. If you look through his stories, you'll find they often feature people who are misfits, who society overlooks or forgets. In A Scanner Darkly, the featured 'oddballs' are druggies hooked on Substance D - a drug that is never really described, but apparently causes paranoia and hallucinations.

The key here is to sit down with a glass of wine, a big bowl of popcorn and settle back for a character-driven story. This isn't a Rambo or Dirty Dozen story - it's about how people relate to each other, in many subtle ways. It's a study of interactions.

I really appreciate that this was done in a combination of real life acting and animation. It floors me that in modern times anyone might look down on this because it is a "cartoon". Is a Renoir less worthy than an Ansel Adams because a Renoir was done by hand? Animation isn't inherently kiddie. Hand drawn works can contain quite mature topics. In this case it is *ideally* suited to the story - because a main aspect of the tale is that the characters never quite know what is real and what is imagination. Are the bugs really there? Can he trust what he sees? All signs point to NO. The viewer is caught up in this same confused world. If this had been live action, then 'odd things' would have instantly stood out. But the point of a drug haze is that everything seems 'unreal' - and so odd things fit into that flow much more smoothly.

If you don't know druggies, rest assured that characters like this are quite average - and this story is in essence an autobiography of Philip K Dick's life in the 70s. He lived in a house just like this with his two brothers after his divorce. He lost his wife and two young girls. He was very paranoid that one of his house-mates was a narc, spying on their druggie activities. One of his friends did think bugs were crawling on him. At the end of the movie is Dick's actual ending to the story - a list of his friends who were damaged or slain by drugs. Included on this list are his ex-wife and himself.

So what you have in the movie are the druggies at turns being nice to each other, being very cruel to each other, mistrusting each other, and turning to each other for help. One of the druggies - Bob - is actually a narc cop code-named Fred. He's gone undercover to figure out who is supplying Substance D to the area. Unfortunately, he's gotten himself hooked during his undercover work. Even worse, part of what Substance D does is to destroy your brain - so he's developed in essence split personalities. The Bob-Druggie part forgets most of the time he IS a narc. The narc half of him, when he's in the police station, knows he's spying on this group of druggies but forgets that he is one of them. So when the narc is told to specifically spy on "Bob", he literally doesn't realize that this is him.

Here's where the movie - trying to stuff a dense book into under 2 hours - has some problems. If you haven't read the book, it's not clear at all that Narc-Fred forgets who he is when he goes undercover as Bob. It's a big twist in the book, but in the movie it seems clear to the watcher that it's the same person, and it's not made clear in the story that he's forgetting his "other half".

Other than that, the story is really pretty straightforward, plot-wise. The druggies are paranoid about the world around them and plug on with their lives. The cops are trying to figure out who the supplier is, so they bug the house and try to get that information. Like most Dick stories, there's a twist, although to be honest I thought it would be a much larger twist. Also, like most Dick stories, there's little female presence and the ending is only slightly hopeful. These aren't happy-go-lucky romances that he writes - they are dark warnings about where society is heading when it marginalizes those who don't fit in perfectly.

If you're confused about the movie, I definitely recommend reading the novel. That might be easier to grasp and give you more insight into the characters. Then go back and watch the movie again - taking it slow. Pay attention to the nuances of what they say, and how the characters relate. See how they feel society is treating them - and then take a look what society actually does with these people. Maybe they aren't quite so paranoid after all - maybe there is some resaon for how they feel.
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150 of 171 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2006
Here's the interesting thing about Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly": for a film about heavy drug use set in the not too distant future, it's probably one of the most honest and complex anti-drug stories ever told. I say this in spite of the fact that I found the specifics of the plot incredibly difficult to grasp. All I could comprehend were the general bits of information, most of which were gathered from trailers and commercials. Apparently, a fictional drug called Substance D rules the streets of Orange County, California. It's a highly addictive, brain-frying narcotic that has a long list of negative side effects. It's also an illegal substance, one that undercover cop Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) has gotten quite familiar with in his attempt to locate its main distributor. Upon infiltrating the home of a group of pill popping slackers, he starts using in order to blend in. Unfortunately, this drugged lifestyle eventually leaves him unable to distinguish reality from hallucinations.

Through the cinematic process of rotoscoping, Linklater has enabled the audience to feel the exact same way as Arctor does. Each frame of film was traced over and stylistically repainted, making the world the characters live in--as well as the characters themselves--look half like a cartoon and half like the physical realm. It was an absolutely incredible look, and I found that it gave the story an added dimension by representing a kind of realistic unreality (if that makes any sense at all). In that sense, it's almost symbolic that the undercover cops wear scramble suits, which are high tech cloaks with anatomical images that continuously shift from one to the next (apparently, a single suit can project millions of appearances). The state of the world these characters live in is ruled by uncertainty and deception. Arctor is ultimately tested, not only in terms of what he believes to be the truth, but in terms of his state of mind, as well.

I now understand why that rotoscoping process was used for an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel. Only he could have written about the life-destroying effects of an addictive substance. Likewise, only this kind of film can do justice to the point he was trying to make, namely that you can't trust anyone, especially when you're addicted to a powerful drug. Unfortunately, elaborating on that point would give too much away; I will say that all in this movie isn't exactly as it seems, and more than a couple of characters have hidden agendas. There are a number of truths hidden amongst the film's eccentric style, and by the time you get halfway through, you're completely lost.

However, this is the kind of movie you don't mind getting lost in, even if you have no idea what's going on. I have to admit that while I understood the underlying message of the story, I barely understood this film as a whole. Watching the sequences unfold and listening to the characters interact is almost as brain scrambling as the evil Substance D is. This is especially true of the conversations between James Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), three of Arctor's equally spaced out friends. Their esoteric banter flows seamlessly from topic to topic in an Altered Consciousness sort of way, filled with anti-establishment ramblings that almost come off as poetic. It even gets comical at times; during a road trip to San Diego, Barris claims he left the front door of their house unlocked and attached a note for burglars to read (which, supposedly, was all part of an elaborate scheme to record the intruder and solve the mystery behind the Substance D ring).

There are some interesting moments shared between Arctor and his girlfriend, Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Their relationship revolves around their mutual abuse of Substance D, which doesn't exactly enhance their moments together so much as it leaves them in a perpetually dazed state of awareness. Their conversations are almost as esoteric as those of Barris, Luckman, and Freck, the only difference being a small degree of intimate, meaningful language. One also gets the sense that Arctor is trying to understand Donna as a person, specifically why she's behaving in certain ways. He knows how devastating the effects of Substance D can be, and he fears that maybe she's going too far with her usage. The two show genuine concern for one another, even when they find themselves lost in a conversation about drooping, floating cats.

Despite the free flowing course the story takes, everything does come together by the end. "A Scanner Darkly" is one of those movies that can cleverly hide behind a hallucinogenic facade in order to convey a serious message. If you're considering seeing this movie, you have to be willing to get jerked around somewhat, especially when it comes to your expectations for solid characterizations and straightforward storytelling. I think I knew all along that I'd find this film confusing; the ads made it perfectly clear that this was a very unconventional project. But in the end, I didn't really mind; the story takes on the form of a seriously warped puzzle, and I welcomed the opportunity to put the pieces together and figure things out for myself.

Let me end by quoting the tagline from Jim Henson's "Labyrinth": "A world where everything seems possible, and nothing is as it seems." I find this to be a fitting way to describe the world of "A Scanner Darkly." If you see it with that quote in mind, you just might come away with a better understanding of it.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2006
I enjoyed this movie thoroughly. It is not a movie glorifying drug use. It is a disturbingly accurate portrayal of the paranoia, confusion, selfishness and loss of personality that comes with the territory of being a junky. All told in a mildly sci-fi, hallucinatory and even humorous manner with a slight twist at the end. But don't be dissuaded if this sounds too heavy. It is quite entertaining, humorous and filled with great performances.

I am a little surprised at some of the reactions to this movie from people that couldn't understand it, or had trouble visualizing the movie with the unique animation, or didn't see the change in tone to a darker story that was blaringly obvious. To me the animation style was essential and even the scatter suits were reminiscent of the visualizations one gets on psychedelic drugs. The two doctors which were competing just like the two halves of his brain was amazing. The scene where he looks around his bosses desk and his visualizations aren't quite right is spine-tingling. The confused, paranoid, stoner scenes were brilliantly funny and equally disturbing but also very easy to follow. The performances particularly by Robert Downey Jr. were dead-on accurate, extremely entertaining personalities.

So don't be dissuaded by reviewers criticizing the specifics of the arresting animation, or who were confused by the plot and therefore thought it was thin and hard to follow. The problem in these cases lies with the viewer. This is a deeply emotional, easy to follow but very entertaining look at the drug subculture.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"A Scanner Darkly" is director Richard Linklater's second feature to employ rotoscoping, in which illustrators draw over the film or digital image to create animation that preserves the actors' performances. This is especially suited to the uncertain reality and identity-concealing "scramble suits" of Phillip K. Dick's novel of paranoia and oppression. Seven years from now, a highly addictive drug called Substance D sweeps the nation, destroying the lives and brains of millions. Fred (Keanu Reeves) is a narcotics agent assigned to observe drug dealer Bob Arctor. Bob lives with a shifty, garrulous dealer named Jim Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.) and fellow junkie Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), while he pines for frigid girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder). But Bob is in fact Fred, who became a Substance D user while undercover and is now unable to connect his two identities.

Although "A Scanner Darkly"'s animation is drawn with relatively broad strokes, its "painterly version of reality" allows the actors' performances to come through clearly. Robert Downey, Jr.'s clever, nearly incessant chatter is particularly memorable. There are a lot of long, inane conversations that fans of the novel may appreciate while other viewers may feel should have been left out. Those conversations slow the film down a lot, but on the other hand, it 's funny stuff. There is no denying that this is a movie for a certain taste. The animation is self-consciously stylized. The pace is uneven. The story is nebulous. But it has a lot to offer.

"A Scanner Darkly" seems to be first and foremost about paranoia, a subject that Phillip K. Dick knew intimately. The story itself is paranoid. The characters are paranoid. Junkies, authorities, and the public at large are overcome by fear of one another. When Phillip K. Dick wrote the book in 1977, it was a comment on the government's persecution of the drug counterculture and a reflection of Dick's own state of mind. Thirty years later, the widespread surveillance, fear-mongering media, and suspension of civil liberties in the name of public safety seem to be taken from today's headlines. "A Scanner Darkly" could still easily refer to the War on Drugs, but a government that engenders fear at home to justify military adventurism abroad seems more like the War on Terror. Or perhaps it is just that all ideological wars are the same.

Phillip K. Dick put a lot of himself into "A Scanner Darkly" and dedicated the book to his friends who lost their lives to drugs. Sometimes that adds interest. Sometimes it muddies ideas that could have been more pointed, as in the film's conflicted attitude toward drug use. But Phillip K. Dick fans will find another layer on which to view the film in Dick's personal preoccupations. Bob/Fred's break-in to his own home seems to mirror Dick's suspicion that he may have himself been responsible for the break-in that bolstered his belief that he was under FBI surveillance. And Bob Farris' ratting out his friends to the authorities for no apparent reason? Richard Linklater wrote and directed " A Scanner Darkly" with fans of the novel in mind, preserving its quirks. What was a dystopian picture of the near future when it was written is now provocative film about contemporary questions of civil liberties and the politics of fear.

The DVD (Warner 2006): Bonus features are 2 featurettes, an audio commentary, and theatrical trailer (2 min). "One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming a Scanner Darkly" (26 min) consists of interviews with Richard Linklater, the cast, and Phillip K. Dick's daughter Isa Dick Hackett, in which they talk about the film's themes and characters. Phillip K. Dick also appears in some archival interview footage. "The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales" (20 min) interviews Linklater, some of the lead animators, cinematographer Sterling Allen, and producer Tommy Pallotta about the18-month post-production process during which the film was animated. No discussion of the problems that resulted in firing the original head of animation. The audio commentary is by Richard Linklater, Keanu Reeves, Isa Dick Hackett, producer Tommy Pallotta, and scholar Jonathan Lethem. They discuss the film's themes, animation, and Phillip K. Dick.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2007
Richard Linklater entered the sci-fi arena in 2006 with his adaptation of the late Phillip K. Dick's semi-autobiographical novel "A Scanner Darkly". Set in a not-so-distant future L.A., the story injects themes of existential dilemma, drug-fueled paranoia and Orwellian government surveillance (hmm, that's timely) into what is otherwise a fairly standard undercover-cop-who's-gone-too-deep yarn.

Keanu Reeves stars as a dazed and confused narc who has become helplessly addicted to the mind-altering drug that he has been assigned to eradicate ("substance D"). Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and the perpetually dazed Linklater alumni Rory Cochrane are his fellow D-heads who may not exactly be whom they appear to be on the surface.

Adding to the mood of hallucinatory psychosis is Linklater's controversial use of rotoscoping (as per his underrated Waking Life). The rotoscoping technique does present challenges to the actors; Downey, with his Chaplinesque knack for physical expression, pulls it off best, while the more inert performers like Reeves and Ryder are akin to oil paintings.

Linklater's script keeps fairly close to its source material-particularly in relation to the more cerebral elements(Linklater's propensity for lots of talk and little action may be a turn-off for those expecting another Minority Report). Depending on what you bring with you, the film is a) a cautionary tale about addiction, b)a warning about encroaching technocracy, c) an indictment on the government's "war" on drugs, d) a really cool flick to watch while stoned, e) the longest 99 minutes of your life or f) all of the above.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Richard Linklater may seem like an odd choice at first to bring Philip K. Dick's classic story to life, yet with his pretty faithful screenplay and innovative film techniques, Linklater makes perfect sense to direct A Scanner Darkly. Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, and Rory Cochrane play drugged up, strung out friends hooked on a drug called Substance D in Orange Country, California in the very near future. Reeves is Bob, who unbeknownst to his friends, is an undercover spy for the government looking to gather info on the group, and wouldn't you know it that his two personalities begin to split until he doesn't know what's what. For the most part, Linklater nails the paranoid tone and feeling of being an addict, and the performances, particularly from Downey and Cochrane, are superb. Even Reeves goes beyond his typical, wooden self and gives a great performance. The biggest drawback of A Scanner Darkly is also it's biggest draw however: Linklater's "roto-scoping" technique (giving it the graphic novel look) which he used in Waking Life, doesn't always suit the story and tone. When the comedic elements strike, everything is brilliant. However, when the more serious and heart breaking elements of Dick's story come into play, the animation feels gimmicky. Despite that, A Scanner Darkly is still one of the best sci-fi movies released this year, and regardless of whether you are a fan of PKD or Linklater, this is definitely worth seeing.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2007
No indie film from the past six months is a worthier rent than Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly."

Based on Philip K. Dick's 1977 novel of the same name, this unlikely mix of sci-fi, political and existential elements has more twists to its plot than a bag of pretzels. Filmed in live action, it was painstakingly (500 hours of work per minute of film) traced over in animation to awesome results. Quietly released in July to less than 300 theaters nationwide, it deserves a second life on DVD.

While it is faithful to Dick's classic, some crucial changes are made, the most important being the alteration from a setting in 1994 to one in 2013 where Americans are monitored around the clock by their government, wear special suits to mask their identities, and are losing the War on Drugs. Much like today, the more high tech our lives become, the more freedom there is to be lost.

Bob Arctor, played by Keanu Reeves, is employed by the government to help eradicate the mercilessly addictive drug known simply as "D." However, his job requires he sample it, leading him to a double life that the drug keeps him from being fully aware of - narc by day, addict by night.

Life is no picnic for his chums, either. His friends Freck and Luckman, played by Rory Cochrane and Woody Harrelson respectively, are unrivaled in their paranoia, particularly Freck, who is so addicted he wakes up to the sensation of ravaging aphids all over his body and envisions his own assassination at the hands of the police.

He confides in Barris, played masterfully by Robert Downey Jr., whose scruples become so questionable that it underscores the helpless world these characters face. The always brilliant Winona Ryder plays Arctor's emotionally stunted girlfriend Donna who has more up her sleeve than meets the eye.

Reeves has never been an outstanding actor, still coasting on his pretty boy looks in his early forties. This does not matter. This not a character piece and it need not be. These are everyday people, particularly Arctor himself, the consummate family man until his life goes topsy turvy. The story is thus unfortunately true to life, as drug convictions happen routinely with big time traffickers scoring deals with prosecutors that end up severely punishing those lower on the totem pole instead. The 2013 world of "A Scanner Darkly" amplifies this truth to an extent that may well be just around the bend.

It is impossible to view the film and feel instantly tuned in to its capricious plot elements, but this does it no disservice.

This is no kiddie comic book sci-fi, and although it has touches of comedic and camp elements, it demands an open mind and an attentive viewing to be appreciated for its sheer relevance.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2007
Something which continues and builds upon what we have alread see? No my friends; great filmaking is something entirly original. What we have here, is a completly original movie complete with a star-studded cast. The plot isn't that insane-anyone can watch this movie and really walk away with more than with what they took in.

Oh, and this is one of the most gorgious Blu-ray titles I have yet seen! Honestly, the transfer will blow you away! Total eye-candy.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This is an artsy film, based upon a story by Philip K. Dick. (Yes, it's him again.) IT's a story set in the near future, when a new drug epidemic is crippling the land, the police are desperate to regain control, and people's freedoms are being curtailed through surveilance as a result. It stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson (there's a drug movie trio!), and Winona Ryder. Keanu plays an undercover cop, inhabiting a drug "nest" with a collection of drugged-out folks, trying to gather intel on where the drugs come from. It's a depiction of depravity and fall-from-grace that comes with addiction, and Keanu's fate shows us the tragic fall...and the only hope for mankind, that might come from it. It's interestingly-shot, using the "rotoscope animation" technique, and well-acted. Definitely thought-provoking...and not for little kids.
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2006
Phillip K. Dick's story of rampant drug use in the near future should serve as a warning to us today about what could happen if we don't make any progress in the "war on drugs" soon. Taking place in Anaheim seven years from, Keanu Reeves plays Bob Arctor, a cop who works for the sheriff's department. He is a deep undercover agent; in fact, he is so deep that his own agency doesn't even know his real name. He is known only as Fred, his codename. To keep his identity annonymous, he wears something called a scramble suit while working. The suit distorts his appearance and voice using prerecorded images and sound to mask his true form. His assignment forces him to infiltrate drug rings and earn their trust so that he can discover their supplier. In this world, most of America is hooked on something called Substance D, a highly addictive drug that wreaks havoc on the mind. When Bob is not at the office, we see him with a group of addicts, each of whom has had different reactions to the drug. Jim Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.) is an insane conspiracy theorist who tries to make homemade gun silencers with only himself in mind when it comes to protection from the law. Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson) is fried; he is prone to sudden mood swings, choking, and mad ravings. Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder) gets the drugs from the supplier and is very paranoid; she doesn't let anyone touch her, much to Bob's dismay. Finally, there is Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), who is only a fringe member of the group. He is so adversely affected by Substance D that he is seeing bugs all over himself and barely wants to live anymore. Bob, however, seems to have it the worst. He became addicted to keep his cover, and now his brain may be malfuntioning. His superior "suggests" that he see the department's psychologists, and what he learns is terrifying: His brain's two hemispheres are competing for dominance due to extensive damage to the once-prominent left hemisphere. Soon, Bob is experiencing things he shouldn't; he has vivid visions of his life before becoming a cop, he hears voices of people who aren't there, and begins to hallucinate. It doesn't help that Barris is right about some of his conspiracy theories; the government has resorted to "scanning" people's lives. Cameras and sound recording equipment are everywhere, phones are bugged, and someone watches everything that everyone does.

I don't want to give anything away, but the viewer eventually learns that neither side is just in the war on drugs. Dealers and suppliers are getting rich off of making people dependent on their junk, but it turns out that the noble soldiers trying to help us may not be so noble after all.

The most impressive thing about the film is the visual style. Director Richard Linklater used the unique animation technique in his film Waking Life, but it still comes off as fresh and original. Animating over scenes shot with live actors allows for interesting effects and a surreal feel to the film. All of the actors do very well, even Keanu. While he often seems monotonous, he shows us that he can actually act in this film. Downey and Harrelson are hilarious as the drugged-out characters Barris and Luckman, and while Ryder doesn't get that much screentime in the first half of the film, she does give a good performance.

The story is good, but viewers must pay close attention to everything. Tiny, insignificant details at the beginning become very relevant towards the end (yes, this is nothing new, but one very important thing isn't revealed until the very final scene). The film isn't for someone looking for a fun action piece, this is a serious film that requires the viewer to use their brain. If you want a summer popcorn flick or aren't a fan of Phillip Dick or Linklater, this film isn't for you. However, it is a good film, and anyone who wants to see an interesting look at the drug war should definitely see the film.
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