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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Keanu Reeves
Rory Cochrane
Woody Harrelson
Winona Ryder.
Directors
Richard Linklater.
Screenwriters
Richard Linklater.
Running Time
100 minutes

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A Scanner Darkly
Richard Linklater's adaptation of the Philip K. Dick book.


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Plot
Anaheim, California, the near future. Bob Arctor (Reeves), an addict to the drug Substance D, is actually an undercover cop out to bust the D network. Bob’s bosses, who don’t know his cover story, order him to spy on himself, causing his grip on reality to be shaken by his schizoid way of life.


Review
A Scanner Darkly
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Well before he popped his first pill, the keyword for Philip K. Dick’s fiction was ‘paranoia’. Like a lot of science-fiction writers who started in the 1950s, Dick looked at the streamlined, post-War miracle of the United States and felt it was crawling with bugs, by which he meant both alien-insect invaders and surveillance devices planted by covert forces. Watch any Twilight Zone rerun for a taste of the times.
 
Dick, paid by the word and working for pulps, turned to amphetamines to keep him at the typewriter. By the 1970s, the habit had mushroomed into an extensive, mostly tragic drug experience. A Scanner Darkly, written in 1973 but not published until 1977, is his most direct fictional representation of this part of his life. By the time the novel came out, Dick was (mostly) off drugs, but paranoia was so much a part of his worldview that he wouldn’t have been cured of it if he could.
 
If Dick’s literary personality has been felt in earlier film adaptations, from Blade Runner through Total Recall to Minority Report, it has been almost accidental. His imaginings have been filleted to become the material of star-driven, big effects films he would have despised. The usual approach to Dick has been to take his high-concept ideas (often from minor short stories) and use them to propel a macho leading man through action scenes against a colourful futuristic backdrop. Richard Linklater does something different with A Scanner Darkly. For a start, he is the first director since Ridley Scott to take one of Dick’s major novels as a source; moreover, he might well be the first director ever to feel Dick is worth a faithful adaptation rather than the source for a handful of cool ideas that could be stripped while the rest of the matter got thrown away.
 
Scanner is almost not a science-fiction novel, though its plot depends on one amusing bit of gadgetry — the ‘scramble suit’ which makes undercover hero ‘Fred’ unrecognisable to his superiors whenever he reports, so that the cops order ‘Fred’ to spy on ‘Bob Arctor’ without (perhaps) realising they are the same person. Linklater uses the rotoscope process he pioneered in Waking Life, treating images to an animated overlay, almost entirely because it’s the only effective way of putting a ‘scramble suit’ onscreen without seeming ridiculous. However, the cartooniness pays off in other drug-related fantasy moments, often involving insects or morphing identities. 
 
Linklater’s adaptation is skilful, blending the late ‘60s with the present, subtly adding the war on terror to the war on drugs, and picking up on Dick’s many prescient insights (like total surveillance of public and private space). He even satisfyingly sorts out the slight fizzle of the book’s last chapters, though this means making the hero’s girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder) slightly less distinctive a bitch (after a bunch of marriages, Dick tended to write women as monsters or androids). Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson are all suited by talent, prior screen history and life experience to fit into this world, and they make the free-associating junkie dialogues funny, scary and dumb by turns. Reeves, slipping into what might be an anti-Matrix, is strong as the identity-collapsing Fred/Bob — especially when we (but not he) perceive what his undercover mission really requires.


Verdict
For Dick fans, this is pure, uncut, grade-A dope. For others, it’s a series of dizzying moments with an overall downer effect. Still, its intelligence makes it near-essential viewing.


Reviewed by Kim Newman


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Average user rating for A Scanner Darkly
Empire Star Rating

F***ing KIm Newman again - worst reviewer ever ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 00:34, 07 May 2012 | Report This Post


pretencious horseshit at it's very best ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 00:34, 07 May 2012 | Report This Post


A Scanner Darkly Review

A faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly takes the viewer on a visual and mind-blowing journey into the author's conception of a drug-addled and politically unstable world. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 00:42, 13 April 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Makes Sense if you've read the book

tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405296/]A Scanner Darkly You can say what you about Richard Linklater and his work but not that he makes the same kind of film twice. But that doesn`t always work out very well, like in this sci-fi drama (with a bit of film noir). The story itself  I found to be quite interesting but the way it`s been brought to the screen started to get annoying quite fast. The animations draw the attention too much away from it instead of really adding something to it. You can ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 21:55, 07 December 2011 | Report This Post


Makes Sense if you've read the book

Rotoscope was a brilliant way to capture the druggy weirdness of the original story, and casting a bunch of actors who had all been under the influence was a masterstroke. Obviously totally bonkers otherwise, but takes you on a trip without inhaling. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mojojojo at 20:48, 01 June 2010 | Report This Post


Nuff said ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by elimonator at 11:08, 06 May 2010 | Report This Post


A very ambitious and brave idea to attack the work of Philip Dick and with the use of the rotoscoping it adds to the film's sense of paranoia. A very good if slightly flawed movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by willchadwick at 13:14, 27 May 2009 | Report This Post


It's a fantastic film to look at on screen but honestly I didn't actually get it at all. I was highly confused and only around 50 minutes in did I get what was going on. It shouldn't really take 50 minutes or so to explain to me what is going on. Some good witty dialogue in there from Robert Downey Jr but apart from that I didn't think it to be that good. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PureAinmhi at 12:04, 10 May 2009 | Report This Post


An innovative masterpiece.

Dazzling, very original and unique. Really clever. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 06:11, 25 July 2008 | Report This Post


Scanner Darkly

Strange, disconcerting, hard to get into. Good acting and effects, but the animation distracted me from the movie and the story. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 04:42, 22 July 2008 | Report This Post


Scanner Darkly

Strange, disconcerting, hard to get into. Good acting and effects, but the animation distracted me from the movie and the story. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 04:42, 22 July 2008 | Report This Post


Very Clever

A mind-numbing experience- very interesting ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 09:06, 16 June 2008 | Report This Post


Head-Itching!

This don't make a lot of sense, it's so mixed up and the script is all over the place. Sure, it's clever when they used the leads as cartoon people but come on, arren't we supposed to get this? I've seen it a couple of times and still don't get it, though I'm getting The Matrix and a lot of people don't understand that movie. A real shame because it had some clever artwork and fanastic Hollywood stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 13:51, 01 June 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Scanned Darkly

Dick filtered rather than filletted and all the better for it.The illusion of rotoscoping layed over the delusional paranoid perceptions of it's main characters. Dick finally gets the treatment he deserves. A highly manufactured artefact: after filming it took 18 months to animate. The excellent acting shines through the well drawn craftsmanship.The surveillance society with the lubrication of paranoia fuelled the machine of Nixon's America, which Dick(whose home had been broken into and papers ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by john.sharman27 at 22:23, 31 January 2007 | Report This Post


A classic marmite film...

I wanted to love it, I wanted to feel I could understand it all fully without needing to look at IMDB afterwards, but I'm afraid I couldn't. I loved the rotoscope, very stylish...but overall I just didn't enjoy this film. I'm sure it may be one I look back on and enjoy much more in the future and may really show its true colours on repeat viewings. But for now its a 2 star bit of a let-down. Have to say though, again Linklater shows a lot of skill and what id' still deem as 'promise'. I think th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by discodave101 at 15:16, 28 January 2007 | Report This Post


RE: [Clever drug reference]!

only one word needed to describe A Skanner Darkly AMAZING! ... More

Posted by big_al at 16:04, 27 January 2007 | Report This Post


RE: [Clever drug reference]!

A brave and satisfying attempt to bring Philip K Dick's tricky novel to the screen, which remains surprisingly (and pleasingly) faithful to the source material and Dick's trademark themes of surveillance, drugs and paranoia. There's no doubt the roto-scoping animation is what elevates this film above the norm, being perfectly suited to the material by imparting a feeling of disorientation and un-reality upon the viewer that reflects that experienced by the characters.&nbs... More

Posted by MOTH at 13:55, 26 January 2007 | Report This Post


[Clever drug reference]!

What seems at first to be a meandering, pointless, confusing and at times hilarious experience suddenly, with its closing minutes, reveals a deeply saddening twist, dispelling instantly the baffling and jovial atmosphere. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by wooz at 00:13, 11 January 2007 | Report This Post


essential viewing for any Sci fi fan. great performance from Robert Downey jnr- on a roll after KISS KISS BANG BANG. hadnt got a clue what was going on- but thatbwas the point- neither di Bob Arctor ( Reeves) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 16:20, 30 September 2006 | Report This Post


Drugs man..they're like...whoaa man you've got black outlines!

Booo! If I wanted to listen to drugged up slackers, i'd attend university. The messaage seems to be that there is no personal responsibility and drug abuse is the fault of the government. Seriously poor. I was so bored I lit a joint in the cinema and then fell asleep. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by gunstar at 20:38, 10 September 2006 | Report This Post


also

and obviously the animation was amazing :-) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by michelletabor2000 at 15:35, 04 September 2006 | Report This Post


also

and obviously the animation was amazing :-) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by michelletabor2000 at 15:35, 04 September 2006 | Report This Post


awsome

found it a bit strange, and having not read any of Dick's stuff a bit confusing at times, but great. now i need to watch it again, this time with a spliff so i can work out exactly whats going on...... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by michelletabor2000 at 15:34, 04 September 2006 | Report This Post


this film made my head spin and i dont mean that as a compliment maybe if i had been on drugs it would have made more sense. the rotoscoping animation was a novelty that paled quickly particularly the everchanging suit which was damm irritating. an animated keanu reeves a contradiction in terms! the endless stoned dialogues coutesy of downey harrelson and rory cochrane was just jibberish even if some of it was vaguely amusinga first animated ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by quizkid at 15:47, 30 August 2006 | Report This Post


Darlk and disturbing

Wow! Is simply the best phrase to describe this film in a way that comes close to the effect it had on me. With such vivid and innovative visuals and intense plot with its twists turns and shock a minute style presentation will garuntee this movie to be the DVD cult classic that rivals the boom that5 Donnie Darko claimed. Not many films stay with you for so long, in depth discussions about the various roles and actions of the distinct characters. Not only that but the persona; reflections of you... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jimmysteel at 16:23, 29 August 2006 | Report This Post


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