Friday, August 18, 2006

A SCANNER DARKLY - very funny, less profound

A SCANNER DARKLY is a new film from director Richard Linklater. To my mind, Linklater yo-yos as a director. DAZED AND CONFUSED and BEFORE SUNRISE & SUNSET are some of my favourite films, but BAD NEWS BEARS was one of the worst films I saw in 2005. A SCANNER DARKLY is a bit of a mixed bag.

It's based on a story by acclaimed sci-fi writer, Philip K. Dick, and, according to Doctor007, Linklater has managed the rare feat of adapting a Philip K Dick novel well. (I wouldn't know, as I haven't read the book upon which the movie is based.) At any rate, the movie is based in the near-future. California looks pretty much like it does now, just moreso. Government surveillance of its citizens is extreme and explicit and civil liberties have been eroded. Twenty percent of the population is addicted to a class A drug called Substance D and the Government is subservient to big pharma in the form of a company called "New Path" which may be peddling the drug as well as the cure. The only out-and-out neato sci-fi gadget is the "scramble-suit". This is basically an all-over body-suit that projects an ever-shifting array of faces and clothes to other people, totally disguising your identity.

In this world, we hang out with a bunch of junkies, played by
Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Junior, Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves. Philip K Dick and Downey Junior clearly know whereof they speak and the resulting script and delivery is absolutely hysterical. The drug-fuelled paranoia and doped-out logic of the dialogue made me laugh so much I cried.

But the book and the movie are clearly not just there for laughs. There is serious matter to be considered. The role of the Government and Big Pharma in our lives; the severe medical damage caused by heavy drug use; the difficulty of keeping hold of your identity when you are an under-cover agent. I feel that Linklater is a lot less successful at getting a handle on the serious stuff, perhaps just because the laughs are so good and come so often that the thriller part of the plot is obscured. At any rate, Philip K. Dick's lament for his friends who died from drug over-doses at the end of the movie came as a hard slap to the face. It made me question whether I had missed something in what had preceeded it.

Anyways, despite that slight mis-step, A SCANNER DARKLY is still definitely worth checking out because it IS really funny and secondly it just looks so damn cool. The movie was shot on digital film and then, using a technique called roto-scoping, animaters sort of traced over the film images, colouring them and distorting them where necessary. What you get is a sort-of other-wordly feel. The characters all look like the actors but seem somehow at a distance. It's like watching a really well-made live-action comic. Awesome.

A SCANNER DARKLY premiered out of competition at Cannes 2006 and went on limited release in the US in July. It is currently on release in Brazil and the UK. It opens in Portugal and Australia in September and in Italy, Japan and Spain in October.

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