by Tim Birkbeck
With any film directed by Richard Linklater there is murky, gloomy and mysterious nature to them.
For A Scanner Darkly the theme of paranoia runs prevalent throughout, and the adaptation of Philip K Dick’s 1977 sci-fi novel set in a near-future, when the US is obsessed with the war on drugs couldn’t be a more perfect setting for the constant look over your shoulder feel of paranoia.
Now hitting the shelves on Blu-Ray, the computer-animated film hasn’t lost any of its unique feel since its original 2006 release. In Linklater’s world where people are hooked on the hyper-addictive substance called D (for Death), the main focus is on four strung out friends who have different reactions to the drug and have different levels of paranoia to them.
The main protagonist of this weird narrative is Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), an undercover cop who wears a hi-tech disguise which conceals his identity like a shifting kaleidoscope who is part of the team who is meant to be cracking down on substance D, but instead become hooked on it himself. The irony of it all is going by his code name Fred, Arctor’s superiors detail him to basically keep an eye on himself and his group of rag tag “friends” James Barris (Robert Downey Jr), Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson).
Even though the film has that distinct Linklater feel to it, it is animator Bob Sabiston who deserves a lot of credit, using his unique and instantly identifiable digital-rotoscope technique, in which live action is re-created as a throbbing virtual reality, the film is given this almost dream like feel to it. Something which as a view almost makes you feel like you are on drugs whilst watching these four characters slowly lose their minds.
If this film didn’t already have you scratching your head, then seeing Downey Jr and Harrelson play these two high as a kite characters will make you wonder, why have these two never done these roles before, because they are the perfect light relief to an otherwise heavy subject matter. One such scene which these idiots have a pointless, jabbering argument about a bicycle that one of them has bought: a rare occasion on which they are talking about something other than drugs.
A Scanner Darkly is a very dour film, labouring under a lowering sky of paranoia and repressed discontent. It has the feel of the apocalypse about it, a sense of these being the last days, and it can now be enjoyed in all its Blu-ray glory.
Dir: Richard Linklater
Scr: Richard Linklater
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson
Prd: George Clooney, Ben Cosgrove, Jennifer Fox and Steven Soderbergh
Music: Graham Reynolds
Run time: 100 mins
A Scanner Darkly is out on DVD and Blu-ray now