Sunday, 23 March 2008

DVD: A Scanner Darkly

Lowdown: An undercover policeman is assigned to track down himself.
Review:
As science fiction writers go, Phillip K Dick may not be the most renowned, but as science fiction writers whose books have been converted to films he certainly is. Films based on his books include pure excellence such as Blade Runner and Total Recall, good stuff like The Minority Report, and not as good stuff like as Paycheck. Into the arena now steps A Scanner Darkly, and I have to say that it joins the latter camp rather than the former; that said, it is, by far, the most characteristically Phillip K Dick film of the lot. Then again, I was never a big fan of Dick's writing.
A Scanner Darkly is set in a near future world that is but a simple exaggeration of ours. In this world, people are openly pursued by the state for their opinions, something that is not done as openly in our world but is still very much done on a regular basis; and in this world there is a new drug called Substance D to which 20% of the population is addicted, which is not far from our world where more than 60% of the population has tried illegal drugs they shouldn't have been able to put their hands on in the first place.
Keanu Reeves stars as undercover cop whose role it is to uncover Substance D dealers. The police is so undercover that they really are undercover: policemen wear disguises that hide their identity even from their own colleagues.
In his home Keanu is hosting, for no apparent reason, a couple of weirdos; one day, Keanu's boss orders him to track Keanu himself in order to see what he's up to. It turns out that Keanu, who deals with Substance D dealers as a part of his covert operations, is being suspected of being a drug dealer simply because no one knows of his covert operations.
And so the plot thickens, but only slightly, with these twists of logic that in typical Dick fashion aim to destabilize the perception of reality and leave us, the viewers, as well as the characters, wondering what is real and what isn't. Thing is, things are so convoluted you never know where you're truly standing and you feel like you're watching a David Lynch film (not a positive experience in my book). Add on top of that a plot that never really gets much anywhere and you can see why A Scanner Darkly is not a film I think highly of.
Two things do stand out as special for A Scanner Darkly. The first is the cast, which is both very narrow in numbers and very unique in composition: Aside of Reeves we have Robert Downy Jr, who seems to have developed a niche of his own for the role of the sophisticated weirdo (as per Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Zodiac); we have Woody Harrelson, who seems to have got to a point in his career where he is able to choose only the weirdest roles to make a living; and we also have Winona Ryder in the female lead - now, where has she been for the last ten years?
The second thing that makes the movie unique is its look: A Scanner Darkly was shot in real life, but everything was animated on top to give the film this surrealistic look one would associate with a drug experience. It's weird, you can clearly see why other films don't follow suit, but it fits Darkly.
Representative scene: The heroes come back home after they left it with the door unlocked and a note inviting people to go in stuck on the door. They find that the intruders that must have visited managed to hide all traces of their intrusion. At the next scene, we learn that people did go in to install hidden surveillance cameras in the house.
Picture quality: It's hard to tell with the surrealistic animation thing, but at least there's no noise.
Sound quality: Other than a few sparks of interest at the beginning, this is a very boring affair.
Overall: Too convoluted for its own good. 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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