A Scanner Darkly : The Film - The Book
Seven years in the future, Anheim, California, and gruff suburbanite, named Bob Archer (Keanu Reaves), is an undercover operative working in the Orange County drug enforcement unit, under the assumed guise of Frank.
You see, during his time in the office, Archer wears a specially designed scramble suit, that disguises both his body and his voice characteristics. Whilst, during his time at home, he hangs out at his apartment with his pals, Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and James Barris (Robert Downey Jr), plus his girlfriend, Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder) too.
However, the dichotomy with Archer / Frank is, is that he takes an illegal substance called ‘Substance D’ whilst working in a job against it. Moreover, this fact isn't known to his scramble suit wearing boss, Hank, whom orders 'Frank' after a tip off from his own house-mate, Barris, to investigate 'Archer' (himself) with the usage of some surveillance camera’s planted inside his own home.
Strange situation, right? But to make matters stranger still, ‘Substance D’ takes a-hold of him, and he starts to experience hallucinatory vision’s that impede him on a personal level and a professional one as well.
Now over time this strange goings on prompts the psychiatric department attached to Orange County. to interview Frank / Archer at great length, and try to ascertain from him what is wrong and why.
And do you think they figure out that Archer is in fact investigating himself whilst in the guise of Frank and taking 'Substance D'? Also, and if this is the case, why is it that what next transpires is as nutty as a nut flavored nut in nuts-ville? As friends hide their face - Orange County has a change of pace - drugs have a new center - and nobody knows what is safe to enter.
Have you ever heard of rotoscoping before? No! Well, it is an animation process that film’s actor’s performing a scene, and then traces said performance using animation techniques to produce half-real / half-manufactured animation. Now in my own personal opinion this film highlights this very specialist technique rather perfectly. Though I have to say that it can sometime be kind of distracting when you watch 'A Scanner Darkly' at times.
Please note, on some level I can understand why this filmic method was utilized in this movie, because the underlining story of a paranoid society in an alternate reality does mesh well with this ‘alternate’ method. Still, from time to time I found that my brain got a bit ‘irritated’, as: (1) On occasion, I could not figure out if the image on screen was real life or animation. (2) The hair on the actors can sometimes be a little ‘too polished’ for a scene. And (3) Every time there’s a scene with a scramble suit in it... well... its a pain in the ass to look at.
Still, whilst saying all of this, please let me make one thing perfectly clear, the actors – the story – and the overall packaging of this film is really-really good. Keanu plays the slightly off kilter Archer to a tea. Robert is a blast as Barris. And both Woody and Winona’s performances are very complementary too, especially Winona in all her digital glory.
Also, please let’s not forget to mention the man behind this film as well, novelist, Philip K Dick, as without his ability to etch a paranoid drug filled future down on page... ha... their would be no film to begin with. Plus there is some more trivia to boot: (1) Monty Pythons Terry Gilliam wanted to make this film in the early nineties. (2) Some of the instances in this film was based on Philip K. Dicks own drug experiences. (3) The title is an abbreviation of 1 Corinthians 13:12, which reads "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then, face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known." (4) Robert wrote most of his lines on post it notes and plastered them through out the scenes. The rotoscoping guys edited them out afterwards. (4) There are references of Philips other novels in this film, such as 'Ubik' and 'Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep'. (5) Post production of this film lasted for over a year and a half, whilst the actual filming only took 23 days. (6) This was the highest-grossing digitally rotoscoped animated feature ever, and grossing over seven million dollar. Still, it cost eight point seven million to make it.(7) Director, Richard Linklater, wanted to make Philips other novel, "Ubik" but decided to make this film instead, due to the persuasion of Wiley Wiggins. And (8) This is a great clip of Phil speaking about his book based on this film...
All in all, I hope that in the future this topic and this filmic technique can be expanded upon even more than it has, because in the right hands ‘A Scanner Darkly’ could be the precursor to things to come.
Bless you Dick, you mad genius you.
THE RATING: B