A Scanner Darkly is a faithful adaptation of visionary author / drug-hound Philip K. Dick’s 1977 novel of the same name. The year is 2013 and the US government has finally lost its war on drugs, with 20% of the population now addicted to “Substance D” (street name “Death”).
Keanu Reeves plays Bob Arctor, an undercover narcotics cop sent to investigate a house full of D users who are suspected of being one of the main “Death” dealers in California. But there’s a twist, as Reeves is actually a Substance D addict himself and, unaware to his superiors, lives in the very house he is supposed to be investigating.
Using a process known as “rotoscoping” - it is shot as a live action movie then painted over by animators to make it look like a comic strip – he has created a hallucinogenic look that perfectly matches Arctor’s, and Dick’s for that matter, disturbed psyche.
This technique also gives Reeves’ usually expressionless visage some much needed emotion and allows stoner buddies Downey Jr and Harrelson to make the most of their cartoonish characteristics. However, the strange mix of fast-talking comedy and Dick’s prescient Orwellian vision of paranoia begins to jar after a while, and the confusing plot will leave some viewers frustrated as Reeves’ true identity is often impossible to pin down.
For those that do manage to keep track of the plot, however, there is a brilliant final twist that bears comparison with The Usual Suspects or M. Night Shyamalan at his best.
Writer/director Richard Linklater is joined by producer Tom Pallotta, Dick historian Jonathan Lethem, and star Keanu Reeves for an informative - if slightly dull - audio commentary.
Of more interest are the excerpts of archive footage featuring Dick himself, which lay out the events in his own life which inspired the novel. Also included are two twenty minute featurettes, entitled "One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming 'A Scanner Darkly'" and "The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales" respectively.
While the former focuses on the standard, live action section of the filmmaking process, the latter looks at the amazing work done by Bob Sabiston and his ground-breaking animation team after filming had wrapped.
Dick is one of the most prolific science fiction writers in history (he was paid per word by his publisher and developed an amphetamine habit as he battled to keep producing new stories to pay the bills) and was the inspiration for blockbusters such as Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall.
However, whereas before directors have taken ideas from Dick’s short stories and turned them into their own vision, Richard Linklater has attempted to make a loyal adaptation of the source material.
Staring: Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson,
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Extras: Audio commentary, 'The Story Of Filming A Scanner Darkly' documentary, 'The Weight Of The Line : Animation Tales' documentary, Theatrical trailer