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A movie directed by Richard Linklater

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An unexpected good time

  • Mar 7, 2008
Pros: Interesting story and decent interpretation

Cons: Predictable and the acting was only so-so

The Bottom Line: It is ultimately predictable but the strength of the story (once you get into it) makes the predictability just a minor nuisance.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

A Scanner Darkly a Philip K. Dick novel adapted for the screen by Richard Linklater is oddly alluring if you can make it past the first ten minutes or so.

The setting is “seven years from now” when one in five people are addicted to something just called Substance D. We see the movie primarily through 5 characters: Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), Jim Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder), Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane). The males form a semi-soft confederacy of convenience. Ernie and Jim live with Arctor who is a dealer in large quantities of Substance D.

One of the side-effects of this drug is paranoia (most drugs are like this as the use for pleasure becomes use for everyday living—true addiction). With paranoia comes conspiracy theories. The film has several overt and obvious conspiracies that are real, a few subtle ones that are also real, and the mostly incoherent theories that are totally wrong.

There are essentially three plotlines that all intersect through Arctor. The initial plot (and framing narrative) is of what amounts to DEA agents trying to infiltrate drug organizations just as you would expect. This story links with the Arctor drug situation and with the intimacy that Donna causes but refuses to participate in. If I go into any more detail, I will ruin the plot.

The reason I give the ten minute statement above is the odd choice to film A Scanner Darkly as semi-cartoon. The following is a quote from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Scanner_Darkly_Movie) : [The film] was filmed digitally . . . then animated with Rotoshop [which] uses an animation technique called interpolated rotoscope.” Anyway the effect is an effect of making very carefully drawn comic book characters not only “come to life” but to look so close to the “actor” who has been digitized that you could tell in half an instant who they were.

At first this bugged me and distracted me. But as the movie progressed I grew to like it in this context. For one thing there is a suit that the agents use that is constantly changing portions of the skin so that no one can see the person in the suit—I can’t imagine how this would be possible to do with live characters unless the budget was huge.

Similarly, it took me a rather long time to get into the story. Once I did, I liked it but found it predictable—at times some red herrings show up, but that is normal for this sort of story. Even when my predictions turned out to be true, it didn’t diminish my interest in the film.

It is a trage-comedy. The comedy parts are indeed funny, a couple of the scenes had me backing up to see them again. I didn’t expect anything to be laugh out loud funny, but there were a few scenes that were. The tragedies were the predictable parts of the film, so I will not go any further.

My main complaint is with the acting. Mr. Downey has played this part before, so has Mr. Harrelson so has Mr. Reeves. A Scanner Darkly changed the way they looked a bit, but that didn’t distract from the derivative performances in the long run.

I never thought I would ever type this. It is an above average film despite Mr. Reeves and Ms. Ryder.


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More A Scanner Darkly reviews
review by . January 21, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
The Cast
WARNING: This review contains spoilers!   Based upon what may be Philip K. Dick's most personal novel, the film A Scanner Darkly is an awe-inspiring "science fiction" film directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Waking Life). Linklater, who also wrote the screenplay, has done a remarkable job in staying as close as possible to Philip K. Dick's original story. In fact, out of all of the many films adapted or inspired by his work, A Scanner Darkly may be the most faithful. …
review by . November 02, 2008
A Scanner Darkly
To fully understand the movie, you'd have to read the book first. But to fully appreciate the movie, its best to have not read the book and have an open mind to the differences.     The plot: Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane) is covered in aphids. At least he thinks so. Freck hangs out with Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Bob Arctor's girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder).     What Bob's roommates don't know is that there is more to Bob …
review by . February 01, 2007
The first thing that strikes you about `A Scanner Darkly' is the animation. Innovative from the first frame, the only comparisons I can come up with is an advanced, artful leap from `Adult Swim' from The Cartoon Network or the adults' version of `The Polar Express'. Easily more fluid than either, the animation at first may come off as unnecessary, flashy, or just plain irritating. But once you get your brain hemispheres adjusted, you realize there is real method to the madness. But, oh boy, what …
review by . December 27, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Those who criticise this film for lacking in narrative drive are either missing the point or had been expecting something different. It is true that there is very little "plot" here (until the end), and much of the film involves sitting around the house, hanging out with Bob Arctor and his various friends and associates. The majority of the screen time in this film is devoted to establishing an atmosphere (and leaving a few hints about a larger plot) within which the central twist of the story will …
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Paul Savage ()
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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About this movie


Starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson
Directed by Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater (screenplay) Philip K.. Dick (Novel)
Based on the novel 'A Scanner Darkly' by Philip K. Dick
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