Through a Scanner Dumbly

BW picked up passes to a free sneak preview of A Scanner Darkly, which was great because although I thought it looked interesting, I didn’t think it looked interesting enough to pay for.

I was right.

Mind you, I have never read anything by Philip K. Dick, and probably never will. So I can’t vouch for how true it was to the book or anything. All I know is, I have seen a lot of movies based upon the writings of Philip K. Dick, and haven’t enjoyed any of them, ever. Yes, I hate Blade Runner. It is one of my most-hated movies ever. There, I’ve said it, and I won’t recant.

Anyway, from what I witnessed, A Scanner Darkly continues in the tradition of Philip K. Dick movies that are slow, boring, confusing, and that try rather limply to warn us about the evils that lurk in the present through allegories about the “distopian” sci-fi future, as seen through the eyes of boring, personality-less characters. Been there, done that.

Scanner does have some things working for it that, say, Blade Runner or Minorty Report didn’t. It does, in fact, have some interesting characters. But, they are the supporting cast. The lead parts are as empty as Keanu Reeve’s well of acting talent. Some of the scenes featuring all of the “sidekicks” were genuinely entertaining. But in the end they added nothing to the movie, because this film had zero plot momentum and zero narrative drive. So the good scenes became just more filler.

Aside from the good support characters, the only other thing that held my interest during Scanner was the odd rotoscope process the movie was presented in. I’m sure you’ve seen stills…the movie looked animated, but it isn’t. Or rather, there are real actors that have a sort of overlay of animation on them, so clearly you’re watching Robert Downey Jr., but he’s been put through a cartoon filter. This was very pretty to look at, and I’m all for people doing new things on film, but I’d prefer there to be a sound story-dictated REASON for such design choices. I couldn’t find one in Scanner. I think it would have been the same movie if it had been a 100% ‘normal’ movie or 100% ‘normal’ animation. So while the rotoscoping didn’t add anything, it did take away from what otherwise would have been the soul-crushing boredom of the movie. Whenever I was bored, I just contemplated the animation instead, and it was really quite pretty and interesting.

It also taught me a few things: even a cartoon Keanu Reeves sucks! Somehow his utter lack of both talent and any capacity to make believable facial expressions shone through the pixel rendering! The character Keanu plays is seriously brain-damaged, and doesn’t have two synapses to rub together. On paper, that sounds like an ideal role for Keanu. But even though he’s basically playing himself, he still wasn’t convincing! And seeing Keanu and Winona together again brought back so many bad memories of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and how the two of them nearly ruined that flick. (Oddly enough, Bram Stocker’s Dracula is one of my favorite movies, and yet I hate about three-quarters of the cast. Go figure. It’s just that the rest of it kicks ass.)
On the other hand, even a cartoon Robert Downey Jr. still rocks the house! Turning him into a JPG does nothing to diminish his great charisma and mad acting skills. RDJ’s part was the one thing that made Scanner worth watching. Rent the movie, watch him, and FF the rest. You’ll thank me for it.

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