Psychedelia For The 2000s
A Scanner Darkly is the long awaited adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, directed by Richard Linklater. I say long awaited because it was in post production for something like two years, having the animation/rotoscoping added. Was it worth it?
I never managed to see this at the pictures (that’s a Brit word for Movie Theatre) because it was only on for a fleeting moment. So I can only imagine what impact it had on the viewing audience. Even on quite a big viewing screen, it is absolutely-focusyoureyes-wonderful to watch. The technique used is called rotascoping and involves painting over each frame with bright colours and taking some of the detail out. Each frame. Every single one of the eight umptillions (lots of) frames had to be converted by hand.
As there was such a huge team working on this task, they had have ‘rules’ which governed how certain angles looked of whichever person they were working. For example, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) had a whole set of rules like the size of his beard, how scratchy it looked, how he should he look from the side etc etc. On your first viewing you’ll be too busy watching the effects to take any notice of the story.
A Scanner Darkly in itself is a wonder to watch; from the opening credits you get a sense of a cartoon feel, but a few seconds in and this dissipates. The stills you might have seen don’t really do the motion any justice. The images kind of ooze and wobble ever so slightly. No, personally, I’ve never done anything remotely like Substance D, which is the drug at the centre of the story, but I can imagine that if I ever did, it would have that effect on the visual cortex. (You get a good idea of how much is ‘added’ to the visual impact when you see the un-rotascoped footage; it’s just bland.)
The Scramble Suit effect is very pretty, with its constantly changing images of faces, bodies and clothes. If you watch closely (very closely - hovering on the pause button) you’ll see an image of Philip K. Dick himself. Think Yellow Submarine, but in a 21st Century way.
Unusually, I thought, was the line up for this film, simply because the main players are well known. There’s Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) as mentioned before, Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder), and James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) at the centre of the story, in which Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent, in just a little bit too deep, who is ordered to spy on himself. The interplay between Reeves and Harrelson is priceless - just check out the ‘gears on the bike scene’.
This is most definitely a film which you will either understand straight off, or just sit there scratching your head. And if you’re like me, and tend to watch for visual details in a film, you’ll be watching this film over and over and over again… . . . . .