Monday, March 10, 2008

A Scanner Darkly

"A Scanner Darkly" (Richard Linklater, 2006) Adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story that doesn't really seem "Dick-ish" until the last few minutes. Up until then we're in the Land of the "Juiced and Confused." Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane and Winona Ryder are the disparate personality types in a low-class drug fraternity. They live their barely functioning lives of paranoid schemes and arrested thinking never knowing that Keanu Reeves is a "scanner," a drug officer who wears a visage-shifting "scan-suit" when he's on-duty. So, in other words, he's only "undercover," when he's in police headquarters. Then he goes out on his "assignment," taking off his "scan-suit" to become Keanu Reeves--which he does in the police locker room. So, in even more other words (just to make sure this is perfectly clear), he's only in disguise among his co-workers, and not when he's posing as a drug-dealer/taker.

I'm sorry, but does that make any sense?*

But the real story of "A Scanner Darkly," is it's the latest Linklater experiment in roto-scoping computer animation. The film-makers shoot the actors, mostly on location, and then animate over the footage, giving it a "living-comic-book" feel. It works on sone of the actors--Keanu Reeves' lack of expression keeps his cartoon character consistent, and Robert Downey, jr. plays a more-together Hunter Thompson mostly through the eyes and using a lot of humor, so he looks fine. But Harrelson and Cochrane, because they're being animated, take their characters over-the-top, or "outside the lines," if you will, and as a result, their characters are not so much cartoons, as caricatures, and wildly shifting caricatures, at that. The biggest problem on the technical side is Winona Ryder--her character and her rendering are inconsistent, sometimes producing really ugly effects. It's tough to caricature attractive women and the animators fail her time and again. The animation is an interesting experiment and solves location and special effects limitations, but ultimately the lack of a compelling story makes the film as interesting as a demonstration disk.

* Story-wise, it suits a purpose (barump-bump). But the scanner of Dick's book was a device for reviewing biographical information, not a suit that someone had to wear.


John said...

Disagree... I thought this was a sleeper hit of the year. Maybe I'm just too in love with the rotoscoping (I loved Waking Life.) And Woody's performance did fall flat, but was more than made up for by Robert Downey Jr. showing off why he's one of the 10 best living actors.

Yojimbo_5 said...

One performance does not a movie make. And you gotta admit that the whole scanner-suit idea INSIDE the police station was bosh. But if they didn't do it, they wouldn't have a story, which makes the whole movie a bogus exercise.

Agree to disagree.