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August 7, 2006 | by  | in Film |
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A Scanner Darkly

Director Richard Linklater expressed his obsession with Sci-Fi writer Philip K. Dick in the final scene of his first foray into animated film, Waking Life. So it seems fitting that Linklater has become the next director (after Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg and Paul Verhoeven) to bring a Dick novel to the screen. Reinforcing the connection with Waking Life, Linklater uses the same animation technique, known as rotoscoping, to turn the live action footage of Scanner into something that resembles a graphic novel. The features of Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson, who make up the cast, are instantly recognisable, and help you get over the original look of the film, allowing the story to take over.

Set in Orange County, California, “7 years from now,” the science-fiction elements of the novel might have been over-emphasised by a lesser director. Linklater wisely decides to keep his film grounded in a world that is all too familiar through the use of a dull, lifelike colour palette. The beaten up Japanese imports that the characters drive around in, and the crappy, run down houses they inhabit help as well. America has lost the war on drugs, surveillance cameras are everywhere. 20% of the population are now addicted to the ubiquitous new drug, Substance D.

The story itself is complex. Fred (Reeves) is an undercover Narcotics agent, who reports to his superiors in a “scramble suit”, that blurs his physical identity into a set of constantly morphing images of random people. As such, his real-life identity as Bob Arctor, a burnt out drug addict, is hidden from Hank, the officer who he reports to. Things get really confused when Fred is instructed to investigate Bob Arctor, and his house gets wired up with the holographic scanners alluded to in the film’s title.

All up, this is perhaps the most faithful, straight-up adaptation of a Dick novel, and Linklater deserves kudos for his careful attention to detail. He has boiled the essence of the story down to its very core, taken the dialogue directly from the book and avoided the trap of creating a big action Sci-Fi thriller. A Scanner Darkly ends up being something far more enigmatic, this is a Blade Runner, not a Minority Report. Certainly, it is Linklater’s best film to date, and it firmly reminds that he is one of the most important and innovative filmmakers around.

DIRECTED BY RICHARD LINKLATER
New Zealand Film Festival

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