A Scanner Darkly (film)
|A Scanner Darkly|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard Linklater|
|Written by||Richard Linklater|
|Based on||A Scanner Darkly
by Philip K. Dick
|Music by||Graham Reynolds|
|Cinematography||Shane F. Kelly|
|Editing by||Sandra Adair|
|Distributed by||Warner Independent Pictures|
|Running time||100 minutes|
A Scanner Darkly is a 2006 American animated science fiction thriller film directed by Richard Linklater based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick. The film tells the story of identity and deception in a near-future dystopia constantly under intrusive high-technology police surveillance in the midst of a drug addiction epidemic. The film was shot digitally and then animated using interpolated rotoscope, an animation technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, for use in live-action and animated films, over the original footage, giving it its distinctive animated look.
The film was written and directed by Richard Linklater and stars Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr., and Rory Cochrane. Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney are among the executive producers. A Scanner Darkly had a limited release in July 2006, and then a wider release later that month. The film was screened at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival, and nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form in 2007.
The US has lost the war on drugs. Substance D, a powerful drug causing bizarre hallucinations, has swept the country. In response, the government develops an invasive, high-tech surveillance system and a network of undercover informants.
Bob Arctor is a detective assigned to immerse himself in the drug's underworld and infiltrate the supply chain. Arctor and his housemates, Luckman and Barris, live in a run-down suburban house in Anaheim. They pass their days taking drugs and having long, paranoiac conversations. At the police station, Arctor is code-named Fred and maintains privacy by wearing a “scramble suit” that constantly changes every aspect of his appearance. Arctor’s senior officer Hank, and all other undercover officers, also wear scramble suits.
While undercover, Arctor becomes addicted to Substance D. Arctor also befriends a cocaine addict named Donna; she is Arctor’s supplier. Arctor hopes to purchase large enough quantities of Substance D from Donna that she is forced to introduce him to her own supplier, but he also develops romantic feelings towards her. Donna rejects Arctor’s sexual advances, and Barris questions the nature of their relationship.
Hank orders Fred to step up surveillance on the group. Hank suggests that Fred concentrate his surveillance on the suspected ringleader, Arctor, thereby ordering him to spy on himself. Meanwhile, the justified paranoia of Arctor’s housemates reaches extreme levels, and he becomes wrapped up in their concerns. Barris secretly contacts the police and tells them he suspects Donna and Arctor of being terrorists; he unknowingly conveys this information to Arctor at the police station, in his scramble-suited role of Detective Fred.
Arctor’s prolonged use of Substance D damages his brain, causing him increasingly to lose track of his identity, and the fact that “Fred” and Arctor are the same person.
After Barris supplies the police with a faked recording allegedly proving his claims about Donna and Arctor, Hank orders that Barris be held on charges of providing false information. After Barris’s arrest, Hank reveals to Fred that he has deduced his true identity by a process of elimination. “Fred” is surprised to learn that he is really Arctor, and becomes disoriented. Hank informs him that the real purpose of the surveillance was to catch Barris, not Arctor; the police suspected Barris of being involved in the Substance D supply chain, and were deliberately increasing his paranoia until he attempted to cover his tracks. Hank reprimands Arctor for becoming addicted to Substance D, and warns him that he will be disciplined.
As Arctor undergoes a mental breakdown in the office, Hank phones Donna and asks her to take Arctor to New Path, a corporation that runs a series of rehabilitation clinics. After Arctor leaves the office, Hank enters the locker room and removes his scramble suit, revealing his true identity to the audience—Donna. At New Path, Arctor experiences the symptoms of Substance D withdrawal, including more severe brain damage.
Some time later, Donna (whose real name is Audrey) converses with a fellow police officer, Mike, and the audience learns that New Path is responsible for the manufacture and distribution of Substance D; ironically they use victims of the drug to tend their crops, since (being nearly mindless) they can be trusted not to reveal New Path’s secret. Audrey and Mike are part of a police operation to infiltrate New Path, and Arctor was selected—without his knowledge—to carry out the sting. The police had intended for Arctor to become addicted to Substance D; his health was sacrificed so that he might enter a rehabilitation center unnoticed as a genuine addict. They debate whether enough of Arctor’s mind will recover that he grasps the situation and returns with evidence.
New Path sends Arctor to work at an isolated New Path farming prison, where he spots rows of blue flowers hidden between rows of corn. These flowers, referenced throughout the film, are the source of Substance D. As the film ends, Arctor hides a blue flower in his boot, so that when he returns to the New Path clinic during Thanksgiving he can give it to his friends.
The end credits feature an abridged version of the afterword of Dick's novel, in which Dick lists people he knew who have suffered serious permanent physical or mental damage (brain damage, psychosis, pancreatic trauma, etc.) or death as a result of drug use. Dick includes his own name on the list, as "Phil", a victim of permanent pancreatic damage.
Linklater adds another name to the credits and dedicates the film to the memory of Louis H. Mackey, an influential philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin; he had appeared in two of Linklater's previous films. Mackey died in 2004.
- Keanu Reeves as Bob Arctor / Fred / Bruce. Arctor is an undercover detective who works at the local Police Station. Arctor tries to blend in with his housemates Barris and Luckman, becoming addicted to “Substance D” in the process. As the film progresses Arctor suffers the effects of being addicted to the drug, and his mind breaks down to the point where he can no longer determine what is fact and what is fiction. In his role as detective Fred, Arctor wears a scramble suit to hide his true identity. As part of the rehabilitation program, Arctor is renamed Bruce and put through psychological reconditioning treatments.
- Robert Downey, Jr. as James Barris, a drug addict who lives with Arctor and Luckman. Barris is manipulative in his behaviour towards the other members of the group and he appears to have his own agenda.
- Woody Harrelson as Ernie Luckman. Luckman is a drug addict who lives with Arctor and Barris. Luckman is the most laid-back member of the group.
- Winona Ryder as Donna Hawthorne / Audrey / Hank. Donna is a low-level drug dealer who supplies Arctor with “Substance D”. At the film's conclusion it is revealed that Donna is really an undercover Police detective named Audrey, who also poses as Arctor's supervisor Hank. Audrey wears a scramble suit while at the Police Station to hide her true identity.
- Rory Cochrane as Charles Freck. Freck is a drug addict who lives in his own apartment and associates with the group. Freck has been using “Substance D” either more frequently or for longer periods of time than the other members of the group. At the start of the film he is seen suffering severe side effects. His mental breakdown is quicker than the others’ and, unable to cope, he attempts suicide. Freck's bid fails and he is admitted to New Path for rehabilitation.
Originally, Richard Linklater toyed with adapting the Philip K. Dick novel Ubik but stopped early on because he was unable to obtain the rights and he "couldn't quite crack it." He began thinking about A Scanner Darkly, another Dick novel while talking to producer Tommy Pallotta during the making of Waking Life. Linklater liked A Scanner Darkly more than Ubik and felt that he could make a film out of it. According to Linklater, the challenge was to capture "the humor and exuberance of the book but not let go of the sad and tragic." Linklater was not interested in turning the book into a big budget action thriller as had been done in the past because he felt that A Scanner Darkly was "about these guys and what they're all doing in their alternative world and what's going through their minds is really what keeps the story moving." He wanted to keep the budget under $10 million so that he could have more creative control, remain faithful to the book, and make it an animated film.
After completing School of Rock, Linklater told Pallotta that he wanted to make A Scanner Darkly next. It was important to him that Dick's estate approve his film. Pallotta wrote a personal appeal and pitched a faithful adaptation of the novel to Russ Galen, the Philip K. Dick estate's literary agent who shared it with the late author's two daughters (Laura Leslie and Isa Hackett) who own and operate their father's trust. Dick's daughters weren't too keen on "a cartoon version" of A Scanner Darkly. After high profile adaptations, Minority Report and Paycheck, they took a more proactive role in evaluating every film proposal, including unusual projects like Linklater's. They read Linklater's screenplay and then met with him to discuss their respective visions of A Scanner Darkly. They felt that it was one of their father's most personal stories and liked that Linklater wasn't going to treat the drug aspects lightly, that he wanted to set it in the near future and make it right away.
For the dual roles of Arctor and Fred, Linklater thought of Keanu Reeves, but figured that the actor would be burnt out from making another science fiction film after making The Matrix trilogy. Robert Downey Jr. was attracted to the film when he heard Reeves was going to star and Linklater to direct. He thought that the script was the strangest one he had ever read. Linklater wrote the role of Freck with Rory Cochrane in mind. The actor was interested but didn't want to recreate his role in Dazed and Confused. Both Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder agreed to appear in the film based on the script. Both Reeves and Ryder agreed to work for the Screen Actors Guild scale rate plus any back-end profits. As with Linklater's earlier Waking Life, syndicated radio host Alex Jones has a small cameo as himself.
Linklater assembled the cast for two weeks of rehearsals in Austin, Texas before principal photography began in order to fine-tune the script. The result was a fusion of Linklater's writing, the novel and the actors' input. To prepare for their respective roles, Cochrane came up with his character five minutes before he got on the elevator to work; Downey Jr. memorized his dialogue by writing it all out in run-on sentences, studying them and then converting them to acronyms; and Reeves relied on the book, marking down each scene in the screenplay to the corresponding page.
Principal photography began on 17 May 2004 and lasted six weeks. Arctor's house was located on Eric Circle in Southeast Austin. The previous tenants had left a month prior to filming and left the place in such a state that production designer Bruce Curtis had to make few modifications so that it looked like a run-down home. The filmmakers had looked at 60 houses before settling on this one. Linklater shot a lot of exteriors in Anaheim, California and then composited them into the Austin footage in post-production. Since the live action footage was to be animated over later, makeup, lighting and visible equipment, like boom mics, were less of a concern. However, cinematographer Shane Kelly carefully composed shots and used a color palette with the animators in mind. Sometimes, they would show up to tell Kelly what they needed. Because the movie was being shot digitally and then animated, occasionally actors forgot they would later be animated as they worked through a scene. Robert Downey Jr. noted that he completely forgot the scene would later be animated as he worked through several takes in order to produce the smoke ring that would be featured in Barris' first closeup shot.
After principal photography was finished, the film was transferred to QuickTime for a 15-month animation process: interpolated rotoscoping. A Scanner Darkly was filmed digitally using the Panasonic AG-DVX100 and then animated with Rotoshop, a proprietary graphics editing program created by Bob Sabiston. Rotoshop uses an animation technique called interpolated rotoscope, which was previously used in Linklater's film Waking Life. Linklater discussed the ideas and inspiration behind his use of rotoscoping in a UK documentary about him in 2004, linking it to his personal experiences of lucid dreaming. Rotoscoping in traditional cel animation originally involved tracing over film frame-by-frame. This is similar in some respects to the rotoscope style of filmmaker Ralph Bakshi. Rotoshop animation makes use of vector keyframes, and interpolates the in-between frames automatically.
The animation phase was a trying process for Linklater who said, "I know how to make a movie, but I don't really know how to handle the animation." He had gone the animation route because he felt that there was very little animation targeted for adults.
Originally, the film was supposed to be released in September 2005. Most of the animators were hired locally with only a few of them having movie-making experience. Six weeks into the animation process, only a few animated sequences were close to being completed while Linklater was off making Bad News Bears. Sabiston had divided the animators into five teams and split the work amongst them. However, there was poor communication between the teams, and the uniform animation style that Linklater wanted was not being implemented. After almost two months some animators were still learning the software and Linklater became frustrated with the lack of progress.
Animation and training for the 30 new artists had begun 28 October 2004. In late November, Mark Gill, head of Warner Independent Pictures, asked for a status report. There were no finished sequences as the majority of animators were still learning to implement the film's highly-detailed style. Under pressure, some animators worked 18-hour days for two weeks in order to produce a trailer, which seemed to appease Gill and Linklater. Sabiston and his team were falling behind on the studio's 6-month animation schedule and asked that the schedule be extended to a year and that the 2 million dollar animation budget be enlarged accordingly. This created tension and in January 2005, while Sabiston and his four-person core team were strategizing at a local cafe, Pallotta changed the locks and seized their workstations, replacing them with two local artists, Jason Archer and Paul Beck. Sabiston's four team leaders Patrick Thornton, Randy Cole, Katy O'Connor, and Jennifer Drummond subsequently received the credit "additional animation" in the film, despite having worked six months designing the general look of the animation and the scramble suit, hiring and training animators, and 3D compositing.
The studio increased the budget from $6.7 to $8.7 million and gave Linklater six months to finish the film. Pallotta took charge and instituted a more traditional Disney-esque production ethic that included a style manual, strict deadlines, and breaking the film up into smaller segments. The animation process lasted 15 months. Linklater said, in regard to the post-production problems, "There's a lot of misinformation out there... Changes took place during the early stages of us really getting going on this had everything to do with management and not art. It was a budgetary concern, essentially."
A test screening in December 2005 went reasonably well. A revised release date was set for 31 March 2006, but Gill felt that there would not be enough time to mount a proper promotional campaign and the date was changed to 7 July, putting the film up against Pixar's Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
The score (more than an hour's worth is in the film) was provided by Austin, Texas-based composer Graham Reynolds. Linklater approached Reynolds in 2003 after a club performance and suggested Reynolds create the score for A Scanner Darkly. Linklater and Reynolds had worked previously on Live from Shiva's Dance Floor, a 20 minute short featuring Timothy "Speed" Levitch.
The composition and recording process took over one and a half years (the unusual time allotment was due to the film's time-consuming animation process) and was done in Reynolds' east Austin home, in his bedroom. This is not a synthesized score; all the instruments except electric guitar and bass were acoustic, though many were transformed through effects. The film also includes clips of five Radiohead songs — "Fog", "Skttrbrain (Four Tet Mix)", "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy", "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", (although it appears uncredited), "Reckoner" — and one Thom Yorke solo song, "Black Swan." An early test screening featured an all-Radiohead soundtrack.
The album is available from Lakeshore Records and includes the score by Graham Reynolds featuring the Golden Arm Trio. Additionally, the CD includes exclusive remixes of Graham's music by DJ Spooky and Jack Dangers (Meat Beat Manifesto). After finishing the film, Reynolds set to work on remixing the surround sound music into stereo. He then selected 44 minutes out of the film score in order to craft a listening CD while attempting to retain some feel of the arc of the film. Some of the shorter cues were assembled into longer CD tracks.
A Scanner Darkly opened in 17 theaters and grossed $391,672 for a per-theater average of $23,039. The film saw some expansion in later weeks, but ultimately was about $1 million short of earning back its $8.7 million production budget. It grossed $5.5 million in North America and $2.1 million elsewhere.
Critical response 
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote that the film "has a kind of hypnotic visual appeal". Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times found the film "engrossing" and wrote that "the brilliance of [the film] is how it suggests, without bombast or fanfare, the ways in which the real world has come to resemble the dark world of comic books". In his review for the Village Voice, J. Hoberman wrote, "What's extraordinary about Linklater's animation, computer-rotoscoped in the fashion of his 2001 Waking Life, is just how tangible the Dickian labyrinth becomes", and praised Robert Downey Jr.'s performance: "Midway through 2006, this supporting turn is the performance to beat in what seems the year's American movie to beat". Andrew Sarris, in his review for The New York Observer, wrote, "Mr. Linklater emerges once again as the Austin auteur par excellence". Empire magazine's Kim Newman gave the film four stars out of five and wrote, "its intelligence makes it near-essential viewing". In his review for the Washington Post, Desson Thompson wrote, "Linklater's rotoscoping process underscores this grave new world with pop-arty creepiness. Its dramatically muting effect, which shaves the highs off the more histrionic performances yet doesn't undercut the more subtle elements ... squeezes everything into a unified nightmare".Amy Biancolli from the Houston Chronicle heralded the movie as "[t]he first film to capture the author's transience and his art."
Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C-" rating and Owen Gleiberman was unimpressed, writing that the film is "more fun to think about than [it] is to experience", and found the film's storyline "goes nowhere". In his review for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote, "The movie is often startling and engrossing, but the question of what the heck is going on, and why, is never entirely absent from your mind". Jack Mathews, in his review for The New York Daily News, called it, "a murky, dialogue-heavy tale of intrigue".
Roger Moore from the Orlando Sentinel states that "Linklater's willingness to experiment ... is laudable. But I'm not sure he's reinventing animation here, or even adequately serving that older-than-children animation audience."Tom Long from the Detroit News praised one aspect of the film, saying "[h]ere's a guy willing to take risks, willing to tackle challenging material, willing to assume his audience has a brain." At the same time, Long notes that "[u]nfortunately, his audience's collective brain is going to be hurting mightily for the first hour of this film."Michael Booth from the Denver Post states that "[t]he artiness gets in the way of thrilling plot twists; we're still trying to sort out images when we should be sorting out facts." Chris Vognar from the Dallas Morning News stated that "[m]uch like someone who doesn't realize how high he is, A Scanner Darkly talks too much and doesn't say enough."
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 69% based on 174 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6 out of 10. Its weighted reception at Metacritic is 73% based on reviews from 33 critics, considered "generally favorable reviews".
Home media 
The DVD was released in North America on 19 December 2006 and in the UK on 22 January 2007. The following extras are included: the theatrical trailer; "Weight of the Line", an animation tales feature; "One Summer in Austin", a short documentary on the filming of the movie; and audio commentary from actor Keanu Reeves, director Richard Linklater, producer Tommy Pallotta, author Jonathan Lethem, and Philip K. Dick's daughter, Isa Dick Hackett. Entertainment Weekly felt that the commentary track was "friendly and aimless", but that the featurette on the rotoscoping process, "a lot more lively".
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- Sarris, Andrew (30 July 2006). "Linklater's A Scanner Darkly Finds Slackers of the Future". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2009-07-29.
- Newman, Kim. "Linklater's A Scanner Darkly Finds Slackers of the Future". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2009-07-29.
- Thompson, Desson (14 July 2006). "A Scanner Darkly: Finely Controlled Substance". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-07-29.
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- Mayshark, Jesse Fox (2007). "Richard Linklater". Post-pop Cinema: The Search for Meaning in New American Film. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-99080-X.
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- A Scanner Darkly
- A Scanner Darkly at the Internet Movie Database
- A Scanner Darkly at allmovie
- A Scanner Darkly at Rotten Tomatoes
- Movie details at Philip K. Dick's official site
- A Scanner Darkly - the artists/animators website
- A Scanner Darkly draft script by Charlie Kaufman (20 December 1997)