Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Cronenberg|
|Produced by||Claude Héroux|
|Written by||David Cronenberg|
|Music by||Howard Shore|
|Edited by||Ronald Sanders|
|Running time||103 minutes|
|Budget||$3.5 million (est.)|
Scanners is a 1981 Canadian science-fiction action horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jennifer O'Neill, Stephen Lack, and Patrick McGoohan. In the film, "scanners" are people with unusual telepathic and telekinetic powers. ConSec, a purveyor of weaponry and security systems searches out scanners to use them for its own purposes. The film's plot concerns the attempt by Darryl Revok, a renegade scanner, to wage a war against ConSec. Another scanner, Cameron Vale, is dispatched by ConSec to stop Revok.
Scanners are people with the ability to "scan" other people. This is explained as the ability to connect two nervous systems separated by space. This included the ability to involuntarily hear people's thoughts (telepathy) and control other functions (heart beat).
Most scanners are unhappy people, condemned to "hearing" an unstoppable flood of strangers' thoughts. Cameron Vale (Lack) has uncommonly powerful scanning abilities but cannot handle the pressure and has withdrawn completely from society. A homeless derelict, he lives in a shopping mall. When he psychically overhears two women denigrating him he inadvertently induces violent convulsions in one, which in turn attracts the attention of ConSec agents who tranquilize and abduct him.
Meanwhile ConSec is holding a conference where they are introducing their work with scanners to 25 VIPs from all over North America. The company's senior scanner (and only scanner) (Louis Del Grande), offers to "scan" a volunteer to demonstrate the banality of the process. Unfortunately his volunteer, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) is a renegade with formidable telepathic powers who has declared war on ConSec and all scanners who voluntarily work for it. The demonstration does not go well; the ConSec scanner's head explodes. ConSec security agents try to detain Revok but he escapes, killing several of them in the process.
Dr. Paul Ruth (McGoohan), head of ConSec's Scanner Research Section, meets with ConSec's newly hired head of security, Braedon Keller (Lawrence Dane). Keller recommends shutting down their scanner program since working with scanners is too difficult and their last scanner was killed by Revok. Ruth tells the head of the company he believes Revok has his own scanner underground at work and that is why ConSec was attacked, because Ruth's program was the only obstacle to Revok. The head of ConSec wants some retaliation. Keller challenges Ruth on his two biggest problems, hunting down Revok and infiltrating the scanner underground, since they have no scanners left. Ruth has an Ace-in-the-hole in the form of Vale, who he thinks might be the only scanner with sufficient psychic power to challenge Revok. Vale is reluctant; Revok's whereabouts are unknown, and the only lead is Benjamin Pierce (Robert A. Silverman), an artist and unstable scanner who tried to kill his family as a child. And even if he can find Revok, how will he subdue him? Ruth tells Vale about a secret drug, ephemerol, which ConSec uses to suppress scanners' telepathic powers. This drug is very important to Vale as using it allows him to suppress the influx of other people's thoughts, thus supplying him with it becomes Ruth's way of establishing trust and dependency between him and Vale.
Vale tracks down Pierce after locating a gallery exhibiting his morbid sculptures. Pierce is in hiding from Revok; he has rejected Revok's offer to join his renegade faction, which makes him a liability. Four of Revok's men gun down Pierce. Vale flings the four assassins into unconsciousness, then scans the dying man's mind to learn what he knows about the scanner underground.
Pierce's dying thoughts lead Vale to Kim Obrist (O'Neill) who has formed a telepathic alliance with a group of other scanners. Vale is invited to a meeting, but the gathering is ambushed by more of Revok's assassins, who kill Obrist's scanner friends before Vale and Obrist can kill them.
Vale infiltrates a company called Biocarbon Amalgamate in place of one of Revok's men and learns that large quantities of ephemerol are being manufactured and shipped out in tankers under a program called 'Ripe'. In fact the operation appears to be run by Revok himself. Vale and Obrist travel to ConSec headquarters to inform Ruth of this development. When Vale asks Ruth about Biocarbon Amalgamate he tells a stunned Vale that he founded the company himself and sold it to ConSec. Ruth is in disbelief that ephemerol is being produced and insists Vale get the information by scanning (i.e. connecting his nervous system to the computer's electronic nervous system) and find out more about the 'Ripe' program; but Keller, who is actually a traitor working for Revok, attempts to kill Obrist. She defends herself and Vale leaves Ruth to help her. Keller then kills Ruth, then attempts to capture Vale and Obrist, who escape by scanning the ConSec guards. Vale infiltrates Revok's computer network through a payphone. When Keller discovers this, he orders ConSec computer scientists to rig the computer to self-destruct while Vale is plugged into it. The plan backfires and the laboratory explodes, killing Keller.
Vale and Obrist pursue their only remaining lead: the mysterious ephemerol shipments. Their investigation takes them to the office of Dr. Frane, an obstetrician on the list of recipients of ephemerol, where Obrist becomes aware that someone is scanning her. She realizes that she is being scanned by the unborn baby of a pregnant woman in Frane's waiting room. Vale tells a stunned Obrist that is the purpose of the 'Ripe' program. Ephemerol doesn't just help adult scanners control their ability. It is creating new scanners. The two are suddenly ambushed by Revok's men, tranquilized, and abducted.
Vale regains consciousness in Revok's office. Revok seems very calm in talking to Vale and begins casually asking him about his life. What is his earliest childhood memory? (he has none) Who were his parents? (he doesn't remember) Then Revok tells him that is no accident. That Ruth always knew where Vale was and what his life was like but only helped when he needed him as an agent against Revok. Revok tells him that they are brothers and that Ruth is their father. According to Revok, Ruth's company created ephemerol as a drug aimed at pregnant women as a morning sickness sedative, but it had an invisible side effect. It created scanners. However, it was not entirely invisible as Ruth had given the prototype of ephemerol to their pregnant mother (twice), and saw what it did to his sons. This is why Revok and Vale are older and more powerful than all of the other scanners. Revok's plan is to build an empire "so brilliant, so glorious we'll be the envy of the entire planet" by finding and training the new generation of scanners - a new generation of which is just months from being born; the result of the ephemerol shipment. He invites Vale to join him, but Vale refuses, and a psychic battle ensues. Visible physical changes result between Vale and Revok from the battle; Revok's forehead pulsates with veins and his head swells. Vale, less experienced than his brother, uses his body more and veins throughout his body emerge. Vale begins bleeding and peeling flesh from his face involuntarily as Revok pushes the advantage. Vale is able to compose himself, his body ignites, and he focuses on Revok as his eyes explode and he leaves his body and enters Revok's mind. Revok's eyes turn white and he screams as Vale takes control of his body.
Obrist awakens to find incinerated corpse (Vale's) on the floor and continues to call out to him. In a corner, hidden under Vale's jacket, is Revok—but with Vale's blue eyes, and without Revok's forehead scar. He smiles at Obrist. "We've won," he says, in Vale's voice.
The story is structured as a futuristic thriller, involving industrial espionage and intrigue, car chases, conspiracies, and shoot-outs (including a gruesome scanner duel between Vale and Revok at the end). It was the nearest thing to a conventional science fiction thriller Cronenberg had made up to that point, lacking the sexual content of Shivers, Rabid, or The Brood; it was also his most profitable film until The Fly six years later.
Because of the oddities of Canada's film financing structures at the time, it was necessary to begin shooting with only two weeks' pre-production work, before the screenplay had been completed, with Cronenberg writing the script between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. each morning throughout shooting. Since the production design team had no time to build sets, in some instances the crew had to drive around looking for things to shoot. As a result, Cronenberg has said, Scanners was a nightmare to make.
Film critic Roger Ebert gave Scanners two out of four stars and wrote, "Scanners is so lockstep that we are basically reduced to watching the special effects, which are good but curiously abstract, because we don't much care about the people they're happening around". In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Had Mr. Cronenberg settled simply for horror, as John Carpenter did in his classic Halloween (though not in his not-so-classic The Fog), Scanners might have been a Grand Guignol treat. Instead he insists on turning the film into a mystery, and mystery demands eventual explanations that, when they come in Scanners, underline the movie's essential foolishness".
Awards and honors
Although Scanners was not nominated for any major awards, it did receive some recognition. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films gave the film its Saturn Award in 1981 for "Best International Film", and, in addition, the "Best Make-Up" award went to Dick Smith in a tie with Altered States. The film had also been nominated for "Best Special Effects."
Sequels and other adaptations
Scanners spawned sequels and a series of spin-offs; a remake was announced in 2007, but as of 2011[update] has not been put into production. None of these projects has involved Cronenberg as director.
In February 2007, Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV) was announced as director of a remake of the film, to be released by The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films. David S. Goyer was assigned to script the film. The movie was planned for an October 17, 2008 release, but the date came and went without further announcements, and all the parties involved have since moved on to other projects. In an interview with Bousman in 2013, he recalled that he would not make the film without Cronenberg's blessing, which was not granted.
In July 2011 it was announced that Dimension Films was planning to adapt the franchise as a television series.
- Vincent Canby "Scanners" New York Times (14 January 1981); "Scanners" Variety (1 January 1981); "Scanners" Cinemafantastique
- Kinnear, Simon (August 15, 2011). 50 Best Movie Special Effects. TotalFilm.com archive Retrieved January 24, 2012
- "Scanners". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1981). "Scanners". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- Canby, Vincent (January 14, 1981). "Scanners". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- IMDB Awards
- Allmovie Awards
- "Scanners Remake Confirmed". The Plasma Pool. 2007-03-01. Retrieved 2008-09-07.
- Andreeva, Nellie. "Dimension To Develop 'Scanners' TV Series". Deadline.
- "Scanners: Retro Classic Film No. 17" by Jonathan Hatfull, SciFiNow No. 77, pages 122 - 125. Discussion of the first film's story, actors, director, etc., and its production. Four pages, 10 photos including opening exploding head scene (2) and final scene (4), large format British magazine; issue appeared on newsstands in the U.S. in March 2013.
- "Heads you lose: Scanners", Total Film, No. 213, December 2013, pages 140 - 141. Illustrated discussion (color photos and drawings) of the exploding head scene with comments by writer-director David Cronenberg, producer Pierre David, and actor Stephen Lack.
- Scanners at the Internet Movie Database
- Scanners at the TCM Movie Database
- Scanners at AllMovie
- Scanners at Rotten Tomatoes
- Scanners at Box Office Mojo