Monday, August 14, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly was always my favorite PKD book, though I've not read one or two obvious works from the canon that might one day supplant it when the glaring omissions are rectified. I'm gratified to report that I thought the film was a faithful adaptation - the most faithful adaptation the multiply-filmed SF writer has ever gotten. Very well done, and with a painfully, beautifully poignant ending, and, while I am not among Keanu Reeves' detractors (indeed I admire him greatly for his continued support of so much smart SF), I must say that Robert Downey Jr. stole the show.

Which was not, as some reviewers have asserted, confusing in any way. However, as others have testified, after sitting through two hours of stoner-babble, I did walk out of the theatre with something of a contact buzz. Slightly bug-eyed and thinking"Are they looking at me funny? I'm acting normal, aren't I?" and all that. It was bad enough that I went into a Barnes & Noble to shake it off, where, coincidentally the first snatch of overheard conversation that wafted by me was, "Think of it as an auditory hallucination." Thanks for the synchronicity. That sure didn't help. Thankfully, normality was restored with the very first sip from my one & only drug of choice these days - a double-shot cappuccino from Starbucks with skim milk and two Splendas. And all was as it should be. Welcome to the truly wired world.


platyjoe said...


Talk about a futuristic hallucinatory.

Jose said...

I haven't seen this movie yet but I plan to go to the theatre baked out of my skull.

Lou Anders said...

That would be like seeing double.

I will say, there is no reason for this film to be animated, in that they don't do anything - apart from the suit he wears (which easily could have been cgi'd over a live actor) to justify the need for animation. No trippy hallucinatory sequences that required animation, etc... I wonder if it is the reverse - the animation justifies not paying the talent live-action rates? But this is a great film.

Ted said...

There were a couple hallucinatory sequences: the bugs in the opening scene, for example.

Do you think the actors weren't paid for acting? What they were doing was definitely acting rather than voice work; I'm sure they were all working for a reduced rate, but a reduced acting rate, not a reduced voice rate.

Lou Anders said...

Two clarifications:

First, I LOVED this film and mean nothing disparaging. It also occurs to me that animating it probably allowed Linklater to make the film he wanted to make with less interference from the higher ups. But I speculate about things without any inside knowledge and the choice to animate was not a wrong one whether or not it was coupled with an ulterior motive.

Second, I enjoyed the animation. But neither the bugs, the suit, nor the wonderful multi-eyed alien required animation. If I may: I had a friend who worked in development at Disney, Nickelodean and elsewhere who told me that one of her primary criteria for choosing animated projects was asking the question "can the film be told in any other way other than through animation?" If a project could work as live-action as well, she passed. What she meant was that she wanted projects that utilized the special tools of animation that only animation could provide. An artist friend of mine in Texas was asked if he wanted to work on SCANNER, and this implied to me that they were going to do several diverse hallucinatory sequences each based around the creative concepts of several diverse artists. Instead, it seems they were just looking for grunts to paint over the frames, and he was right to pass. Again, no disparagment implied - I LOVED THIS FILM - and this is NOT a criticism - but nothing here couldn't have been live action. Animation has strengths that live action doesn't. In specific, the ability to get perspectives and angles that a camera cannot catch, as well as to show otherworldly vistas that do not exist and are too expensive to create. This is, of course, changing rapidly, as the new STAR WARS films - as well as McKean's MIRRORMASK - could really almost be said to be animated films. But something like A Bugs Life or Monsters Inc has to be animated, whereas this film did not.

Oddly, this criteria is one of my general criteria for good SF. If a story could be told in a historical or contemporary setting, if the SF aspect could be extracted without damage to the tale, then it is not playing to the SF-specific strengths of the genre. Which does not necessarily imply it is not an entertaining story, only that it is not taking full advantage of the tools that the particular mode affords.

Ted said...

I completely agree with you regarding the SF-specific nature of a good SF story. I much prefer works that are intrinsically science fictional to works that use the trappings of SF to tell a story that doesn't need them. However, I recognize the subjective nature of this judgment; not only will people disagree about whether a given work is intrinsically sfnal, their "thresholds" may not be clearly rankable in terms of strictness. I might argue that story A is SF while story B is not, while another person might reverse the classifications, even if we agree that we prefer intrinsically SFnal stories.

With regards to animation: I think of myself as a fan of animation, although I'm nowhere near as familiar with the field as I am with SF. That said, I think that, in the same way that CGI is blurring the distinction between live action and animation, the rotoscoping technique used in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly may not be best characterized as "animation." It obviously has a lot of similarities to animation, but it's deployed more in the manner of traditional film effects like oversaturated color or grainy film stock, to create mood and atmosphere. I don't think Linklater wanted to make an "animated movie" as we tradionally think of them; he wanted a film effect that went beyond those normally used to portray an altered state of mind.

One can certainly argue over whether Linklater's decision to use rotoscoping was artistically successful or not, but I think it's closer to the question of whether the various color palettes that Soderbergh used in Traffic were successful or not, than it is to the question of "did this movie need to be animated?"

I do think that the decision cost Linklater more money, not less; I doubt he paid the cast any less than if it were a traditionally filmed movie.

Lou Anders said...

I take your point and like your characterization of Linklater's rotoscoping as aking to other film effects. But, as your other point on the subjective nature of SFnal narrative attests, while we may split hairs the majority of filmgoers will refer to this as an "animated" film. Like, and about as useful, I suppose, as Damon Knight's famous definition of science fiction!

I was sorry to see the ramming of the Coca-Cola trucks absent, btw.