A Scanner Darkly is a 2006 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 monitored by intensive high-technology police surveillance in the midst of a drug addiction epidemic. To give the film its distinct look, the movie was filmed digitally and then animated using interpolated rotoscope over the original footage.
The film was written and directed by Linklater, and stars Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr., and Rory Cochrane. Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney are among the film's executive producers. A Scanner Darkly was released in July 2006 in limited release, and then widely released 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.
Bob Arctor (Reeves) is an undercover agent assigned to immerse himself in the drug underworld and infiltrate the drug supply chain. Arctor and his housemates live in a suburban tract house in a poor Anaheim, California neighborhood. They are heavy drug users, and they pass their days by taking drugs and having long, drug-inspired conversations.
When Arctor is at the police station, he is codenamed Fred, and hides his identity from his fellow police officers by wearing a high-tech scramble suit, that changes every aspect of the wearer's appearance. Arctor's superior officer, Hank, like all other undercover officers at the station, also wears a scramble suit.
While posing as a drug user, Arctor becomes addicted to Substance D, a powerful psychoactive drug which causes a dreamy state of intoxication and bizarre hallucinations; chronic users may develop a split personality, cognitive problems, and severe paranoia. Arctor befriends an attractive young woman named Donna Hawthorne (Ryder), a user of cocaine, Arctor's supplier of Substance D, and part of the drug scene. Arctor hopes to buy so much Substance D from Hawthorne that she is forced to introduce him to her supplier, but Arctor develops romantic feelings for her. However, Hawthorne refuses Arctor's sexual advances and Arctor's housemates question the true nature of their relationship.
Hank orders Fred to step up surveillance on the members of the Arctor household. Hank assumes Fred is one of the drug users in the Arctor household, but does not know which one, and actually orders Fred to focus the surveillance on Arctor. In the meantime, the household members are extremely paranoid that the police have bugged their home and are watching their every move. The paranoia reaches extreme levels, and Arctor seems to become wrapped up in the concern of his housemates, even forgetting that he is the undercover agent spying on his justifiably paranoid friends. Meanwhile, Arctor's housemate Barris (Downey Jr.) secretly contacts the police and tells them he suspects Hawthorne and Arctor are part of a terrorist organization. Barris unknowingly tells this to Arctor himself at the police station while Arctor is wearing his scramble suit (i.e. in his job as Fred).
Due to Arctor's heavy use of Substance D, he develops cognitive problems which stop the two hemispheres of his brain from communicating. As a result, Arctor is no longer able to distinguish between his roles as a drug user and undercover policeman, which makes him incapable of performing his job. Hank reprimands Arctor for becoming addicted to Substance D while undercover, and warns him that he will be disciplined.
Hank reveals to Fred that he has figured out, through the process of elimination, his true identity, and that his identity is indeed Arctor. Arctor is surprised to learn his own true identity and he begins to act extremely confused and disoriented. Hank phones Donna, and asks her to take Arctor to New Path, a corporation that runs a series of rehabilitation clinics. Hank's identity is revealed as he takes off his scramble suit: Donna.
At New Path, Arctor experiences the severe symptoms of Substance D withdrawal. As part of the rehabilitation program, Arctor is renamed Bruce and put through psychological reconditioning treatments. Arctor has serious brain damage from his withdrawal from Substance D.
Sometime later Donna, using the name Audrey, has a conversation with another officer (seen undercover as an orderly at New Path) which reveals that New Path is responsible for the manufacture and distribution of Substance D. Donna was part of a greater police operation to infiltrate New Path, and Arctor had been selected, without his knowledge or consent, to carry out the sting. It is revealed that the police had intended for Arctor to become addicted to Substance D; his well-being was sacrificed so that he might enter a rehabilitation center unnoticed as a real addict in order to find conclusive proof of New Path's crimes. They are dubious if there is still enough of Arctor left to find the evidence.
To continue his rehabilitation, New Path sends Arctor to work at an isolated New Path corn farming prison. Arctor 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 one of the blue flowers in his boot, so that when he returns to the New Path clinic during Thanksgiving he can give it to his "friends" - undercover police agents.
|Keanu Reeves||Bob Arctor/Fred/Bruce|
|Robert Downey, Jr.||James "Jim" Barris|
|Winona Ryder||Donna Hawthorne/Hank/Audrey|
|Woody Harrelson||Ernie Luckman|
|Rory Cochrane||Charles Freck|
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.
Principal photography began on May 17, 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 little 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. Because everything would 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.
Dick's daughters visited the set during filming and spoke with the principal cast and crew members who made the two women feel like they were a part of the production. Extensive on-set footage of the filming of A Scanner Darkly was featured in a UK documentary about Richard Linklater directed by Irshad Ashraf and broadcast on Channel 4 in December 2004.
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. Each minute of animation required 500 hours of work with 50 animators working full-time every day.
Animation and training for the 30 new artists had begun October 28, 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 and this 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 previously designing the general look of the animation as well as the scramble suit, hiring and training animators, and 3D compositing.
The studio increased the budget to $8.7 million (it was originally $6.7 million) and gave Linklater six more 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. Regarding the post-production problems, Linklater said, \"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 was scheduled for December 2005 and went reasonably well. A revised release date was set for March 31, 2006, but Gill felt that there would not be enough time to mount a proper promotional campaign and the date was pushed back to July 7, putting the film up against Pixar's Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
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," and "Arpeggi" (although the last two appear uncredited) — and one Thom Yorke solo song, "Black Swan." An early test screening featured an all-Radiohead soundtrack.
A Scanner Darkly opened on July 7, 2006 to generally positive reviews. Mark Samuels of Total Film awarded the film four stars (out of five), calling it "bold, humorous, and visually striking" and saying "it’s refreshing to see a director treat one of [Philip K. Dick's] works with such respect." Kim Newman of Empire magazine also gave the film four stars out of five, saying, "its intelligence makes it near-essential viewing." 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. Similarly, Matthew Turner of ViewLondon, believing the film to be "engaging" and "beautifully animated," also praised the film for its "superb performances" and original, thought-provoking screenplay.
However, several critics were distanced by the film's content and thematic elements. James Berardinelli awarded the film two and a half stars (out of four), noting that the film suffers from an "inability to draw in the viewer." He also noted that the film "is not involving on an emotional level" and that the general theme of the film is "well-trodden." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly was also unimpressed, awarding the film a final rating of "C-," writing that the film is "more fun to think about than [it] is to experience." He also found the film to follow a confusing narrative and that the storyline "goes nowhere. The film holds a 67% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.