A Scanner Darkly (2006) – Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly is the last recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book in the Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror genre. Based on the story by Philip K. Dick, the story is fascinating from a couple of perspectives – it’s a digitally rotoscoped animated film, and it features some top name actors inhabiting one of Dick’s popular tales of a dystopian future, feature undercover cops and addicts, and the line between both is paper thin.

Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover cop, hanging out with drug addicts, becoming one himself in the process, who is trying to track down the source and distributors of a dangerous new drug simply known as Substance D.

Substance D is incredibly damaging, and it seems to be having an effect on Archor…

The film costars Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane. It brings to the screen Dick’s novel in a fantastic way bringing the tech and world to life. While it may never compare to Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep bares little resemblance to the film it inspired) it ends up being very entertaining and thought provoking.

Arctor’s body suit that masks his appearance is nicely realised, and probably wouldn’t have worked as well in live action. I also like the fast forward sequences. In fact, all of the film is very enjoyable and watching Arctor navigate the muddy waters of the company, New Path, the law, and drug use, is pretty entertaining.


Downey plays James Barris, a chemist who tries to hang Arctor out to dry, not realising he’s interacting with the cop. Ryder plays a dealer and Arctor’s would be girlfriend. The dialogue moves from the inane everyday, to smart and crisp.

It takes a while to get used to the animation style, but it actually plays well to the story, and allows for some images that may not have translated as well to the screen otherwise.

It’s a dark, twisting story, that sees Arctor go through some twists and turns as he confronts the truth of his situation while the audience is privy to additional revelations.

I remember watching this one when it first came out, 11 years ago, and a lifetime away, and just not enjoying it, the animation bothered me, and the story just didn’t hook me. It’s amazing how things change with the passage of time. This time around, I really enjoyed what Linklater did with the story, and the way he told it.

That’s the end of one of my favourite genres in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, but we both know I’ll always find a way to watch more.




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