A Scanner Darkly Blu-ray Review
Phillip K. Dick by way of cartoon Cronenberg
A visually innovative interpretation of sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick's most personal, and arguably most unfilmable, work.A Scanner Darkly is both a complex character study of a group of drug addicts, and an acute observation upon the world that they (and we) live in. As such, it makes for quite a poignant social commentary, in much the way that the original source material was intended to be (written in the seventies as a commentary on the drug, conspiracy and surveillance-heavy late sixties). Whilst seemingly sticking closely to the book, it is heavily biased towards setting the correct atmosphere, and often gets caught up in the detail, letting the development of the story take a distinct back-seat. This results in a watchable drama, but one which often feels more like a drug-hazed sit-com than a conspiracy-theorist's nightmare with wide-spreading implications.Despite decent performances (Reeves is a strong central character, whilst Downey Jr. and Harrelson dial it up to 11), a good script and innovative visuals, it also feels very rushed. It's painfully complex, and the third act sees the whole intention of the drama shift. More than a social/paranoid commentary, the twists give it a much grander plot that somehow does not suit the close-knit atmospheric premise. And, although purporting to be an 'unfilmable' book - hence the animation - there's nothing here that Cronenberg didn't do in Naked Lunch decades ago without needing such gimmickry. Despite these flaws, fans of the author will still be drawn to such a personal work from him, even if it does not live up to the mantle.
Picture QualityA Scanner Darkly finally reaches UK shores courtesy of HMV's Premium Collection, delivered on a Region Free Blu-ray complete with a strong and faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.
The video presentation benefits from a purely digital workflow
The visually striking source material benefits from such a pristine presentation, which perfectly renders the animated style, with strong and smooth fine lines, acute observation of the shading and intricate detailing, and impressive depiction of the vibrant colour scheme, which has a broad range of vivid tones and plenty of natural choices too. Black levels are strong, allowing for excellent detail in all sequences, with absolutely no signs of any flaws largely through the sheer fine perfection of the source material and benefits of a purely digital workflow.
Sound QualityAlthough the video impresses - and has always done so in the decade since the film was first released in HD - the audio continues to disappoint as it's still cursed with the same track that it has had for 10 years. For some inexplicable reason, A Scanner Darkly has never had a High Definition audio upgrade, and has always sported the same DVD-era Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
The same DVD-era Dolby Digital 5.1 track curses this release
The track does the best it can given its inherent technical limitations, rendering dialogue reasonably clearly throughout, and lapping up elements of the more claustrophobic premise; the sci-fi and technology elements, and the hallucinations, and the perfectly suited but ultimately forgettable score, but, at the end of the day, it just doesn't have the breadth or depth of a full HD audio track. The surrounds barely get any action, let alone a full workout, and the LFE input is almost non-existent. It could be argued that the more subdued audio doesn't really leave much room for it to make an impression, irrespective of the format it's presented in, but without a full HD track to compare to, this is impossible to prove. Instead the best that can be said about it is that it rarely proves objectionable or distracting in relation to the striking visuals and convoluted narrative that drive the piece and command your attention more readily.
ExtrasAlthough the HMV Premium Collection package itself is, again, quite nice - complete with hardcover sleeve and artcards, as well as a DVD copy and a Digital Download, we not only don't get an upgrade in audio but also drop one of the extras.
A nice package
Still, a strong Audio Commentary from Keanu Reeves, Writer/Director Richard Linklater, Producer Tommy Pallotta, Author Jonathan Lethem and Phillip K. Dick's daughter, Isa Dick-Hackett (who provides some particularly interesting personal titbits) and the Featurette, The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales, comprise the main extras, rounded off by a Theatrical Trailer.
Blu-ray VerdictA flawed film and flawed release
At times flawed in both purpose and style, there's still an innovative and involving film beneath the overly complex, convoluted, and arguably gimmicky exterior, and one which, in true Phillip K. Dick style, is likely to leave you disorientated come the end of it, questioning everything you just saw.
HMV's Premium Collection drops the ball in terms of not bothering to upgrade the same DVD-era audio that's accompanied this release for over a decade, and also not porting over all the available extras, but it's still a pretty package and fans may find that enough to check it out. Ultimately though, it's a flawed film and a flawed release.
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