Saturday, July 22, 2006

[review] A Scanner Darkly

Philip K Dick is, at this point in history, more apt as a comic book. His men tend to be working stiffs, his women domestic: characters from an earlier era, regardless of the temporal setting. As it happens, the movie version of A Scanner Darkly updates the characters considerably yet still retains some of the flavor.

I read the story quite a long time ago and the film version jogged only some vague hints of plot, so if there were any major departures from the story as written, I couldn't tell. In brief, an undercover detective is assigned to watch three roommates, one of whom is suspected to be dealing an acutely addictive drug, Death. Death causes a dissociative disfunction between the left and right sides of the brain, so eventually the user cannot distinguish reality from imagination. The sole agency devoted to getting users off the drug is suspected to be its source. Because it's undercover, all the officers wear anonymity suits. Because it's PKD, the detective has just been assigned to watch himself. It's a strong story with good twists, and the roommates' antics and dialogue are hilarious.

The movie seems to have been filmed in live action, then overlaid with color. The characters had strong black outlines and constantly shifting blobs of color that were completely convincing as comic art. It was a little too vibrant at times, but quite good. The cartoonizing of the backgrounds was not nearly as well done, especially distant ones like the outdoors. These came a little too close to reality – a unfortunate distraction from the action. The anonymity suits of the police characters were also a strong distraction. It was overdone: the suits cycle through quarters of faces and hair, and two sides of clothes, each piece on its own schedule. Watching them made it difficult to concentrate on the dialogue, which I would say was fairly well written and edited. I got just enough information to understand what was happening.

Overall, I'd say watch this movie.

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