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Feature: A Scanner Darkly

Two views of Keanu Reeves

Warner hopes that A Scanner Darkly will follow Blade Runner and Minority Report into the realms of applauded adaptations of Philip K Dick novels. We talk to star Keanu Reeves and director Richard Linklater

The oeuvre of Philip K Dick has inspired some of the most successful and influential Science Fiction movies of all time, including, but not limited to, Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. However, readers of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and The Minority Report short stories would recognize little in the movies’ characters and plot points.

A Scanner Darkly is based closely on Dick’s novel about undercover cop Bob (Reeves) infiltrating the world of Substance D addicts. Substance D splits the brain apart, creating multiple personalities. To get to the source, he must become a Substance D addict, risking his own sanity in the process.

Keanu Reeves has become the go-to guy for Science Fiction films. Back when he did the forgettable Johnny Mnemonic, few would have thought such a profound career was ahead. Three Matrix films later and it seems like a no-brainer to put him in A Scanner Darkly. Even fantasy films like Constantine and Little Buddha deal in philosophical concepts.

“I was really attracted to the material,” Reeves says. “I think it’s got a lot to offer to the viewer about cautionary commentary to the world that we live in and that was the grand inspiration. As a character, it’s very interesting to play someone who wants to change their life and have him change it.”

The very style of A Scanner Darkly challenges the viewer to question reality. Though obviously animated, the familiar visages of stars like Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson are clearly represented. The actors filmed all of their scenes for a rough cut. That became the guide for animation. This process was used once before on Waking Life, both films directed by Richard Linklater.

The style is based on an old technique called rotoscoping, where artists would actually trace frames of live-action film to create its moving drawings. Now it is computer software, designed by Linklater’s friend, which lets the animators paint over the live footage.

“I felt it worked here because Philip K Dick is always asking, ‘What is reality?’” says Linklater. “I think this technique puts your brain in the right place to take in this particular story because it seems real, it sounds real, you recognize these people, their gestures are real and it seems like the real world, but it’s not. It’s this painted world so it’s probably the right kind of split brain thing going on in your head as you watch it that, hopefully, you take it in just like a movie and you care about the people in the same way, if not more than you would in live action.”

by Fred Topel

Read the full interviews in
The Works #A09

Photo © Warner Independent Pictures
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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August 2006
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