The works of Philip K. Dick remain a goldmine for film and TV creators looking for science fiction to adapt. The Man in the High Castle is one of Amazon Prime’s best series, and this year will see the long-awaited sequel to Blade Runner. It’s appropriate, then, that HMV’s ‘Premium Collection’ range should bring us this re-release of A Scanner Darkly, one of the most striking adaptations of his work.
A Scanner Darkly was one of Dick’s most personal novels, reflecting his time in a house of drug users, with his addiction struggles mirrored in the character of Bob Arctor. The story, which Richard Linklater’s film sticks closely to, is set in the near future and has a sci-fi twist – Bob lives a double life as government agent Fred, tasked with investigating the source of the drug known as Substance D. But as he is growing addicted to this very drug, these identities split between the two sides of his brain; Fred forgets he is Bob while Bob forgets he is Fred.
This trippy concept is enhanced by the strange ideas that give detail to the world, such as the scramble suits, which cause a person’s appearance to constantly alter and which the police agents wear to protect their identities even from each other – an idea which stemmed from one of Dick’s heavier drug experiences. This striking visual would be difficult to pull off on film, and may be one reason why Linklater decided to animate the film – it was shot as a live-action movie and then digitally rotoscoped, with the animators adding in both sci-fi elements and hallucinations. It’s an unusual approach, but it fits perfectly with the off-balance life of the drug-addled characters and looks captivatingly cool to boot.
It’s also worth pointing out that, despite all this weirdness, the film convincingly portrays the everyday lives of these characters. The interactions between those who live with Arctor, particularly Robert Downey Jr.’s obsessively paranoid Jim Barris and Rory Cochrane’s unstable junkie Charles Freck, is pure stoner tragicomedy, reminiscent of the likes of The Big Lebowski. Thanks to a combination of Dick’s real life experiences and Linklater’s sharp, witty dialogue, it all feels very believable and very twenty-first century.
And that’s what works so well about A Scanner Darkly – it stays faithful to Dick’s story, which was very reflective of his own ‘70s experiences, but updates it in a way that the characters, world, and themes still resonated in 2006, as George Bush was continuing the war on drugs, and in fact, still do today. This new release includes two behind-the-scenes documentaries, one covering the filming and one the unconventional animation process, as well as a commentary and trailer, and is well worth adding to your collection.
A SCANNER DARKLY (2006) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: RICHARD LINKLATER / STARRING: KEANU REEVES, ROBERT DOWNEY JR, WINONA RYDER, WOODY HARRELSON, RORY COCHRANE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (HMV EXCLUSIVE)