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I’m a bit of a Philip K. Dick nut. His ability to weave consistently fresh sci-fi tales (stories which really don’t belong to be pigeonholed as “merely science fiction”) is unparalleled. And any fans of twists have to credit him as one of the masters. I think his stories generally have transferred really well to the big screen (with any luck, they’ll continue to do so), for a variety of reasons, but ultimately because he always paints an intriguing landscape, but one sparse enough to allow the filmmaker to breathe.

A Scanner Darkly, though, I find to be one of his lesser works. Maybe it got too personal. Whatever the reason, the plot just doesn’t seem as crisp as some of his other novels and stories. Of course, his depiction of the future is as poignant as ever. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a Philip K. Dick work. So while I have all kinds of respect for the movie, it was hampered a bit by the source material. That said, I don’t think Richard Linklater helps his cause. The story he carves out is probably not how I would have interpreted the novel.

The story, really, isn’t worth getting into. Not too far into the future, a certain drug has devastated large portion of the country’s population, but no one can prove who is manufacturing the drug. A Scanner Darkly relates how one cop (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover, as a druggie, in an attempt to learn more. As Keanu starts using, his sense of reality becomes skewed.

A Scanner Darkly, as probably goes without saying, is notable for its use of rotoscoping. I have mixed feelings about it. It does end up looking really awesome. But it only really seemed useful for a few scenes. First and foremost was the scramble suit (here’s a description). I cannot fathom how they’d successfully pull off the scramble suit with a regular live action movie, so perhaps the scramble suit validates the technology.

Reeves, Woody Harrelson, and Robert Downey, Jr. acting together feels like some sort of dream. They could set up a traveling show consisting solely of them having a normal conversation and I’d go see it. And call me crazy, but I think Winona Ryder holds her own with the group.

So where does that leave us? A rather beautiful movie that seems unfulfilling. It may be worth seeing just for the rotoscoping, and the actors will keep you engaged. But I think the story may have been better adapted as a television series, with someone better fleshing out Dick’s ideas. Because there are some really interesting nuggets in there, but A Scanner Darkly doesn’t consistently capitalize on them.

Trailer after the jump.
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