Thursday, June 22, 2006


“A Scanner Darkly” shows cartoons aren’t just for kids

Cartoon critters cause backyard chaos in the popular slapstick comedy “Over the Hedge.” The fat tabby cat Garfield lets loose a belch loud enough to rattle the windows in “Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties.”
But the dreamlike images animator Bob Sabiston creates via his digital rotoscope technique are more surreal and darker than any current kids cartoon whether big or small screen. Sabiston’s segment in “The Five Obstructions,” a 2003 experimental film by Lars Von Trier and Jorgen Leth, “Waking Life,” his chatty 2001 collaboration with filmmaker Richard Linklater, even his Charles Schwab TV ads, are set up for the creepiness and uneasy feelings that fill “A Scanner Darkly,” an adaptation of Philip K Dick’s sci-fi thriller.
Set in the year 2014, America has dissolved into a police state in order to win the war on drugs and stop the latest craze, a deadly pill named Substance D.
Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover narcotics cop looking to nab the dealers of Orange County, CA. His druggie contacts include the slackerish trio of Freck (Rory Cochrane), Barris (Robert Downey Jr) and Ernie (Woddy Harrelson) as well as the pretty dealer, Donna (Winona Ryder). But Arctor is over his head, more than he realizes.
“A Scanner Darkly” is a Linklater/Sabiston reunion but the film’s most memorable moments belong to the animator. The cops wear scramble suits, creating a constant flicker of images, in order to protect their identities. Cokehead nightmares include armies of beetles and bug-eyed aliens. It's intentional, sensory overload.
Dick’s thriller occasionally veers into confusion but the disorienting feeling suits the story well. “A Scanner Darkly” aims to make one feel uncomfortable, the last thing you’d expect from a kids cartoon.
If successful, “A Scanner Darkly” may pull adult animation out of its cultish corner and into the mainstream. After all, kids shouldn’t have all the fun to themselves.

“A Scanner Darkly” premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Warner Independent Pictures Films will release it in major US cities on July 7.

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