11 February 2011

Clarky's Review: Scanners

Fin brought another 80’s film to the table last night with David Cronenberg’s Scanners. An intriguing concept for a film that shows a lot of promise, delivers on occasion, but on reflection leaves you feeling a bit cheated. All I could think of afterwards was what the movie could have been.

Obviously, this was an early Cronenberg film and therefore, I would imagine, that the budget limited his vision to an extent. Having said that some of the special effects are shocking (in a good way) and effective. But his choice of an actor to play Cameron Vale, the lead, is quite simply shocking. This guy couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. And whilst we have seen our fair share of bad acting in 80’s films recently (Friday the 13th and Re-Animator) these films tended to have tongue firmly in cheek and were so bad they were good! Scanners unfortunately does not fall into that category as it could be a great movie but tends to fall short now and then, especially when Vale is on screen. It totally removed me from the movie and the plot as all I could think was how awful this guy was.

As Ally noted, the real star of the show is Revok. His malice and cold bloodedness are apparent every time he is on screen. He is a classic bad guy and clearly relishes the role. I would have loved to have seen more of Revok, especially his back story. The old footage of him after he drilled a hole in his head was creepy and disturbing, and I would have loved to have seen more of it and had more of his back story. There are also some classic 80’s henchmen (with suitably stunning mouser’s), however added to this the scene in the pharmaceutical company with the buggy car and, as Ally rightly pointed out at the time of viewing, it felt like we were watching Austin Powers! Whilst in some films this would simply add to the enjoyment of a film being so bad its good, this film appears to have more serious intentions, and as a result has not aged as well unfortunately.

As noted earlier the special effects are also superb and Patrick McGoohan gives a suitably over the top performance as the “mad scientist”. However, his characters demise and some of his dialogue seems half baked and, especially at the end, he starts to shoe horn in comments in order that the film makes sense. Suddenly scanners can read computers, he used to own a company but doesn’t keep in touch anymore. Whether some of this was in keeping with his character or not is unclear. Is he an evil genius aware of what he had done, did he know Revok was going to attend. If he knew Revok was so powerful and was his son and he was the only scientist running the scanners programme why wasn’t he at the launch of the ConSec programme and vetting the attendance list. Plot holes like this and some awful “shock reveals”, along with the lack of Revok, left a bad taste in my mouth.

If you hadn’t guessed that someone on the inside at ConSec was working with Revok and meeting him at the train station then you may well have already drilled a hole in your head believing yourself to be a scanner. The revelation that Vale and Revok are brothers almost seems like an idea that is tacked on at the end, yet at the same time feels like an obvious amendment rather than a shock to the viewer. I would have loved to have seen a version of the film where the audience was aware of this kinship from the outset and you could see the change in dynamics between the brothers, and fathers, relationship over the course of the film against the sci fi backdrop of the world of scanners.

Whilst a number of the issues are ambiguous by the end of the film – who is the bad guy Revok or Dr Ruth – the initial depiction of these characters is so heavy handed and one sided that its hard to realise this ambiguity at the time of watching. Its only in writing this review that I’ve realised this point of view, and If my review seems scattershot and misguided, then that’s because it is. And, I feel, this is a result of the film itself being misguided and scattershot, particularly towards the end where it tries to change your perspective on these characters but without much argument, and sometimes only a single line of dialogue. It’s hard to know what the message of the film is after watching it, or what point it was trying to get across, yet it feels like a film trying very hard to make a serious point. I can’t help but feel there is a good film in there somewhere, but what we watched last night wasn’t it.

Whether or not this is a horror film, I’m not sure. I would agree with Ally that its more sci fi and were it not for the two moments of body horror it would certainly be classified as this.

I know Fin brought this to the table last night as he had found out they were remaking it. And I know that this is horror club blasphemy, but I for one am not opposed to the idea of a remake in this case, if in the right hands. There is certainly scope to flesh out Revok’s character, improve on the initially excellent idea of scanners, and if they keep the closing sequence it could be stunning. However, I do feel that this will not be the case, and it will just be an excuse for the studios to print money.

A solid film, but let down in parts by some piss poor acting and some shoddy scripting.

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