Monday, February 22, 2010

SCANNERS (1981) - 5/5 stars

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Release: 1981
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Cast: Stephen Lack, Michael Ironside, Patrick McGoohan, Jennifer O'Neil, Lawrence Dane, Robert A. Silverman
Soundtrack: Howard Shore
Claim to fame: "The movie where that guy's head completely explodes!"
Rating: 5/5 stars

"Scanners" is one of those movies you can watch every few years and it just gets better and better. Way before there was ever a X-Men movie or "The Matrix," this was the premiere science fiction film about two opposing factions with incredible mutant powers, pitted against each other with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. You've even got Patrick McGoohan (of the legendary TV series "The Prisoner") in the Professor X role!

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Just another day at the office for Michael Ironside

David Cronenberg followed up his more sexual, provocative works like "Shivers" and "Rapid" with this sleek thriller that started what was arguably his best decade - the 80's. Cronenberg was able to balance more commercial vehicles like "Dead Zone" and "The Fly" with two of his most shocking and intimate works: "Dead Ringers" and "Videodrome." Caught somewhere between those two modes of filmmaking, "Scanners" mesmerizes with its portrayal of a near-future run by impersonal corporations and shady pharmaceutical companies.

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You might want to think twice about using crystal meth as a weight loss tool

The locations are split between the coldness of austere office buildings and chemical laboratories; and more open, human spaces like a crowded mall or an art gallery. The entire production has this stark, clinical feel to it, the kind that can only come from an 80's Cronenberg film. It's easy to forget how violent "Scanners" is but here in 2010, the blood and viscera still shocks: heads explode, veins pop, humans are immolated by sheer psychic force. The year "Scanners" was made the general public had no idea what an "internet" was, yet protagonist Cameron Vale hacks into a computer system - using his mind! - over a telephone line.

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The sets in "Scanners" are truly mesmerizing

Main actor Stephen Lack is unfairly criticized in many of the reviews at Netflix. You have to realize that his character is supposed to be somewhat blank and child-like; after years of having other people's voices trapped in his head, he's literally thinking for himself for the very first time. A good performance in a genre movie like this is one that carries you through the strange happenings of the story and never once takes you out of the movie; Stephen Lack accomplishes that. I'm sure he acted exactly as he was directed and I doubt Cronenberg would have worked with him again in "Dead Ringers" if he didn't agree.

Of course, Michael Ironside truly dominates this film - this is perhaps his best role as a villain and Ironside clearly relishes the chance to be a terrifying heavy. And I'd be amiss if I didn't mention Howard Shore's magnificent score, which presents an unholy matrimony between 80's synthesizers and a traditional orchestra.

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Way too many people at Netflix are making cracks about Stephen Lack

"lacking" in the acting department. No - he's a good actor!

Due to some bizarre regulations regarding government funding at the time, "Scanners" had to go into production before the script was even completed. Reportedly Cronenberg would work on the screenplay between 4am and 8am and the film crew was actually scouting for locations *during shooting*. Surprisingly, this almost improvised style of filmmaking didn't really hamper the movie itself and any disjointedness actually fits "Scanners'" overall tone.

The only thing that stopped me was how one minute Patrick McGoohan would describe Scanners as "freaks of nature" or "genetic abominations" right to Stephen Lack's face, and the next he'd talk about how they had the potential to usher in a new age of human enlightenment. Gee, that's helpful: expect the mutant anomalies to pull humanity out of the mess they're in at at the same time you're openly prejudiced against them!

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A whole hell of a lot of people spontaneously combust in this movie

A script this economical arguably wouldn't be filmed today: "Scanners" tells the viewer only the bare minimum of what they need to know and even leaves much of that up to interpretation. Exposition is invariably delivered from unreliable characters, whether it's Patrick McGoohan's shady mentor with a dark past or Michael Ironside. Ironside reveals all by the end of the movie - but how much can we trust this guy? He's the main villain and he literally drilled a hole through his forehead to "let the people out" of his skull!

I love how much of the plot is shrouded in doubt. It lets the viewer decide for themselves what's going on and it mirrors the life of a Scanner, always on the run and questioning their allegiances at every turn. Really, "Scanners" is just such a classic for anybody who cares about genre movies and now that it's available on Instant there's no reason not to revisit it.

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Did you really think I could talk about "Scanners" without posting this picture?

1 comment:

  1. "You might want to think twice about using crystal meth as a weight loss tool" This made me laugh out loud :)

    I didn't realize Stephen Lack was in Dead Ringers too!