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  1. #1
    Duke's Avatar
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    Toon Zone Talkback - Taking a Dim View of "A Scanner Darkly"

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    This is the talkback thread for Taking a Dim View of "A Scanner Darkly".

    The animation in this movie scares me. Even more than Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

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    I read an article in Wired magazine about the making of this movie, and it sounded like a painstaking and painful process. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks like you'd get a headache watching it. But at least it's something different from the CGI-animated talking animal glut we've got now.

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    Howdy,

    Quote Originally Posted by judyindisguise
    I read an article in Wired magazine about the making of this movie, and it sounded like a painstaking and painful process. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks like you'd get a headache watching it. But at least it's something different from the CGI-animated talking animal glut we've got now.
    No headaches, though my wife said her eyes would go buggin' out on her periodically. Most of the time, the animation is really just an affectation, like you're just watching a really oddly made-up Keanu. The times when it isn't has some of the flat-out coolest stuff ever (the scramble suits still kind of blow me away and freak me out at the same time), but as I say in the review, those moments are few and far between.

    I had an extended bit in there where I babbled more about animation and mocap stuff that I whacked out because it was long and mostly incoherent, but one thing in there was that this mocap tech would have been absolutely perfect for Sin City, partially because it would really satisfy Robert Rodriguez's most powerful control freak instincts and partially because it would really truly put Frank Miller's art on screen without the bounds of pesky stuff like gravity and makeup and stuff.

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    I'm not really enamored of the process. It just seems like the next evolutionary step from what Ralph Bakshi was doing in the 1980's. There didn't seem to be any real reason for this movie to be animated; there's nothing in the film that suggests an artisit's vision (not even Phillip K. Dick, who, let's face it, has never been done right on film -- although this movie does come a little closer than most).

    Worst of all, I got the impression they just stopped filming right in the middle of the film's third act. The story is far from over, but I doubt if a sequel is forthcoming.

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    Hm. I adored this film. It's about the haze of long-term drug addiction, and the subtly strange effect of the rotoscoped animation was a wonderful way to express that. For the people living in that house, the world was simplified but somehow nauseating, and it certainly wasn't quite the same world everyone else saw. That was the point of animating it, not the scramble suit (though that was certainly very cool-looking).

    Things don't have to constantly morph or explode for the animation to be effective in conveying its message, or for animation to be worth doing.

    The ending was perhaps a bit abrupt, but there was nowhere really for the story to go from there. Everything in the story and in the psychology of the characters had been revealed. What else was there to say?

    In terms of capturing the feel of reading a Dick novel, I think Scanner comes closer than any other film adaptation of his work. Though Blade Runner will always be my favorite.
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    Howdy,

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben
    Hm. I adored this film. It's about the haze of long-term drug addiction, and the subtly strange effect of the rotoscoped animation was a wonderful way to express that. For the people living in that house, the world was simplified but somehow nauseating, and it certainly wasn't quite the same world everyone else saw. That was the point of animating it, not the scramble suit (though that was certainly very cool-looking).
    I got that, although I still think filming it straight would have brought across mostly the same effect. I like most of the performers involved and I thought they did great work in their roles, but the animation only got in the way of the performance. At the very least, I don't think animating them ADDED anything for the most part.

    I also have an issue of rotoscoping that's little more than glorified tracing, as here and in movies like Bakshi's Lord of the Rings or things like The Polar Express. I prefer motion capture when it's a foundation for something else entirely different, like what was done with Gollum or King Kong. I even remember a "behind the scenes" bit for It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown, where they rotoscoped the stand-in dancer for Flashdance so they could get Snoopy to dance in a club. Not one of the Peanuts' gang's better efforts, but it was impressive to see Snoopy getting down with his own bad self.

    As another example, I don't think they mo-capped Nick's Avatar or almost any of the classic Disney films of the 90's, but they did use models for the movement.

    The ending was perhaps a bit abrupt, but there was nowhere really for the story to go from there. Everything in the story and in the psychology of the characters had been revealed. What else was there to say?
    I haven't read the novel, but I'm led to believe that there was a significant chunk of the novel once Fred/Bob is on the farm and discovers that the detox clinic is behind the drugs and the breaking of his addiction (described in Wikipedia, which is the only spoilered place I can find). It's an interesting comment on hypocrisy of those in power and would have been a lot more subversive and interesting than seeing more of the Woody and Rob show, IMO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ace the Bathound
    I got that, although I still think filming it straight would have brought across mostly the same effect. I like most of the performers involved and I thought they did great work in their roles, but the animation only got in the way of the performance. At the very least, I don't think animating them ADDED anything for the most part.
    So you don't think the effect worked? If you got that the animation was supposed to express the disconnect of drug addiction, how can you say it didn't "add" anything? And that wasn't the only purpose of the animation; it was also used to sharpen the palette in the background and create the lighting environment. It gave the entire film its look. I don't see how the film could have worked live-action without either looking silly or spending way more money than they had, and really once you insert enough cgi effects into a film you might as well animate the whole thing anyway.

    I also have an issue of rotoscoping that's little more than glorified tracing, as here and in movies like Bakshi's Lord of the Rings or things like The Polar Express.
    I agree on Lord of the Rings and Polar Express, but I think you're mistaken in lumping Scanner Darkly into that category. Unlike those films, which used rotoscoping to cut corners and motion capture as a gimmick respectively, Scanner Darkly had some real layers to add through the animation, and a real reason to use it.

    I prefer motion capture when it's a foundation for something else entirely different, like what was done with Gollum or King Kong.
    I don't see the distinction. The only difference between Gollum and the characters in Scanner Darkly was that Gollum was naked, talked funny and had a bigger budget. And King Kong and LotR were both very impressive, but they were huge action movies. That kind of overproduction would have ruined the emotional intimacy of Scanner Darkly. And the mocap in those films is more of a technical feat than an artistic one. The animation in Scanner Darkly was done by hand.

    I think you're going into this with the wrong set of expectations. I'm not sure what they are, but I suspect you either expected a lot more (3-D Keanu Reaves beating his chest) or a lot less (Keanu Reaves represented by abstract morphing geometric shapes). But I just can't see the film being any better than it is, including if it had been live action.

    Think of, say, Kid's Story in the Animatrix, another film that, though heavily rotoscoped, was still a great piece of animation, because it brought a few distinctly new things to the table.

    As another example, I don't think they mo-capped Nick's Avatar or almost any of the classic Disney films of the 90's, but they did use models for the movement.
    So? This is not a fantasy film. This is a "real-but-not-quite" film. It's the world we know, but with something intangible terribly wrong. In that case I think the rotoscoping is appropriate.

    I haven't read the novel, but I'm led to believe that there was a significant chunk of the novel once Fred/Bob is on the farm and discovers that the detox clinic is behind the drugs and the breaking of his addiction (described in Wikipedia, which is the only spoilered place I can find). It's an interesting comment on hypocrisy of those in power and would have been a lot more subversive and interesting than seeing more of the Woody and Rob show, IMO.
    I think science fiction filmgoers have seen all that before. The conspiracy angle is now the accepted way to wrap up any sf film, and it's getting predictable and tiresome. The most original part of Scanner Darkly was its look at the human side of drug addiction, and Dick's empathetic, compassionate, heartbreaking affection for the teenagers he spent those years with in a psychedelic haze. I'd much rather have the Woody and Rob Show than just another Imposter/Minority Report/Matrix/13th Floor/Code 46/The Island conspiracy story.

    The relationship between the detox clinic and the drugs is established, and the film leaves the rest up to the audience to figure out, which I still think was a wise decision. It leaves the most important part of the story, the characters, fresh in the viewer's mind.
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    Ed Liu's Avatar
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    Howdy,

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben
    So you don't think the effect worked? If you got that the animation was supposed to express the disconnect of drug addiction, how can you say it didn't "add" anything?
    It's just the difference between discerning the artists' intent and believing that the intentions were successfully expressed. I understand that the effect was meant to be disorienting, but I just thought it didn't work as well as it could have/should have.

    I'm not saying the movie failed entirely at achieving what it set out to do, but just that it felt like it really fell short to me. It doesn't need to be anything insanely wild -- I thought nearly all the scenes involving Freck were hugely successful at giving us a view of the world through drug-induced eyes, even when it's something as simple as a traffic stop. I thought some parts worked astonishingly well, while others really just kind of lay there. I may be pinning this more than I should on the rotoscoping technique.

    And the mocap in those films is more of a technical feat than an artistic one. The animation in Scanner Darkly was done by hand.
    I think the fact that I have the exact opposite view (the mocap of LotR and King Kong were artistic achievements, while that of A Scanner Darkly was more successful as a technical feat than an artistic one) is probably the root cause of our disagreements over this film.

    I was also under the impression that the rotoscoping for A Scanner Darkly was largely digital. This Wired article discusses it, and even mentions how the upgrades to the "Rotoshop" software between Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly were the root cause for the film's scheduling and budget overruns.

    I think science fiction filmgoers have seen all that before. The conspiracy angle is now the accepted way to wrap up any sf film, and it's getting predictable and tiresome. The most original part of Scanner Darkly was its look at the human side of drug addiction, and Dick's empathetic, compassionate, heartbreaking affection for the teenagers he spent those years with in a psychedelic haze. I'd much rather have the Woody and Rob Show than just another Imposter/Minority Report/Matrix/13th Floor/Code 46/The Island conspiracy story.
    Is it that the plot element is tired and overdone, or that it's been done badly too many times before? I mean, the whole "everything you know is wrong" idea was a cliche by the time it was used in The Matrix, but that doesn't make the expression of the idea any less valid or effective. Besides, examinations of the human side of drug addiction and the cost it incurs has been done many times in movies before, too (Rush, New Jack City, and Requiem for a Dream, for instance), but that doesn't make that portion of the message any less necessary.

    Which raises another issue I have with the film, and that's that I'm not convinced that the depiction of Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr.'s characters really did show the cost of drug addiction. Frankly, they seemed about as damaged by their addiction as Harold and Kumar. Neither one seemed to be demonstrating any serious side effects from Substance D abuse much beyond a general clueless haze that looks more like fun and slacker clowning than anything serious. Arctor and Freck showed the nasty effects of drug addiction. The list at the end of the movie of Dick's friends whose health was destroyed by drugs did a better job of showing that darker side of drug abuse than anything Woody or Rob did on screen. The message I got from Woody and Rob is more that drugs can be fun or entertaining, which is the exact opposite of what was intended.

    -- Ed
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  9. #9
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    It seems Ben and I are alone in liking this film.

    The way I see animating in roeteroscope is almost like the reverse of being a CG animator. In CG, a whole different team of artists on the film has the characters designed for the animator, so the animator must focus on the movement. In roeteroscope on the other hand, the movement is already predecided by the actors, so the animator's job is to add as many exciting design elements as possible. In the design regard, A Scanner Darkly is stunning (and it helps all the actors are perfectly cast for their parts as well). Not just in the obvious places (the scramble suits, the aphids, the sci-fi technology), but even in more subtle ways (the shifting of background elements, the thought bubbles, even some of the ways the actors were portrayed). As someone who hated The Polar Express and the Bakshi movies, I found A Scanner Darkly to be quite a work of art, on par with Linklater's other great experiment Waking Life.

    Storywise, it works well, and is more accessable than I expected from reading advance reviews. Not as elaborately inspiring as Waking Life, but still thought-provoking and highly entertaining. As for Ace's complaints about Barris and Luckman, from what I can tell they weren't as deep in addiction as Bob and Freck were and essentially were intended to represent the types of people who would tempt kids into getting into Bob-level addictions. Those types of people are supposed to give false messages. One thing I wish they showed with them more, however, was the fear of going too far with their addiction. I think that would of helped clarify things a bit. Not that I cared too much it wasn't there. Rob and Woody (or as my mom called them humorously, "Shake and Meatwad") both gave hilarious performances which were frequent and light enough to darken the later pain in contrast.
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