Cronenberg’s head throbbing classic begat two sequels. We review the trilogy, new on BD
I am not the sociable kind. It’s not because I am superior, it’s not because I don’t think I am worthy of other people. It’s not because of the meaningless rudeness and stupidities of strangers or the dashed hopes of new acquaintances. It’s because it’s all so tiring. In trying to explain this to people, I use the second scene of Scanners where telepath Cameron Vale is tied to a bed in an auditorium as a mass of observers fill the seats and bring the cacophony of their thoughts to his fragile head. That’s what I feel like I tell them…Now throughout the Scanners trilogy there will be lots of scenes where the scanners abilities are displayed for entertainment or dramatic impact. In the sequels these scenes become quite laughable as telepaths gurn in competition as the limits of both the effects and the screenplays are compensated for by ham acting. Still, this sole scene about the curse of this ability underpins the obvious strengths of the first film by showing a dramatic integrity and human understanding quite lacking from the dullness and the camp of parts two and three.
In David Cronenberg’s original, a mystery is unravelled regarding the origin of Scanners and the subculture revealed in Cameron Vale’s search on behalf of scientist Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan). Scooped up from his life as a down and out, given medication to control his gift and exercises to enhance it, Vale is introduced as a spy into the networks of evil Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside) who is using scanning as a weapon in a revolution against those who created him.With some gloriously icky moments of body horror, Scanners manages to pay off to genre fans whilst basically following a thriller structure. The narrative is pleasingly complex as the twists arrive and some wonderfully unusual performances from the likes of McGoohan (“so cruel, so cruel”) and Lack provide for a depth and originality that a less talented film-maker would have missed entirely.
Speaking of which, Christian Duguay was the man chose some 10 years later to take on the mantle with two belated sequels to this excellent film. His efforts take two very different directions with Scanners II: The New Order being a sci-fi cop thriller and Scanners III: The Takeover ditching earnestness for camp, busty nurses and the cut throat world of business. Any efforts to humanise the scanners themselves, as I describe Cronenberg doing above, is lost in bad dialogue, bad acting and the kind of insight into our species that suggests not only can Chimpanzees come up with the works of Shakespeare but they can make movies too.Scanners II joins an ambitious proto-Fascist detective with another dodgy scientist in their quest for a nice well brought up scanner, who they will then use to get political and financial power. Basically, all the scuzzy vagrant types, such as Vale in the first film, have become addicted to the medication that normalises them and soon become zombified and useless. Our great white hope, discovered by bad cop, is soon clearing up crimes but becomes suspicious of his new friends’ motives as he uncovers the truth.
I may have seen a more dull film than Scanners II, but frankly I can’t remember it. Filled with dreadful performances, borrowed clichés and music video effects passing for style, the only lasting impression left upon me was to appreciate just how bad hairdressing had become in Canada of the early nineties because of the barnets on show here. A few heads get blown up, an obligatory sex scene is a yawn fest and the lack of even basic wit or dramatic competence is frightening.The final element of this trilogy builds on the woefulness of its predecessor and succeeds in being more entertaining as a not entirely successful more humorous approach leads to some “so bad they’re good” moments. If Scanners II attempts to borrow some social commentary from Robocop, here the model is Tim Burton’s Batman with comedy henchmen and cartoonish escapades. Forgive the hope my description may give you, Scanners III is still pretty awful too.
The plot involves the adopted heirs of yet another scanner scientist, where the Russian sounding one starts taking the new medication before it’s properly tested and becomes a kind of man-eating businesswoman. Her brother is off in Thailand in some kind of temple after killing Santa by mistake, but he needs to return as sis starts taking over the world with said comedy henchmen and token busty nurse.Definitely camped up to 11, Scanners III is less painful to enjoy than its predecessor but still a movie where the headaches are more likely to be experienced by those watching it. The sheer chaos of the plot and the silliness when scanners duel (facial over-acting that even the late Frankie Howerd would avoid) convinced me that the chief inspiration for these drug addled plots was Colombian marching powder itself.
Please note that my scores below are given for the trilogy (9, 2 and 4 respectively) and that these films are released separately, but are reviewed together for convenience. Scanners is an excellent film from a great film-maker, its two sequels are not.
Scanners is available in its own steel book edition, whilst its sequels are available on ordinary Blu-ray. All three discs are region B locked with the first film being the only one available with extras and consequently on a BD 50. All three films look as if some noise reduction has been applied with the apparent grain structure not seeming particularly natural. The original film is the best quality of the transfers with better detail, sounder black levels and a more, if still not perfect, film-like appearance. Edges seem a little too defined and colours over warm to my eye. All three transfers are in 1.78:1 and all three films carry lossless stereo (LPCM) and master audio 5.0 options. The lack of a LFE track is a bit unusual and the result is less of an enveloping experience when listening to the surround mix with a lack of environmental effects and attack. The existing Anchor Bay releases on DVD carry both DTS 5.1 and DD 5.1 tracks. English subs come on all three films.The extras for Scanners are all offered in HD with the exception of the interview with actor Lawrence Dane. The film’s cinematographer, the effects maestro and the trilogy’s producer all get their own features but most interesting is the one given to Lack. Entitled, after the line in the film, “My art keeps me sane”, Lack is interviewed at a gallery showing his paintings (his main career after all) about how the film came about and how he came to be cast.
One cracking film and its unfortunate bastard children are released on Blu-ray in adequate editions. If you already know and like the sequels then all three can be purchased now, but most will wisely buy only the first one.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum