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Scanners (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Cast:  Jennifer O’Neill, Michael Ironside, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan
Year: 1981
Length: 103 min
Rating: R
Region: A/1
Disks: 2
Label: Criterion Collection
Release Date: July 15, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English SDH

Extras
    • The Scanners Way, a new documentary by Michael Lennick on the film’s special effects, featuring interviews with Cronenberg’s collaborators
    • Mental Saboteur, a new interview with actor Michael Ironside
    • The Ephemeral Diaries, a 2012 interview with actor and artist Stephen Lack
    • Excerpt from a 1981 interview with Cronenberg on the CBC’s The Bob McLean Show
    • New, restored 2K digital transfer of Stereo (1969), Cronenberg’s first feature film
    • An essay by critic Kim Newman
    • Trailer and radio spots

91S-ygf+qML._SL1500_Since the genesis of film studies, the question of whether “film is art” has remained a prevailing concern and point of contention for academics of various focuses. Debate today rages as to whether it would be more advantageous to view film through a more critical or sociological lens as opposed to the accustomed literary or fine arts lens. This is usually in an aim to “take film more seriously” as both a discipline and medium, and not as text meant to be consumed solely for entertainment. Weighing the auteur theory against the production hierarchies of Hollywood filmmaking problematizes how one can argue that authorial intent or directorial artistry can exist within such seemingly oppressive modes of production. Nevertheless, Scanners is a transgressive film created during a time when independent films served as a negotiation between the studio Hollywood model of filmmaking and the experimental avant-garde. With this Blu-Ray release by The Criterion Collection, Scanners gets the vindication it so rightly deserves as a film that questions and challenges the parameters of what a feature film should look like, something popular among David Cronenberg’s late 20th century contemporaries David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. But even if Scanner’s status as a film negates it from being a so-called “work of art,” it should always be known as a work of a great film artist.

The Film

In Cronenberg’s world, there are 237 “scanners” on the planet. These are people with incredible telepathic and telekinetic powers. ConSec, a fictitious version of Lockheed Martin, surveys the world looking to find scanners whose innate abilities they can harness for their own fiendish endeavors. The film follows Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), a scanner who seeks to destroy ConSec, and Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a scanner who seeks to destroy Darryl Revok. The film is full of memorable visuals that are as arresting as they are explosively (pun intended…) stunning!

David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

But the film is not without its problems. Like many powerful sci-fi genre films of this era, the narrative is secondary to Cronenberg’s carefully crafted tones and well-articulated allegories. These allegories elevate the film from that of a genre piece to something of a social commentary; one that foreshadowed many of the economic issues western culture presently faces. Scanners’ deals with issues of excessive corporatism.  Cronenberg’s ideological vision problematizes excessive involvement of private enterprise within the national security and defense of sovereign nations as a slippery slope to fascism and oppression. This comes as no surprise given the director’s Canadian background.

His choice to take the kinds of political and creative risks few ever could in Hollywood is itself a personal reflection of his directorial style and merit as a great cinematic artist. But even when viewed through an apolitical lens, Scanners is still a film which stands the test of time. As do the special effects, which are more effective than ever in HD. What’s more, is the omnipresent tone Cronenberg sets surrounding ConSec, creating a bilious atmosphere that unnerves just as much as it captivates.

David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

Video

Criterion’s blu-ray presentation of Scanners will inevitably be compared to the UK release from Second Sight Films, and the differences are significant. Color intensity, brightness, and contrast are all somewhat more jacked up on the UK release. The Criterion version, by comparison, is more subdued–the overall color scheme a little cooler. The UK release also has just a touch of video noise, which the Criterion disk does not. Otherwise, both releases look exceptionally fine, with natural film grain and no edge sharpening.

David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

Audio

The single LPCM Mono track has a health depth and range. Dialog is very clear, and the sound design adds significantly to the eeriness of much of the atmosphere. In this film, the silences are just as important as the loud sections, and these benefit from a total lack of hiss or any age related anomalies.

David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

Extras

Along with the original trailer for Scanners, Criterion has included three radio spots, and an excerpt from The Bob McLean Show where Cronenberg discusses Scanners alongside his filmography at the time, contextualizing Scanners as the first Canadian film to hit the top spot on Variety’s box office chart. An illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film critic Kim Newman juxtaposes nicely with Cronenberg’s first feature, a black and white film about social experiments in telepathy called Stereo (1969), also included in the special features. In addition, Criterion manages to incorporate three documentaries into this release. The Scanners Way was produced exclusively for Criterion by Michael Lennick, who was a visual effects designer and supervisor on Cronenberg’s Videodrome. Comprised primarily of interviews from the film’s cinematographer Mark Irwin, special makeup artists Stephan Dupuis and Chris Walas, special effects supervisor Gary Zeller, and visual effects specialist Rick Baker, this documentary takes an intimate portrait of what creative cinematic processes took place during the shooting process and financing of the film. Mental Saboteur is a slightly shorter piece that examines the socio-political implications of Scanners through the eyes of Michael Ironside. Lastly, The Ephemerol Diaries consists of an interview with actor Stephen Lack, and his take on Dick Smith’s special effects as well as his thoughts on Cronenberg’s artistic process.

David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

The Criterion Collection’s Blu-Ray release is phenomenal. It is a Cronenberg fan’s absolute dream come true. The HD remastering itself makes this an essential buy, let alone the plethora of extras that sweeten the deal. Whereas lesser directors have been unable to command more creative pull than their allotted amount, Cronenberg stands out for his tireless dedication to exploring the kinds of movies he wanted to make. A true sign of a genuinely talented film artist.

Details Director: David Cronenberg Writer: David Cronenberg Cast:  Jennifer O'Neill, Michael Ironside, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan Year: 1981 Length: 103 min Rating: R Region: A/1 Disks: 2 Label: Criterion Collection Release Date: July 15, 2014 Video Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Resolution: 1080p Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Type: Color Audio Audio:  English: LPCM 1.0 Subtitles: English SDH Extras The Scanners Way, a new documentary by Michael Lennick on the film’s special effects, featuring interviews with Cronenberg’s collaborators Mental Saboteur, a new interview with actor Michael Ironside The Ephemeral Diaries, a 2012 interview with actor and artist Stephen Lack Excerpt from a 1981 interview with Cronenberg on the CBC’s The…

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About Josef Luciano

Josef Luciano is a screenwriter and filmmaker. He is former contributor to horror/sci-fi magazines FANGORIA, DIABOLIQUE, and STARLOG. As a location manager for the New York City Housing Authority, Josef has helped TV and film productions shoot throughout the five boroughs within New York City’s public housing developments, such as HBO, Paramount Pictures, and Marvel Studios.

One comment

  1. Scanners is a brilliant film on many levels.

    As a piece of genre terrorism, it’s hard to beat the exploding head or the duel between Lack and Ironside at the film’s finale. But what I find infinitely more interesting, and what I think truly raises Scanners to a genre transcending level, is the film’s subtext. As such, Scanners plays as a meditation on existential sovereignty, more specifically on the individual’s right to retain exclusive control over their own thoughts. In this respect, Scanners feels very much, and whether this was Cronenberg’s intention I can not say, like an elaboration on Orwell’s 1984, with Dr. Ruth as a stand-in for O’Brien and the scanners, Room 101. Of course, one also can not underestimate the film’s contemporary relevance either in the age of the global war on privacy. Like Cronenberg’s follow-up, Videodrome, with its equally strident warnings on the dangers of censorship in the arts, Scanners is as much a philosophical tract on the dangers of totalitarianism as it is a high point independent genre filmmaking.

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