The Challenges of Scanning 'A Scanner Darkly'

For all of Hollywood's love for Philip K. Dick, filmmakers have only occasionally done right by the prolific writer of speculative fiction.

For every "Total Recall" or "Blade Runner" or "Minority Report," there's been an "Imposter" or a "Paycheck." Something about the late author's somewhat paranoid fantasies has drawn directors and then frustrated them.

"It's funny because even when they're the best screen adaptations they're not really adaptations," muses Keanu Reeves. "They're almost more inspired by because they're never really adapted works. I would really say this is the first really true adaptation of a Philip K. Dick work."

Reeves is referring to "A Scanner Darkly," Richard Linklater's new Dick adaptation, a complicatedly dystopic fable about an undercover cop (Reeves) whose investigations into a peculiar drug culture lead to a puzzle of shifting identities and realities.

Linklater made the film using an evolution of the computer-rotoscoping technology he worked with on his 2001 arthouse hit "Waking Life." He shot "A Scanner Darkly" on the cheapest available digital video and then worked with computer animators to give it its unique look.

"Philip K. Dick is always asking, 'What is reality?' and I think this technique puts your brain in the right place to take in this particular story because it seems real, you recognize these people, it sounds real, their gestures are real and it seems like the real world, but it's not," Linklater says. "It's this painted world so it's probably the right kind of split brain thing going on in your head as you watch it that, hopefully, you take it in just like a movie and you care about the people in the same way, if not more than you would in live action."

Adding to the authenticity, for some people at least, is the presence of Winona Ryder, whose godfather Timothy Leary used to share an apartment with Dick. Ryder's parents were also friends with Dick and the actress' dad owns a jacket that used to belong to the author.

"When I was really little apparently I met a lot of really interesting, great people. I wish I could remember because it would be great, but at the time they were grown-ups to me," laughs Ryder, who plays Donna, a junkie with intimacy problems. "He was always sort of part of the circle of the crowd that my dad and mom are in, that sort of Lawrence Ferlinghetti/City Lights literary circle, but I think I read him really early on and I always hoped, I never thought there would be an adaptation of 'A Scanner Darkly,' but I always hoped that there would be and maybe I would get a chance to be in it."

Reeves was also a fan.

"His stories tell about fights of the individual against forces beyond their control and then being manipulated by them," he says. "He tells really good romantic stories. He writes really cool women. There's a kind of flesh and blood. People are angry, people are needy, people are greedy, people are scared and I find, I relate to the worlds that he writes."

Linklater, who was able to make the film on an extremely low budget thanks to the technology, thinks that society has finally caught up with Dick's science fiction.

"It is funny, Philip K. Dick, 30 years ago writing this, he was kind of a crackpot from the margins, paranoid, conspiracy, that plus a generation equals reality today."

"A Scanner Darkly" goes into limited release on Friday, July 7.

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