I was going to write up a review of A Scanner Darkly, which I caught in the company of a friend last Friday, untii I realised to my annoyance Gary Westfahl had written up a far more succinct review of the film on the Locus Magazine website. I agree with pretty much everything Gary says, while nonetheless recognising the elements of the film that some people found (at least marginally) offputting. As clever as the use of rotoscoped animation to reflect the interior lives of a group of drug addicts is, it to me had the drawback of sometimes distancing the emotional effect of the actors by virtue of their features being painted over by the animation (this emotional effect, of course, is not a problem with the star Keanu Reeves, who - as Westfahl points out - is perfect in the role of a brain-damaged, unresponsive junkie).
The other thing I was going to say I had a problem with was, of course, Reeves, a man perfectly capable of destroying many a cinematic project where his peculiar lack-of-presence neither informs nor illuminates the role he is playing, unless of course it's in Bill & Ted, where he plays an idiot, or My Own Private Idaho, where the director somehow coaxes a good performance of him as ... a mostly dumb teen with a vacant expression. But in fact he really is nigh on perfect for the part of Bob Arctor, a man who appears to view the world around him through a particularly thick sheet of frosted glass. All in all, as (I think it was) Al said, it's the first time I've seen a Philip K Dick movie that hasn't been royally fucked about with by people with no idea what Phil Dick was about: it's a labour of love, a Lord of the Rings for fans of literary epics of drug-induced schizophrenia and mental decay.
All of which brings me to my Conspiracy Theory. This is Dick: there's always a conspiracy theory.
Al's already mentioned on his blog my theory that Linklater, the director, used Rotoscoping animation in order to hide Keanu Reeves, who may well have been brought into the project simply as a way to get the green light and also acquire the necessary funding (movie companies like attractive big names like Keanu because it means that whey a guy goes to the cinema to see the film, their girlfriend or partner will come with them. Therefore, extra tickets sold).
This is why I believe this to be the case:
A couple of years ago I caught a feature on the making of A Scanner Darkly on UK television, on an arts programme, during which a journalist interviewed Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey (who is particularly magnificent in the film, by the way). At one point he asked Woody Harrelson how it felt being made into a cartoon.
Harrelson clearly had no idea what the interviewer was talking about and became quite upset and angry. Clearly, nobody had told him the film would be rotoscoped. If Harrelson didn't know, I'll bet you anything Reeves didn't know, and very likely the film's financiers didn't know.
Until it was too late, of course.
But why do such a thing? Well, I first became aware of director Richard Linklater when he made Slackers in the mid-nineties. It was immediately clear from this and subsequent features he was interested in making something a little deeper than what you normally expect from Hollywood and, like many directors with similar aims, he in fact usually works outside of Hollywood (in Austin, Texas, or so I believe) thus placing himself out of easy reach of financiers, agents, producers, studios and the rest of the apparatus of the movie industry. Dick is a lucrative property these days - Total Recall, Minority Report, and so on - so to make a movie of Scanner Darkly may have required a fairly large financial investment, with added 'securities' such as a big name star.
Let's face it - if you were trying to make 'Scanner' and you got lumped with a deadweight like Keanu Reeves, you'd want to Rotoscope the hell out of it. And not tell anyone until it was much, much too late.