A Scanner Darkly (HD DVD)
A Scanner Darkly may be animated, but take that R rating seriously. This is not a film for the kids. There isn't a furry animal in sight, and certainly no talking penguins.
Based on a Philip K. Dick's novel, with that author's typically dystopian view of the future, the film visualizes a future where twenty percent of the population is hooked on a highly addictive drug, Substance D. Paranoia rules the world of the main characters, a generally unlikable bunch of D-addled slackers. The movie is hard to love, but you'll find yourself drawn into it just to find out what will happen next, and how it will all end. But if you know anything about Dick's writings, you know it won't end like a Disney flick.
The animation employs computer-assisted rotoscoping. That is, live scenes were shot with real actors and the animation performed using their filmed images as templates for the animators. The characters therefore closely resemble the actual stars: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr. (there's something creepy about Downey playing a drug addict, given his personal history), Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, and Rory Cochrane.
Apart from using animated backdrops and props, this film could just as easily have been done in live-action. The animation technique is fascinating at first, but after a while its lack of variety becomes a bit annoying. And the paint-by-numbers look of the rotoscope technique, in which the shading and shadows stairstep from light to dark, is a dead ringer for false contouring. So don't blame your video display here!
The high definition video itself is crisp, colorful, and sharp (the HD DVD was reviewed here, a Blu-ray release is also available). The DD+ sound (on the HD DVD) isn't anything special. Apart from the clean dialog and laid-back music score, there isn't much going on. It gets the job done without distraction, but don't expect to be blown away.
Picture: 9.0 (out of 10)…Sound: 7.5…Film: 6.0
(Reviewed on a Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player, Panasonic PT-AE1000U LCD projector, 78" wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and Arcam AVR350 receiver. Speakers: Mirage OMD-28 L/R, OMD-C2 center, OMD-R surrounds, and Revel B15 subwoofer.)