"Scanners" Continues To Blow Minds Review

Finally, a film that answers the question "can a popular gif be turned into a feature film"? Even for those who have seen it before, Scanners is less remembered than its indelible image of a man's head exploding like one of Gallagher's watermelons. It was an auspicious introduction to Canadian auteur David Cronenberg for American audiences, and it actually represented the appeal of the film rather well. The premise of Scanners is only so unique (with its secret societies and mutant powers, it feels like a dress rehearsal for one of the X-Men films), but Cronenberg is nothing if not a distinctive film-maker, and he has never been afraid to risk being ridiculous in order to get the effect that he wanted. At times, Scanners is indeed ridiculous (no more so than when people’s heads start exploding), but it is never less than engaging, and it serves as engaging portent of wounds yet to burst.

A ‘scanner’ is able to connect to the nervous system of another person, reading his or her thoughts and controlling bodily functions (or quite handily destroying them). Nobody knows how many there or exactly how much they are capable of, but they are known to be dangerous, even when they don’t mean to be. Quite naturally, an organization called ConSec is exploring the martial uses of these powers, but they wage a constant war against Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), an extraordinarily powerful scanner who is determined to kill anyone affiliated with the organization (including scanners who agree to participate in their experiments). Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is more representative, however, unable to hold down a job or sustain a livelihood due to the unregulated influx of stranger’s thoughts into his head. After inadvertently harming a woman, Vale is delivered to the arms of ConSec, and of Dr. Ruth (Patrick McGoohan). Though desiring to help, Ruth has bigger plans for Vale, ones that will lead him into direct confrontation with Revok.

Given its parallels to the X-Men franchise (Revok leads a terrorist organization devoted to ‘scanner’ superiority, Vale has no memory of the majority of his life or of the experiments previously done on him), Scanners feels like the closest thing to a stab at the mainstream that Cronenberg ever made (this was the last film that he made before being offered the director’s chair on Return of the Jedi, which he turned down). Slick, cool, and frictionless (as even his least accessible films were), it’s a better fit than either he or his most ardent fans would likely admit. Even when he has clearly been given free rein to do whatever he wants by the powers that be (think Crash), Cronenberg has never been one to mess around with narrative flourishes, and he fashions Scanners into a lean, effective thriller, with none of the grand statements or angst that so often afflict ‘people with powers’ movies.

He is, however, still David Cronenberg, a fact that cannot be escaped every time the scanners start to demonstrate their powers. Under his direction, it’s an intensely physical process that threatens spectacular destruction if it is not respected. Obeying the rules of Chekov’s mindplosion, that destruction comes frequently, powerfully, and perhaps excessively, but it’s one of the qualities that makes Scanners unique, when one can easily imagine it having been anonymous and disposable (its plot lends itself uncomfortably well to Platinum Dunes-style remake). Much of that is doubtlessly owed to the awe-inspiring Michael Ironside as Revok, a cool vision of evil that threatens to explode at a moment's notice. More than any other performer here, his sensibilities (and presence) align comfortably with Cronenberg's, scoring points as both an esoteric art film and a double bill shocker. He, most of all, forecasts what the director would later be capable of.

BONUS FEATURES

The Blu-ray set includes The “Scanners” Way, a new documentary by Michael Lennick about the film’s special effects, Mental Saboteur and The Ephemerol Diaries, recent interviews with Michael Ironside and Stephen Lack, respectively, an excerpt from a 1981 interview with Cronenberg on the CBC’s The Bob McLean Show, a new, restored 2K digital transfer of Stereo (1969), and a trailer and radio spots.

"Scanners (The Criterion Collection)" is on sale July 15, 2014 and is rated R. Sci-Fi. Written and directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Jennifer Oneill, Michael Ironside, Patrick McGoohan, Stephen Lack.

Aug
17
2014
Anders Nelson • Associate Editor

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