Release Date(s)1981 (July 15, 2014)
Studio(s)Trading Films (Criterion - Spine #712)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
David Cronenberg is one of my top five favorite filmmakers of all time. He’s made more than a few movies that I believe are downright brilliant. Even his misfires tend to be a lot more interesting than most directors’ successes. I even thought Cosmopolis was pretty good. I am the proud owner of original one-sheets of The Fly and Scanners. So when I say that Scanners is actually not a particularly good movie, I say it with love.
Stephen Lack stars as Cameron Vale, a powerful scanner who early on is abducted by the shadowy ConSec Corporation. ConSec’s Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) wants Vale to track down a rogue scanner, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), with plans to create a master race of super-scanners. But none of that matters because most people just remember Scanners as that one movie with the exploding head.
Cronenberg’s early movies are interesting for their mix of big ideas with grindhouse-worthy exploitation. With Scanners, he was still developing as both a writer and director. I’d argue that Videodrome was his first fully-realized work. His script for Scanners manages the rare feat of being both needlessly complex and annoyingly simplistic at the same time. Half the dialogue boils down to, “I am a scanner. Where is Revok? He too is a scanner. As I am a scanner, I must find Revok and end his scanning for he is a scanner like me.” We get it, pal. What we don’t necessarily get right away is who’s working for ConSec, who’s working against ConSec and what the hell ConSec’s big plan is anyway. Revok’s plan? Got it. Makes sense. Everybody else’s plan? Not so much.
That said, there’s still quite a bit in Scanners to enjoy, including that awesome exploding head and the fantastic make-up effects of Dick Smith in the final scanner showdown. Michael Ironside guaranteed himself a place in the cult movie star pantheon with his charismatic, extremely physical performance. Ironside is so good that he completely overshadows poor Stephen Lack, who really doesn’t have the chops for a starring role. Jennifer O’Neill actually receives top billing but she doesn’t make much of an impression. In fact, I’d forgotten she was even in the movie until I watched it again.
I kind of suspect that David Cronenberg knows that Scanners isn’t one of his best efforts. Criterion’s Blu-ray release is director-approved but Cronenberg himself is noticeably absent from the special features. Cronenberg will record an audio commentary for pretty much any movie he makes (he did one for Fast Company, for crying out loud), so I’ve got to assume there’s a reason he didn’t do one for Scanners. At least he supervised the new 2K transfer, which looks pretty spectacular. The uncompressed mono sound is also very good.
Both Ironside and Lack sit down for new on-camera interviews, both of which are very interesting and touch on both actors’ post-Scanners careers. A 22-minute featurette called The Scanners Way focuses primarily on special effects and showcases cinematographer Mark Irwin, makeup artists Stephan Dupuis, Chris Walas and Rick Baker, and pyrotechnic artist and all-around wild man Gary Zeller. Cronenberg looks back on his career-to-date in 11 minutes of excerpts from a 1981 episode of Canada’s The Bob McLean Show. The disc also includes a new 2K transfer of Stereo, Cronenberg’s 1969 debut feature. Stereo is best viewed as a curiosity because it really isn’t that successful on its own terms. At just over an hour, it barely qualifies as a feature film but it’s such a slog that it feels twice as long. Looks good in HD, though. The package is wrapped up with the original red-band trailer, a few radio spots, and a booklet with an excellent essay by Kim Newman, and two DVDs repeating the same content.
Does Scanners deserve to join the esteemed ranks of The Criterion Collection? Not really. Even the disc’s extras don’t really make the case for Scanners as much more than enjoyable drive-in fare. Still, it’s fun to see the company bring their impeccably high standards to slightly less respectable territory. Now let’s see what they can do with the best of Cronenberg’s early horror movies, The Brood.
- Adam Jahnke
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