By Corey Birkhofer
A Scanner Darkly, USA, 2006
Written and Directed by Richard Linklater
Based on the Novel A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
Richard Linklater has always been a filmmaker who has impressed me. Since Slacker (1991) set the stage for his later work, he has gone from one unique film to the next, helping to put Austin, Texas, on the filmmaking map as well as carving out an eclectic career for himself.
About 10 years ago, when I was just starting out in university, a little film with incredibly impacting visuals suddenly came out of nowhere. This was none other than Waking Life (2001), a film that set highly intellectual and downright ridiculous conversations as the stage for a main character who went to sleep and couldn’t wake up. Simple, but brilliant. For my (at the time) 19-year-old, pretentious mind, this film was a smorgasbord of content for late-night coffee shop discussions about the existentialism of life, what dreams really are, and so much more.
Visually speaking, the film took an incredibly new approach to animation, layered over the top of live-action actors, called “rotoscoping.” So here Linklater was, making a relatively inexpensive feature animation using one-chip mini-DV cameras and then rotoscoping rich color palettes and layer upon layer of animation, one frame at a time. Revolutionary. And the result provided for an eerie, almost too-real form of storytelling because the animation was painted on top of real human subjects.
I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t the only one so deeply influenced by Linklater’s venture into animation, nor would I say that all those who loved Waking Life weren’t just as excited as me to see Linklater’s second stab at the rotoscope style of animation in his new film, A Scanner Darkly.