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HTF Blu-Ray Review: A Scanner Darkly

Blu-ray Reviews

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#1 of 2 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

PatWahlquist

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Posted April 15 2007 - 12:36 PM

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A Scanner Darkly (Blu-Ray)

Studio: Warner Home Video
Rated: R
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio: Dolby Digital: English 5.1
Subtitles: English; Spanish; French
Time: 100 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS BD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2006
Blu Ray Release Date: March 10, 2007


Substance D is for many things: death, desires, dreams and drugs. In A Scanner Darkly, set seven years in a suburban future, Substance D use has taken over many lives including Bob Arctor’s droll, dead end existence. He bumps his head and its enough to wake him up to the fact that the perfect wife and kids just aren’t going to cut it for him. He hooks up with the local law enforcement agency and begins work with them to stop the spread of Substance D while taking the stuff at the same time. Cloaked in an ever shifting scramble suit and assuming the pseudonym of “Fred”, he receives his directions from his boss “Hank”, another bearer of a similar suit. Hank tells Fred he is to watch what’s happening at Arctor’s own pad to see if he can find the supplier of Substance D. But Substance D is splitting the hemispheres of Bob’s brain, so he must get off the drug and the life. Arctor hangs with his drug using buds as the picture swings from paranoia to a stoner comedy to a “Big Brother” piece, all the while leaving it to the viewer to decide what the true nature of the work is.

Director Richard Linklater is still enamored with the rotoscoping process that animates this picture, but in the case of this story, it works. The world of A Scanner Darkly exists much better in the fluidity the animation provides. It takes us slightly out of reality to ease our transition into the lives and minds of the characters, so when a couple of them morph into big bugs, you can accept it pretty quick. The story is taken from Phillip K. Dick’s book of the same name, and whole chunks of dialogue remain intact for the film. The film tends to lose focus over and over again as it can’t quite make up its mind as to what it shall be. While I believe myself to be a fairly intelligent person, I had trouble figuring what the heck was going on in places, and I was glad to hear some of the cast had the same problem!


Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units.

The picture is in VC-1, encoded at 1080p and it is framed at 1.85:1. The animated picture is simply outstanding on Blu-Ray and it reminds me of how good an HD image can look when done well. The picture is free from any dirt or noise even upon close inspections. I went up to the screen several times throughout the feature to see if I could find any flaws, but there were none. Colors were “accurate” for what they are in the digital world, and they remained vibrant and lush from scene to scene. Detail was exceptional with no smearing or blurriness in the black lines of the on-screen objects. Contrast levels were excellent as well, with deep, rich blacks.


Audio:
I watched the movie with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track engaged. I was expecting much more activity in the soundtrack, but it was mostly found in the front three channels. When the surrounds opened up for some atmospheric effects, they provided an excellent soundstage. All of the channels were natural sounding. Bass effects were minimal but they blended nicely into the rest of the mix when they appeared. The music cues are very subtle when they show up and they almost sound like another sound effect. This use of sound provides an interesting viewing experience, again, enhancing the world of the story.


Bonus Material:
With the advent of Blu-Ray, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. For this release, the extras are in MPEG-2, 480p.

Commentary by Director Richard Linklater, Keanu Reeves, Producer Tommy Pallotta, Author Jonathan Lethem and Philip K. Dick’s Daughter Isa Dick-Hackett: The participants discuss the metaphysical aspects of the story and delve into some of the finer points of it. The commentary is fairly lively and Linklater seems to easily accept the questions about the challenging nature of this project. Lethem and Hackett provide good background information about Dick and his life, and they help to clarify the story a little.

One Summer in Austin: The Story of Filming A Scanner Darkly (26:23): The cast and crew comment on the story and the challenging film making process, basically saying they made two pictures in one. Dick’s daughter is interviewed, and there is an interesting vintage video interview with Dick himself from 1977.

The Weight of the Line: Animation Tales (20:45): The animators get their turn to explain how much of a bigger project this was than originally imagined. I was unfamiliar with how the rotoscoping process was done prior to this, and this showed it to be far more extensive than simply painting over the film.

Theatrical Trailer: I’m getting a bit irritated with Warner’s in that they won’t even give us HD trailers!


Conclusions:
A convoluted, heady story is presented on an outstanding looking disc. Transfers such as this make me enjoy the new formats so much more. Unfortunately, the audio side is somewhat lacking, and the extras skim the surface of what could have been the opportunity for an in depth, scholarly discussion of the work.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#2 of 2 OFFLINE   Ben_Williams

Ben_Williams

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Posted April 17 2007 - 02:34 AM

Pat... I had a chance to watch a bit of A Scanner Darkly a few nights ago. It really is a beautiful transfer. Eye-candy, for sure! Great review!





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