For movies, having a good idea and executing that idea well is like having cake and eating it too. Scanners has its blood-soaked cake, but the audience’s appetite for destruction isn’t really satisfied.
Ever watch a movie that you think has a great concept but for some reason just doesn’t execute that concept well enough to be memorable? Those are the movies, especially older ones, that I think would make great remakes. I’m not talking about movies with huge cult followings where the faults are easily overlooked (Big Trouble in Little China) or even celebrated (Clash of the Titans). I’m talking about movies that for some reason just never really “clicked” for many people, despite having a lot of potential. For me, David Cronenberg’s Scanners is that type of movie. Honestly, a lot of Cronenberg movies could fit into this category, but Scanners is the one that I think has the highest potential for widespread appeal. It was one of Cronenberg’s most commercially successful films, and it even spawned two sequels and a spinoff with its own sequel. Therefore, the concept behind the film has proven to have the potential to be popular, it just has never received the treatment that it deserved.
Cronenberg’s Scanners comes close to being very good film. It is full of interesting and thought-provoking ideas, the production is actually very good despite the shoe string budget, and the special effects are, well, they are the primary reason to watch. Blood shooting out of veins, melting skin, liquified eyeballs, and exploding heads are the results of the high-intensity psychic warfare that Cronenberg unleashes. Body horror is what Cronenberg does the best, and even if the film is not entirely successful in making those violent moments frightening, they are nonetheless exciting to watch. The actors are game, piling on the insanity and the cheese, which only ramps up the film’s craziness, for better or for worse. The let down is the story, which although it is full of good ideas, never really feels complete. It also doesn’t help that the film feels dated. But above all, if it doesn’t trigger your gag reflex, Scanners is a film more fun to watch than most. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here’s to hoping that we’ll see a new version of it on the big screen in the future.
Entertainment Value: Despite being dated in presentation, the film has a lot of really cool moments that make it fun to watch. There’s a good amount of action, and the film never lulls too long in an attempt to make you take the wild ideas it tosses out as serious business. It has this great combination of campiness with a sliver of stinging truth. To every preposterous moment built up to provide shock and awe, there is a sincerity of motive and a purpose. It’s not just mindless eye candy for the sake of eye candy. It advances the plot, as well as, runs the audience through a gambit of emotions, chief among them being enthusiasm. Because of this awesome and hair-raising experience, the audience is simply excited to see what happens next. Good (4.0/5.0)
Story: The film isn’t all about the special effects, and it’s not just an excuse to celebrate violence. The plot is at heart science fiction, but there is a thrilling nearly horror shock aspect to it. Everything unfolds like a mystery. The audience is initially introduced to the universe, but never exposed to the clockwork that is behind the scenes until the very end. This method echos the main character’s perspective, who initially has no idea what is going on but eventually, through actions of his own, figures it out. But while the story is generally interesting and the way the film is written works well, there are many details that feel only half-baked. At times, the actions of characters are not fully defined, and those characters themselves never seem to stray far from those that we’ve seen in movies a million times before (despite a few of them having psychic abilities). Similarly, although it presents us with some awesome ideas, it never really explores them to the depth that they deserve, which feels like a missed opportunity. Okay (3.0/5.0)
Acting: Stephen Lack plays the main character Cameron Vale in an understated, somewhat mellow way. He’s not necessarily a charismatic or endearing protagonist, but he’s likable enough. Michael Ironside chews up scenery as the antagonist Darryl Revok, and is actually perfect for the role. His intimidating presence and ability to demand attention works well for the film and makes a memorable adversary. Patrick McGoohan plays the wise old professor and is also strangely captivating because he is able to embody that role well. The audience looks to him for guidance, just like Cameron does, and he is able to give us direction clearly and with appropriate emotional emphasis. Jennifer O’Neil plays Kim Obrist, another Scanner who helps Cameron, but her role is degraded to tag-along for much of the film. Still, as the only significant female character in the entire film, she manages to add some emotion at opportune times. The rest of the cast is actually quite bizarre, more often distracting from the story than adding anything to it, but shock and awe is the name of the game here so it is oddly fitting. Okay (2.5/5.0)
Direction: David Cronenberg works wonders to create a truly captivating film despite the low budget and script riddled with plot holes. For one, he creates these great little moments throughout the film when all the pieces seem to fit together perfectly. Sometimes they pass by quickly without the audience noticing how important or interesting they were, but later on you can’t help but keep thinking about that moment and in retrospect how incredible it was. If only the entire film was like THAT. Still, Cronenberg’s directorial wizardry makes you forget, or at least not mind as much, about the mistakes or shortcomings. They don’t ruin your enjoyment of the piece overall. Cronenberg has incredible ability to use visuals and sound to leave a lasting impression in the viewer. With this heavy emphasis on sensory impact over an emotional or entirely logical storyline, Cronenberg manages to keep you entertained. Good (3.5/5.0)
Production: Although the film looks old (because it is), the special effects are quite amazing. The aforementioned exploding body parts, melting phones, and pulsating veins all are the result of incredible attention to detail and technical execution. These effects add to the awesome ideas that the film throws around to create a very edge-of-your-seat film. As the special effects have a certain 30 year old charm, so does the music, which is just as edgy and memorable. The production never makes the film feel more than a low-budget thriller, but if you accept it as such it delivers plenty of entertainment value. Scanners is gem of a film that really highlights the strengths of Cronenberg and puts on a show that you won’t find anywhere else. You can’t deny that it has its flaws, but what it does well it does really well, and that’s what makes it worth your time. Good (3.5/5.0)
What's Bad: The majority of the acting is pretty plain, the low budget is difficult to overcome, dated, story has too many plot holes, doesn't fulfill the potential of the great ideas it comes up with.