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Old 10-30-2007, 05:45 AM
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Default Scanners (Anchor Bay UK)

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 29, 2007

Released by: Anchor Bay UK
Release date: 07/18/2005
MSRP: $28.95
Region 0, PAL
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes

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Anchor Bay UK

Even though David Cronenberg has seemingly made a pledge to cater to the high brow ever since his arthouse breakthrough, Dead Ringers, his brood of earlier irreverent slimefests continue to hound him in little snow suits. No matter what landmark novel he adapts or A-list actor he acquires, he’ll still be that guy who gave Marilyn Chambers a phallic armpit or the one who captured a man’s head exploding in gory detail. The latter is from Scanners, his most commercial film before he fell under the wing of the studios with The Dead Zone. Even if Cronenberg moved on shortly after the film, film culture hasn’t been so quick to forget his mind-battling brainiacs. Scanners has inspired four sequels and even an impending remake, and if you’re in Europe, a special edition DVD. Let’s take a look at this special edition, courtesy of Xploited Cinema.

The Story

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Anchor Bay UK

Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is homeless and alone. He roams around seeking solitude, but he cannot escape the voices in his head. These voices are not of his own making, but instead are the thoughts of the people around him. He is a Scanner. Able to both communicate telepathically as well as control people's minds, he is blessed with both a talent and a curse. He can manipulate others, but he is unable to escape the thoughts of others.

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Anchor Bay UK

The doctor, Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), who finds Vale and helps him notes: "with all those voices, how can you develop your own self?" Ruth works for a company involved in Scanner research, but the acquisition of Vale is the least of his problem. Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), himself also a Scanner, is leading a resistance against Ruth and against the society. He is trying to gather all the 237 Scanners that exist around the globe in order to payback society for the mental mutation they've been given. Demonstrating his strength and his purpose, Revok causes the head of Scanner researcher to literally explode. He will not stop until he gets all the Scanners under his wing, and those that refuse shall be killed.

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Anchor Bay UK

Joined up with Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill), another Scanner, Vale attempts to get to the bottom of the Scanner mystery and stop Revok from materializing his vicious plan. A final battle ensues between Revok and Vale, as secrets unveiled and mysteries are put to rest. In a battle of the mind, only one Scanner will come out on top, and the resolve is not one you'd expect.

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Anchor Bay UK

The fifth film in his canon, Scanners continues David Cronenberg's gradual shift from a focus on the body to one of the mind. Shivers was all about the vulnerability of the body, offering not a single character to identify with. Rabid moved more towards the mental, offering a female lead to sympathize despite its general focus still on bodily disease. The Brood, with its focus on psychiatry, moved increasingly towards looking at the mental aspects of the self, yet still made thoughts physical through those nasty little creatures. Scanners is strictly about mind over body, as the majority of the conflicts take place out side of physical space and instead inside the synapses of thought. Cronenberg would actually jump into mental subjectivity even further with Naked Lunch and The Dead Zone, but Scanners represents the first point in his work where emphasis is put entirely on the mind.

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Anchor Bay UK

Focusing on the mind allows Cronenberg to tackle several intriguing ideas. The first of which is the exploration of art. One of the Scanners Vale meets midway through the movie who makes a living as a painter tells Vale, "my art keeps me sane." With the condition the Scanners are in, with all these conflicting voices and thoughts in their heads, art remains their only form of mental release. Painting a picture or chiseling a facial sculpture or the only ways that a Scanner can externalize their ideas in a positive manner. The antithesis to this is Darryl Revok, who instead physically drills a hole into his head to allow the voices in his head to escape. And instead of outing those voices peacefully through art, he instead resorts to mental violence to gratify himself.

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Anchor Bay UK

Another theme that Cronenberg uses the mind to explore is homosexuality. There is no female love interest in the film; Kim and Vale merely acquaintance themselves to fight the evil. Instead, the main connection in the film is undoubtedly between Vale and Revok. They engage in a largely homoerotic battle at the films climax. They mentally penetrate each other, moaning and gyrating. Several shots are devoted to close-ups of their arms and their veins literally swelling up, which draws a similarity to an erect penis. The two penetrate each other, and ultimately become one, in the most private of places, the mind.

Both are males who are outsiders in a society that generally condemns their existence. More than that though, Vale, Revok and the rest of the Scanners (who are overwhelmingly male) must guess whether or not others are Scanners not by asking them, but merely by assessing them mentally. The whole Scanner mythos can be taken as a "gaydar" allegory. Outcasts in society, they must draw on inferences of the mind to communicate, rather than openly express who they are in a very conservative 80s society. There is a gay subtext that runs throughout Scanners, and this subtext is one that Cronenberg would later explicitly develop in Naked Lunch and Dead Ringers.

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Anchor Bay UK

Scanners plants one more seed that would be developed later in Cronenberg's career, and that is the relationship between mind and technology. Near the end of the film there is a scene where Vale gets information on all the Scanners by mentally tapping into the computer mainframe that houses all the data. As a character notes, Vale's nervous system has been linked with the computer's nervous system, and at that moment it is tough to distinguish the two. Cronenberg has a fascination with exploring where, in our technologically driven society, the mind begins and technology ends. This is a theme that he looks at in great detail in his next film, Videodrome, as well as eXistenZ.

So it is clear that Scanners fits well within Cronenberg's overall work as a film auteur, but the question remains: is it any good? The simple answer is, hell yes, but it is not without its flaws. Cronenberg has always played on puns with the names of his characters (Marilyn Chambers' character, who grows a thorn in her otherwise beautiful body, is named "Rose"), and in Scanners he seems to be pulling a joke even with the names of his cast. As Cameron Vale, Stephen Lack definitely does "lack" any sort of acting prowess. His character is so flat and distanced that he removes energy from even the most intense scenes. The lovely Jennifer O'Neill, who was solid in films like Summer of '42, is also a disappointment, as the story totally wastes her presence. Other than these two acting concerns and perhaps a few dragging scenes, the film is very entertaining.

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Anchor Bay UK

Michael Ironside (Total Recall, Prom Night II) makes one hell of a bad guy, and he steals every scene he is in. Notable mention must also be given to Dick Smith, who delivers some gruesome effects that rival his best work in The Exorcist and Taxi Driver. The head exploding scene in which the film is probably best remembered, is truly shocking and arguably even better than Savini's head explosions in The Prowler and Maniac (which were all on screen coincidentally in 1981). The climactic battle too is brutally gory, with exploding eyes, veins and skin shooting all over the screen. Of all the gore-driven films of the 80s, this ranks right up there with the best of them.

As good as Ironside and the effects are, the true draw to the film is its unique and original story. Despite looking like splatter films, all of Cronenberg's earlier films spend considerable time developing themes about the mind and body in considerable detail. Cronenberg lets his characters talk, and often isn't afraid to slow the plot to accommodate his characters philosophical ramblings. The discussions between Vale, Ruth and Revok are captured in detail and give the film a layer of depth that is rarely found in horror films of the 80s. The idea of men fighting with their minds alone is also a great concept, and Cronenberg does a good job of keeping things intense despite not being able to physically show the minds facing off. Although no masterpiece, Scanners is yet another strong film in the oeuvre of Cronenberg. It won't blow your mind, but it will be sure to titillate it.

Image Quality

There’s no question this is a different transfer than the one found on the Region 1 MGM disc, but whether or not this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is better is questionable. Immediately, the contrast will be the first thing people will notice. This new mix is moodier, with much more dark space than the overly bright MGM disc. However, the contrast has been increased to such a point where the detail clearly suffers, the blacks definitely crushed at times. There’s some artifacting present too, something the first disc did not have. On the other hand, though, this is a much cleaner print, even if isn’t quite as sharp. There is hardly any visible dirt or debris. So it’s give and take here between the two transfers, but if I had to pick one, it would still be the MGM disc.


Sound is another issue, with Anchor Bay UK providing not only nice Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 remixes, but also an improved stereo track over the MGM disc. The MGM disc was notable for a slight loss of sync in sound during the latter portion of the film, and thankfully here it’s a non-issue. While the 5.1 track isn’t overly active, it still adds a little more depth to that score we all know and love.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageHere’s where this PAL disc blows away its NTSC competitor. Not only do we get a nice 8 minute history of the production courtesy of horror journalist Alan Jones, but we also get the elusive hour-long Cronenberg documentary from the “The Directors” series. In the interview with Alan Jones, he talks first about Cronenberg and how the film established him as a premier genre director, then moving on to discussing several anecdotes about the film and its legacy. He’s armed with tons of Cronenberg quotes, and gives a commentary’s worth of information in only a few minutes. It’s a great watch.

inline Image“The Directors: David Cronenberg” is fascinating viewing too, although a little drier and conventional. It focuses more on his later stuff, specifically Crash, compared to the early films that got him there. Still, there are tons of Cronenberg sound bytes, and the man is so perceptive he alone could be interesting for hours. His words are joined by anecdotes from several actors he’s worked with though, making a substantial documentary even fuller. The disc is rounded out with a nice array of extras, from trailers for all three films, stills, biographies and a nice little booklet.

Final Thoughts

Scanners is a fine film, and an important one for Cronenberg, marking his shift in focus from the external bodily horror of his earlier films to the introverted exploration of the mind that his later films would come to embody. That and it has one gory, fantastic climax! The image is a slight step down from the MGM disc, but the sound and especially the special features are a big improvement. The film is recommended alone, or in a box set with the two worthy sequels. It’s readily available from Xploited Cinema across the world, so pay them good mind, because this disc matters!


Movie - A-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B
Supplements - B+

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour and 39 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English DTS 5.1
  • English stereo
  • English closed captions

  • "The Directors: David Cronenberg" documentary
  • "Inside Scan: Scanners" interview with historian Alan Jones
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Stills
  • Biographies
  • Booklet

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Old 10-31-2007, 06:54 AM
WOW that film transfer is stunning!

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