Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Lawrence Dane, Michael Ironside
Director: David Cronenberg
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: MGM
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: August 28, 2001

Film ***

Every DVD fan has a wish list of titles. Scanners has been on mine since day one.

I’ve long been an admirer of David Cronenberg, and it was probably Scanners that first brought the Canadian director to my attention. It was an intelligent science piece that pitted good guy against bad guy, with the fate of all humanity hanging unknowingly in the balance. It has inspired numerous sequels and comic books, and one can even see hints of the concept in the recent X-Men movie.

In a world of billions of people, there are only about 257 "scanners"…individuals with a bizarre and very powerful mind power that blends ESP and telekinesis with occasional stomach-churning results. Cameron Vale (Lack) is such a person, though he doesn’t quite understand it. A woman in a shopping center making crude comments about his slovenly appearance is suddenly seized upon, but he doesn’t comprehend his own power or how to control it.

Enter Dr. Paul Ruth (McGoohan), a scientist who has specialized in working with scanners. Because many of them, like Cameron, fail to understand their power, they rarely interact and often live in similarly impoverished conditions. Here, we learn more about scanning: those with the gift can read minds and interact with the nervous systems of others (often at great discomfort and pain to the recipient), and those who are strong enough at the art of scanning can even kill with it. Only a drug called Ephemerol can help the scanners; when the sounds of other thoughts become too much and too overwhelming, a quick shot relieves them temporarily (as well as costing them their powers for a time). Ruth is intelligent but mysterious, and quite possibly not telling the full truth about his motivations for working with scanners.

He has recruited Cameron because he feels he might be the one to battle Darryl Revok (Ironside), an extremely powerful scanner with a grudge against normal people. Cameron finds a willing accomplice in Kim Obrist (the lovely O’Neill), but it may take more than what they have to stop the dangerous Darryl.

That’s the basic plot of the story, but there are surprises in store which I won’t spoil for you. Suffice to say, Cronenberg indulges himself in some of his typically maniacal story twists, as well as more than a helping or two of gleeful gore.

This film was one of the earliest indicators of the Cronenberg style, and became a recognizable landmark in the director’s career, pointing toward the direction he would go with pictures like Videodrome, Dead Ringers, The Fly, eXISTENz and more.

Scanners intrigues because of its premise, and takes on a much larger sense of purpose than what is confined to the screen by making the stakes all of humanity, and suggesting the notion that people we have no idea about or would even look twice at are fighting it out for our fate. It’s definitely the kind of movie that will at least make you think twice about thinking ONCE.

Video ***

The anamorphic transfer might have earned top marks if not for a few notable problem areas. As the opening credits end and the film begins, I was amazed by the quality of the video. Colors were bright, natural, well contained and plentiful, detail level was good down to the most minute images, and the print seemed in much better condition than I expected from a 20-plus year old film. It was better than I’d ever seen before for a home video presentation. However, there were some trouble spots. A specific closeup of Darryl suffered from the worst dark-to-light shimmer I’ve ever seen…it was extremely brief, but distracting. Occasionally, some darker segments suffered from touches of grain and a little bit of haziness. Overall, this is still a quality effort, but a little more attention in the margins might have sent it through the roof.

Audio **

As with most mono soundtracks, this one is serviceable but hardly overwhelming. Dialogue levels are very good, and the 80s music and sound effects are mostly well rendered, though some slight distortion is apparent when it goes for dynamic range that a mono track just isn’t equipped to handle. Though not a fault of the transfer, I feel the need to point out that there are one or two spots in the movie where the dialogue doesn’t sync up with the actors speaking it…it’s an issue with the film itself, but it seems like it could be repaired with a little effort.

Features *

Only a trailer.


Scanners is a good old fashioned showdown movie a la Cronenberg. I’m glad to finally own this title on disc, and am generally pleased about the overall quality of the offering. I’d wager other fans of the director will be equally pleased.