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SCANNERS
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Jennifer OíNeill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Lawrence Dane, Michael Ironside
Director: David Cronenberg
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: July 25, 2014

"How do you feel?"

"I feel...crystal clear..."

Film ***

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

Iíve 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 X-Men movies.

In a world of billions of people, there are only about 257 "scanners"Öindividuals 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 doesnít quite understand it. A woman in a shopping center making crude comments about his slovenly appearance is suddenly seized upon, but he doesnít 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 OíNeill), but it may take more than what they have to stop the dangerous Darryl.

Thatís the basic plot of the story, but there are surprises in store which I wonít 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 directorís 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. Itís definitely the kind of movie that will at least make you think twice about thinking ONCE.

Video ****

This is an amazing-looking 80s transfer from Criterion, personally approved by David Cronenberg...it looks clean and clear, with terrific, realistic coloring, good depth, and crisp images throughout.  I noticed none of the grain or shimmer that was apparent on previous DVD releases (from other studios)...fans will be thrilled!

Audio ***

This is a solid uncompressed mono offering.  Dialogue levels are very good, and the 80s music and sound effects are well rendered and clean. There are a couple of stretches where it looks like spoken words were post-dubbed; anyone know the history of that?  Otherwise, a terrific and impressive listen throughout.

Features ***

There is a new documentary "The Scanners Way", focusing on the impressive special effects.  There are new interviews with actors Michael Ironside and Stephen Lack, as well as a vintage 1981 interview with Cronenberg.  There is also a trailer and a few radio spots.

Best of all is a newly restored inclusion of Cronenberg's first feature film, the black and white Stereo.  It's plotless, but fascinating, and definitely points the way toward the director's strange and bright future.

Summary:

Scanners is a good old fashioned showdown movie a la Cronenberg. Iím glad to finally own this title on Blu-ray, and thrilled that the studio to bring it to us is Criterion.  A fantastic effort!

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