JANUARY 23, 2010
I won’t name names, but I was surprised to hear how many people were more or less in agreeance with me that Scanners isn’t quite the classic I was expecting. I figured I’d get a “You’re an idiot!” or the old standby “But you like Armageddon” when I told folks that I was underwhelmed by it, but many of them replied “Yeah, cool idea, but...” or something along those lines. However, if David Cronenberg were to walk into the room just then and asked what we thought of it, we’d probably all tell him it was amazing. He’s Cronenberg! And he’s at a Mexican joint for some reason. Why spoil his mood?
(However, if he asked what we thought of Crash, I’d tell him it sucked. No way I could pretend to like that fucking thing.)
There are two reasons I was sort of “meh” on it. One - the headsplosion occurs in the first ten minutes, setting up a far more visual and gonzo movie than is actually delivered. Two - as is often the case with Cronenberg, the film lacks humor of any sort, which to me is not the best way to go about your story about dudes who can read minds and then blow up those minds. Some movies can have goofy plots but still work if the director takes it seriously (hell, Cronenberg himself did just that two years later with The Dead Zone), but Scanners’ story is SO goofy that I just kept wishing Dave would just loosen up and have some fun with it.
Back to the headsplosion - there’s a reason why it’s the most famous scene in the film - it’s the only one that’s memorable! Not a lot of folks are like “You know that scene in Scanners where the boring hero guy walks around a doctor’s office for a while?” Hell it’s only been a few hours and I’m already having trouble remembering anything else that stood out. The ending “battle” is pretty cool (I have a weak spot for veins, so seeing them bulge out AND squirting blood was pretty uncomfortable in a good way), but the resulting body-switch is pretty stupid, in my opinion.
I also didn’t dig on the fact that Michael Ironside disappears for most of the movie. The plot kicks into gear when the hero is recruited to take him down, but Ironside is absent for so long he never really feels like a real threat. By the time they DO meet up, the movie had already felt disappointing, and his return/subsequent battle wasn’t enough to save it.
And it’s a shame, because the concept is cool and the structure (save for Ironside’s absence) is fine. Good guy tries to find other scanners to help him, a love interest is worked in, there’s some car chases and an explosion or two, plus an “infiltrate the enemy headquarters” sequence. But it’s all done with Cronenberg’s usual cold, technical approach (not to mention his penchant for distractingly odd names - Braedon, Obrist, Revok, Trevellyan - none of these meet Microsoft Word’s criteria for a correctly spelled name!), and I just didn’t care about anyone on screen. Well, maybe the guy that I thought was Saul Rubinek, because I thought he was Saul Rubinek, but he died pretty quickly. And it wasn’t him anyway.
Incidentally, the reason I finally got around to watching the film in its entirety (I had seen bits and pieces over the years) was because I was invited to join some others for a viewing of Scanners 3: The Takeover the next day. Now, it’s probably not a BETTER film by any normal measure, but it’s certainly more fun. The villain is front and center (if anything, the HERO is the one who disappears for too much of the film), there are a lot of setpieces and unique deaths (it’s almost like a slasher at times, the evil scanner even has a few one-liners), and it doesn’t waste its best moment in the first 10 minutes (though it comes close - a scanner “mishap” causes a guy in a Santa outfit to plummet to his death in front of a little girl). Granted, Cronenberg’s film had more interesting ideas and less of a clichéd approach, but damned if the sequel doesn’t fit the bill of what comes to my head when I think of the ideal movie about guys with telepathy trying to kill each other. (I would offer a full review, but as I was with friends we were shooting the shit and mocking it, so I would hardly be able to speak on the film without just listing all the "cool" parts).
What say you?