Clearly a low-budget film, Scanners uses a very small collection of settings as a front for its story. Scanners attempts to create a claustrophobic feeling of paranoia with its small settings in an attempt to convey to audiences the state of mind the characters are constantly in, but it is only sporadically successful. The man clearly has a talent for crafting atmosphere which he does through mostly the manipulation of sound effects and Howard Shore's subtle but timely musical score, but there is only so much success this can achieve when the story is not up to par. More of the time, the small scale settings just reinforce the low-budget nature of the film and little else which helps to ensure that the limitations of the film are made abundantly clear. But really, the fault lies far more in the narrative than in the technical side of the film.
Relying more on the general concept of its story than the overall content, it's difficult to establish much of a narrative in Scanners. It's clear that David Cronenberg has good ideas with his film, but actually finding something sensible to do with them seems to prove a challenge for the director. The man has a legacy for crafting self-indulgent and convoluted narratives, and within the limitations of a small-scale story he still manages to do just that by making his feature too philosophical rather than being actually narrative-driven. There is no story that actually gets built in Scanners, just a lot of convoluted ideals loosely strung together into a path through the twisted mind of David Cronenberg. It ultimately proved too elusive to me, and even though there was a pace that should have been slow enough for me to comprehend things, it just gave me more of an opportunity to mourn the time I was wasting by watching the film. I couldn't follow what was happening, understand the themes or even decipher the elements of deadpan comedy that recur within David Cronenberg films. Since the spent most of his time actually writing the script between 4 and 7 AM on shooting days it is clear that he didn't have a clear-cut narrative before entering production, and it really shows because the dialogue seems to loosely weave in and out of different concepts without consistently remaining focused on any in particular. There are so many characters in Scanners. While the film could have been a tale of war between protagonist Cameron Vale and antagonist Darryl Revok fighting on opposite sides of the Scanner battle as well as what it genuinely meant to be on either side of the fight, but the film instead manages to cut through countless characters even within such a limited quantity of settings to end up way too scattered for its own good.
Scanners is a film which just didn't make sense to me, and the lack of production design or interesting characters left me not caring enough to follow it. Scanners has the potential to truly be something clever, but it does little to support to complex universe that it implies. With minimal contributions to the production design or use of the admittedly impressive special effects, there are few visual traits that actually support the implied narrative. With the high-profile subject matter of people with exceptional powers, Scanners cleverly uses this plot point as a non-visual element and relies on the actors and sound effects to convey them. The physical performances of the actors manage to work and the musical score is intense as is the screeching sound effects which manage to moderate themselves fairly without going into excess, but ultimately it doesn't serve to supply enough narrative value to keep the experience engaging. The man clearly has an eye for imagery and ensures that the cinematography is steady enough to capture everything well enough within its confined setting, but the confines of the production limitations stand in the way of Scanners achieving true greatness with its ambition.
However, as with any David Cronenberg film, Scanners does not hold back with its violence. There are explosions, fires and gunshots coming out of nowhere in Scanners which ensures that at the least the film is some kind of a meandering spectacle. The highlight comes from the iconic scene at the beginning where one of the characters has his head explode in a moment of merciless blood and gore. Displaying the kind of visual brilliance which would later win an Academy Award for Best Makeup in David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986), Chris Walas manages to create some occasional moments of visual brilliance in his depiction of violence. His contributions to Scanners prove to be the greatest thing that anyone adds to the film, and the special effects he handles ensures that what little imagery is memorable from Scanners is thanks to him.
When it comes to performances it is hardly likely that viewers would have heard of nearly any actors in Scanners, but what's more challenging is remembering the actual performances of any of them. Succumbing to essentially a B-movie standard of acting when it comes to line delivery and character development, and though they manage to deliver an intense physical portrayal of the Scanner powers which works in tune with the sound effects of the film, their line delivery fails to illuminate any character depth. Michael Ironside manages to be the one minor standout amid all this due to both his impressive physicality and the way he projects psychotic antagonism in the role of Darryl Revok. He offers an engaging level of tension in his performance by really embracing the powers he is given, and it peaks during the climax of the film before he completely loses himself in the character.
Scanners offers some entertaining moments of special effects thanks to the work of Chris Walas, but with David Cronenberg's stereotypically convoluted style of narrative held back by a limited budget, Scanners fails to realize its potential and settles for repetitive and confusing philosophy rather than a genuine story.
The production was troubled. Hasty script re-writes and failed special effects scenes that required re-shoots.
An exploding head in one scene forms the main special effect of the film.
The cast and crew are made up mainly of little known Canadians but Prisoner star Patrick McGoohan makes an appearance as a psychopharmacist!
Basically scanners are humans with the power to connect with other nervous systems over a distance using telepathy. Get it?
The film explains there are 237 scanners worldwide caused by the teratogenic side effects of a drug administered to pregnant women like thalidomide.
A private security company controls most of these scanners but what is their evil motive?
One scanner (the hero of the film) attempts to find out and stop the potential worldwide trouble starting.
Cronenburg succeeds with a story years in the moulding and the special effects scenes do work.
The IT equipment on show in the film is horrific! How did big multi national companies survive with computers with less power than a smartphone but taking up an entire room!
Well worth a look.