Scanners Blu-Ray Review
Blu-Ray Review- Scanners
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Street Date: July 15th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 103 Minutes
As a life-long Horror and Science Fiction aficionado, I felt like I hit the gold mine when I came across David Cronenberg’s work for the first time when I saw The Fly (1986) as a pre-teen. The Director’s insanely gory vision of the dark side of technology, as well as his reliance on a solid story and realistic characters, made me seek out his work in a frenzied pre-pubescent panic. Soon I would watch Videodrome (1983), which would become one of my all-time Top 10 films. But it was Scanners, a film that as far as I knew was about exploding heads, which really captured my interest at the time. What a concept! We’ve all had a bully or tormentor of some kind that we only wished we could unleash the same sort of telepathic revenge on. The concept had been done before in films like Carrie (1976) and The Fury (1978), but Cronenberg brought a polished level of sadism to his take, and a cinematic Horror classic was born.
In Scanners, Stephen Lack stars as Cameron Vale, a telepathic vagrant known as a “Scanner”, who is completely unaware of the full extent of his powers. “Scanners” can telepathically link themselves to others’ nervous systems, allowing them access to their thoughts, heart rate, brain waves, you name it. Following a disturbance in a mall food court, Cameron is captured by government agents and placed into the care of Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), a research specialist with ConSec. When one of ConSec’s scanners is attacked by the dangerous rogue scanner Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), the company turns to Dr. Ruth for a solution. Dr. Ruth begins to train Cameron to not only control his “scanning” capabilities with an experimental drug called Ephemerol, but also to hone his dangerous skills in order to defeat Revok once and for all. Scanners is one of those films that I would hate to spoil for those who haven’t seen it, so I’ll leave my plot synopsis at that.
Revisiting Scanners on this brand new Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection was both delightful and eye-opening in that I continue to appreciate the film as a unique and strong effort from Cronenberg, but I’m also willing to admit that the film is quite dated in 2014. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve seen so many various telepathic movies since I first viewed Scanners as a pre-teen, and I’m able to recognize its strengths and shortcomings by comparison. Scanners still benefits from fine execution on behalf of the filmmakers, with brilliant special effects that are still very effective and engaging performances from a talented cast. What does it lack? Well the ending for one, though the effects are impressive, is a bit anti-climactic and “small scale” for a film that promises it’s viewers an all-out telepathic battle of epic proportions. It’s rather short and confined to one space.
Though it may sound like I’m being too hard on a legitimate cult classic, there were just a few things I noticed this time around that somehow evaded me over the years. Believe me when I say that I wouldn’t own four separate versions of the film on home video if I didn’t adore it, even with a few shortcomings. Scanners remains an exciting cinematic tale of social paranoia and telepathic chaos that will delight fans of the genre.
Mind=blown. I’ve owned many different versions of Scanners on home video throughout the years, from Laserdisc to VHS and DVD, and this latest Blu-Ray edition features a transfer that blows them all away. Restored digitally from a 2K scan, the fine object detail is outstanding, revealing facial features and small clothing textures that one would have never noticed on previous formats. The colors look superb and accurate to the time period in which it was filmed, retaining the somewhat washed-out look of the theatrical print. This is a very clean print to boot, with very minimal (if any) anomalies or artifacts to report. Beautiful doesn’t quite capture it; this is one of the better restorations I’ve seen in 2014.
The HD Mono track presented here may lack the power of a multi-channel effort, never quite enveloping you in the cinematic realm, but dialogue always comes through clean and clear and background sound design is captured with somewhat dynamic results (given the limitations). It’s a little front heavy and obviously lacks range, but it gets the job done.
The Criterion Collection has provided fans of Scanners with their usual Collector’s Edition treatment, loading this Blu-Ray release with tons of great features. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- The Scanners Way: Creating the Special Effects in Scanners– This great featurette lasts over 20 minutes and delves into the creative process involved in the special effects wizardry behind the film. Featuring several of the crew that worked on the makeup and practical effects, these extended interviews offer some fascinating insight the work that these magical people do on a daily basis.
- Mental Saboteur- How can one not love Michael Ironside? He’s one of my personal favorite villains and character actors of the 80’s and 90’s, and this nearly 20 minute interview is fascinating. Michael delves into all things Scanners including his respect for David Cronenberg, comparing paychecks with his fellow cast mates, the special effects wizardry behind the exploding head sequence, his other work following his move to America from Canada, and much more. I absolutely loved hearing from the man himself about his career. He’s very down-to-earth and honest about life and the living he chose to pursue.
- The Ephemerol Diaries– This featurette was produced in 2012 and features a roughly 14 minute extended interview with actor Stephen Lack discussing his work on Scanners and other films as well as his contribution to the visual arts. I especially enjoyed hearing him discuss Patrick McGoohan’s daily frustrations on the set relating to the screenplay and focus of the film.
- The Bob McLean Show- Taken from a March 1981 episode of the show and running about 11 minutes, Bob McLean sits down with Director David Cronenberg to discuss Scanners and his seven previous films at the time including: Stereo, Rabid, The Brood, and other cult gems.
- Stereo- On a disc packed with great special features, this is the standout gem of the set! Stereo is David Cronenberg’s first feature film from 1969 and truly acts as a prequel to Scanners in some ways, as it involves telepathy and medical experimentation. Presented in High Definition black and white, the film looks splendid on the format. The feature running time is 65 minutes.
- Radio Spots- Roughly 1 ½ minutes of radio spots that aired during the theatrical campaign for Scanners.
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs over 2 minutes and gives viewers a fairly good idea of what they’re in for by presenting an edited version of the exploding head scene. The video quality is understandably not up to par, but it adds to the nostalgic atmosphere.
This Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection features some brilliant new artwork on the cover, with Michael Ironside in the midst of combustion. Hardcore fans of the film have been a little mixed on this artwork, but I personally dig it. On the reverse of the slip-box you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, and technical specifications. Inside the case is a digi-pack with more beautiful art which contains the Blu-Ray disc, and two separate DVD discs for the film and special features. There is a booklet with an essay by Kim Newman entitled Mind Over Matter, as well as some more in-depth technical information on the video transfer and production notes. This is a slick and modern looking set with a design that Cronenberg fans will adore.
While Scanners hasn’t necessarily aged as well as other films from the Cronenberg catalog, it remains a well-executed science fiction horror hybrid that balances terror and high-drama in equal measure. The director’s later films would delve more deeply into the bizarre extremities of humanity, but Scanners is a solid and exciting effort with fine performances from the cast and incredibly fun special effects that solidifies its well-deserved rank among the genre films of the 1980’s. This long awaited Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection delivers the goods on picture and audio quality, and provides a fascinating array of special features (including Cronenberg’s first film Stereo) that will delight fans of the film. This Criterion Collection edition comes recommended, especially with the top-notch video/audio and fully-loaded bonus features.