'Scanners II' - Sequel to David Cronenberg's 1981 feature, about a fringe group of humans who have developed telepathic powers. When a corrupt police commander (Yvan Ponton) decides to use the scanners to help take over the city, he convinces evil scientist Dr Morse (Tom Butler) to help him. Morse has plans to use a new mind-controlling drug on the telepaths, but has not reckoned with a rogue scanner who is determined to stop them.
'Scanners III' - Young Helena Monet (Liliana Komorowska) has exceptional telepathic abilities, but when she tries an experimental drug developed by her father she turns into a deranged killer, using her abilities to cut a murderous swathe to the top of her father's pharmaceutical company. On her quest to dominate the world, Helena takes over a television station, and the only man who can stop her is her scanner brother Alex, recently returned from honing his skills in a Thai monastery.
Ten years after David Cronenberg showed moviegoers exploding heads and popping veins, producer Pierre David decided it was high time for a sequel to revisit this imaginary universe where people with unique telepathic powers, called "Scanners," live amongst us. As we see in the opening to B.J. Nelson's script, these people sometimes fail at keeping their anonymity, especially since their numbers have grown since we learned of them. Scruffy-looking vagrant Peter Drak (the enigmatic Raoul Trujillo from 'Apocalypto' and the upcoming 'Riddick') brings more public awareness to his kind when walks into an arcade and plays a videogame without touching the controls.
An electric shockwave shoots through the whole building later and he's become the latest test subject to a mysterious company headed by Dr. Morse (Tom Butler), a seemingly caring scientist who clearly harbors some darker intentions. He's secretly in cahoots with police commander John Forrester (Yvan Ponton), and they've gathered a collection of "scanners." Much of this exposition is somewhat dull and a tad overlong but still interesting nonetheless, largely due to the central mystery of what these men are really planning. It's not until me meet veterinary student David Kellum (David Hewlett), a gullible Vermont farm boy living in the city for the first time, that the plot suddenly peaks and finds its proper footing, as Forrester uses David's talents to manipulate and influence political officials.
Picking up the mantle after Cronenberg's departure is Christian Duguay, who made his feature-length debut here, and the director does a rather fine job although there's nothing of real serious note or praise. Several moments can seem rather substandard and clumsily done, made worse by a majority of mediocre performances, yet the production manages to entertain to some degree — just enough to make 'Scanners II' a decently satisfying follow-up to Cronenberg's classic. Taking inspiration from the end of the Cold War political rhetoric that quickly occupied the imagination of early 90s pop-culture, the plot about Forrester using "scanners" to initiate his "new world order" keeps things pretty intriguing while the gory and surprisingly well-done special practical effects shock the imagination of audiences. (Movie Rating: 3/5)
With production on the sequel completed, producer Pierre David, the only filmmaker to take part in all three pictures, immediately followed up the movie with a third entry and released it direct-to-video in less than a year. Working from another script by B.J. Nelson, the story grows bigger and grander in its imagination, as it deals with corporate espionage and hostile takeovers, but the budget noticeably shrinks and is limited to reality. Duguay returns to helm this second sequel, and his direction, too, changes from restrained but adept to comically frantic and self-indulgent. In spite of his stylistic attempts at seeming innovative and edgy, much of the action feels laughably stilted, spiritless and at times, frustrating.
It's too bad, really, because Nelson's plot actually touches on some rather intriguing possibilities. Following Cronenberg's original outline, the most difficult hurdle for "scanners" is controlling their telepathic and telekinetic powers — especially under extreme stress and when in self-defense mode — while also remaining relatively sane and psychologically healthy. For one particularly powerful "scanner," Alex Monet (Steve Parrish), he finds relief and learns to control his talent in a Buddhist monastery after accidentally killing a friend during a party trick. His sister, Helena (Liliana Komorowska), on the other hand, becomes dependent on an experimental drug treatment that impairs moral conscience.
These issues on cognitive control, the greed for power and the dangers on mental health via pharmaceuticals are the only things linking all three films. Whereas Alex pursues natural remedies and being at peace with his "gift," Helena takes comfort in being a homicidal megalomaniac, as if prescribing to another Eastern philosophy, namely Sun Tzu's principles applied to the business world. Cronenberg's original dealt with science and military goals, and the sequel looked towards politics and extremist ideologies. This third installment tries its hands at the might of corporations and the media. It's a lofty, ambitious intention for a low-budget direct-to-video flick, to be sure, but Duguay fails at delivering on this ambition in any meaningful, or even entertaining, fashion. About the only highlight he can muster is a hilarious street chase between a motorcycle and a short, yellow school bus. (Movie Rating: 2/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Scanners II/Scanners III' to Blu-ray as a double-feature two-disc combo pack under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region Free, BD50 disc is housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with a second DVD-9 disc on the opposing panel. At startup, the disc goes to an animated screen with music where viewers can choose between the two movies, which play automatically upon selection.
'Scanners II' hits Blu-ray with all its telepathic might, but the best it can muster with this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 is mild amusement. For the most part, the 1.78:1 image is strong with generally pleasing details and displays a thin, film-like layer of natural grain. There is a good deal of softness as well with several poorly-resolved sequences. Contrast is a bit on the drab, grayish side, but it's stable and consistent with clean whites. Black levels look accurate and true, but shadow delineation, on the other hand, can be better. Aside from some very vibrant reds, the overall color palette is mostly dreary and plain. (Video Rating: 3/5)
Part three in the 'Scanners' franchise arrives with an even less satisfying and rather ordinary AVC-encoded transfer. Despite showing a good thick layer of natural grain, the run-of-the-mill picture is mostly soft and generally lacking in fine detail, especially in poorly-lit sequences. Resolution is nearly comparable to standard definition video, and the overall 1.78:1 image looks dull and plain, thanks to drab, lifeless contrast levels. Blacks are stable and for the most part accurate with only decent delineation in dark shadows. The palette is also pretty humdrum and dreary with mostly faded colors, except for a few bold reds, and sickly-looking flesh tones. (Video Rating: 2.5/5)
The sequel also arrives with a somewhat dull but passable DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack. On the positive side, vocals are well-prioritized and cleanly delivered although the ADR work is quite apparent at times. Background effects are discrete and convincing, creating a fairly wide and welcoming soundfield. The high-rez track is overall clean and pleasing, but it does come with a couple negatives. The mid-range is mostly flat and unchanging, creating an image that's even and pretty lifeless in spite of the action. Low bass is practically nonexistent and listless, adding to the design's fairly monotonous presentation. (Audio Rating: 2.5/5)
Like its predecessor, 'Scanners III' comes to Blu-ray with a rather apathetic and listless DTS-HD MA stereo track. For the most part, the lossless mix is clean and free of any serious artifacts, but the presentation is just downright boring and lackluster. Imaging is broad with some decently ample presence, mostly thanks to a musical score and several discrete effects spreading evenly across the screen. However, dynamic range feels very uniform and limited with almost no movement whatsoever into the higher frequencies, and there's practically no bass to speak of. At times, the design also seems strained and forced, most noticeably in the dialogue which feels oddly stretched and shallow, especially in the ADR work. In the end, it's simply a boring high-rez track. (Audio Rating: 2.5/5)
Shout! Factory brings the two sequels to David Cronenberg's cult sci-fi horror classic to Blu-ray as a double-feature release. Part two is a moderately satisfying follow-up and decently entertaining with better than expected gore effects while the third installment displays some genuine possibilities in its plot about the war of business, but it's sadly impeded by a series of dreadful acting, insipid dialogue, self-indulgent directing and hilariously bad action sequences. The Blu-ray arrives with average but passable video and dull, middling lossless audio. Lacking supplements hurts the overall package, but fans and cult enthusiasts will surely be inexplicably tempted to purchase nonetheless.