Like many of Cronenberg's early films, 'Scanners' was really ahead of its time. Not so much in terms of visual effects — though they are gorily awesome and continue to shock to this day — but in regards to the themes and subject matter the Canadian filmmaker often explored. He takes audiences by surprise with his fascination with the possibilities of achieving a higher state of consciousness and the next step in human evolution. Unfortunately, from Cronenberg's perspective, attaining this abstract reality of presumed progress is a painful process that almost always requires a violent dissociation from the material, concrete world, which often necessitates our physical bodies. More interestingly, his "body horror" approach comes with intriguing social and cultural commentary.
In this cult sci-fi horror favorite, Cronenberg continues exploring that relationship between the physical body and the metaphysical mind, but he also delves a little deeper by touching on the external, environmental influences upon one's psychology — the whole nature vs. nurture thing. Sadly, I can't go any further on that last part without running the risk of revealing some major spoilers. Anyone familiar with the film, however, will likely get my meaning about the role of mental health within the plot, particularly in the final moments when we learn that what we thought to be a mutation fluke of nature turns out to be a much more sinister and rather worrying problem. Granted, the intended shocker is far from an earth-shattering revelation, but it makes for a satisfyingly somber twist in the narrative.
On the other hand, any discussion concerning the Cameron Vale (a rather stiff and very monotone Stephen Lack) character does include the plot's psychological aspect without disclosing too much. We first meet him as a homeless man nonchalantly roaming the mall, picking at people's food as he walks by and finishing the leftovers at empty tables. When two women comment to each other about his looks and behavior, Vale can hear them and is so bothered by their mocking whispers that he somehow causes a seizure in one of them. Drugged and detained by a mysterious company called ConSec, a Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) explains that Vale possesses a telepathic power that can read and control other minds, and only a few people, dubbed "Scanners," have this ability.
If not for the telepathic and telekinetic element, what we see in the film is an extreme form of the power of suggestion, of an outside powerful influence upon that the thoughts and actions of others. Ironically, "scanners" may be born with the power to control people, but they seem especially sensitive to the opinions and judgments of those around them, which is made all the more traumatic by the fact that they hear the mental thoughts of strangers, sometimes all at once as in the case of Vale. Secret underground societies have formed throughout the city, like the one run by the stunningly beautiful Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill in top form) which Vale tries to join. The group is more of the hippie, free-love variety that believes the power as the next evolution of human enlightenment meant for good.
This is where Darryl Revok (the always awesome Michael Ironside) comes into the picture, a particularly powerful but psychologically-troubled scanner who once drilled a hole into his forehead — suggestive of the "third-eye" and "sixth sense" aspect of Cronenberg's story. Unlike the other group, he believes his telepathic powers can be used for world domination and those without the ability are the weaker species. Aside from the inevitable showdown between Revok and Vale, the character hints at issues having to do with pharmaceutical drugs and their effects since his war against ConSec is partly seen as a deadly business rivalry. In the end, 'Scanners' is classic David Cronenberg, with lots of great, shocking gore shrouding a more insightful commentary.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Imported from the United Kingdom, this Blu-ray edition of 'Scanners' comes courtesy of Second Sight Films. The Region B locked, BD50 disc comes inside an attractive, black steelbook case with a picture from one of the film's iconic moments. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a partially static menu screen with full-motion clips in the top right window and music playing in the background.
'Scanners' makes a telepathic connection on Blu-ray with a fantastic and sometimes stunning 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. It's easily one of the best presentations of the Cronenberg classic ever seen on any home video media, showing a great deal of detail and clarity throughout. Bricks on buildings are distinct, threading on clothes is well-defined and facial complexions are revealing with lifelike textures. The photography is intentionally on the gloomy side, but contrast is spot-on and comfortably bright with clean, crisp whites. Colors are accurate and boldly rendered with reds and greens looking most dramatic. The high-def transfer is awash in a thin layer of grain, giving it an appreciable film-like appeal.
Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the only minor drawback in the image is related to the condition of the source. Several scenes look poorly-resolved and a bit on the blurry side, manifesting the grain almost to the point of appearing a tad noisy. Black levels are, for the most part, stable and rich, but shadows can look a bit too prominent at times, obscuring some of the finer details in the darker portions. However, with all things considered, this remains a great presentation of a Cronenberg favorite.
The cult sci-fi horror classic also arrives with a pair of great high-rez audio options. Fans can enjoy the film in uncompressed PCM stereo or in a newly remastered 5.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The latter is surprisingly not bad as it maintains a front-heavy presentation with only minor bleeds into the rears during musical cues or a few scattered moments of activity for ambience. Only issue is that the track is also seems somewhat thin and airy with imaging that sometimes feels oddly stretched and overextended.
My personal preference is for the PCM stereo track as it's closer to the original design and sounds far more natural. The soundstage has a hearty and stable presence with Howard Shore's musical score spreading across the screen evenly, creating a highly engaging image. Background effects are discrete with off-screen activity that's convincing and broadens the soundfield while dialogue reproduction is intelligible and distinct in the center. Dynamics and acoustics are very detailed and well-balanced with excellent clarity in the upper ranges. Bass is appropriate for a film of this vintage, but it provides plenty of depth to the action. Overall, it's a very enjoyable lossless mix and the movie has never sounded better.
Although it can be considered an early work in David Cronenberg's cannon showing his penchant for "body horror," 'Scanners' is also smart, subtly enlightening, and gorily entertaining. Over the years, the film has grown in stature and beloved as a cult sci-fi horror classic that still manages to surprise and shock thirty years later. Arriving in a limited steelbook edition from Second Sight Films in the UK, the Blu-ray offers a fantastic video transfer and an excellent audio presentation. Supplements are not very extensive but great nonetheless, making the overall package a praiseworthy purchase for those with the capable equipment.