A Scanner Darkly

scannerThat was fun – a graphic novel featuring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, made up of snapshots from an animated film based on a live-action film, which was, in turn, adapted from a novel by Philip K. Dick. (An adaptation studies scholar’s heaven!)

It’s a very interesting project, it does really feel like watching a film, but because they had to cut out massive chunks, even to make it into a generously sized book (188 pp.), there were lots of gaps to fill for the reader. I mean, I read it in three 20-mins sittings, and when you think of it, at reading pace, I probably didn’t get a fourth of what the film could show visually. So the book/film is about a group of people half of whom are undercover agents trying to bust each other – a dystopia involving a highly addictive drug that causes serious brain damage, also has the aspect of detective fiction. So it’s quite difficult to follow who is who from such a pared down plot, represented in 5-6 panels on average per page. Also, the fact that a few characters, including the protagonist, were wearing this high-tech “anonymity” suit (containing a million and a half fraction representations of people of all kinds) didn’t help – I think those suits look better as a visual effect in a film rather than on printed page. (All these probably explain why the book ended up being remaindered at £4,99; it’s four-colour hardback, such a pity).

I could see that the author wanted you to think about the nature of addiction, mental health and identity, and directed some criticism at the state and big corporations in modern society, but I felt that the medium didn’t hold enough to get the message across in this graphic version. But, because the main characters are junkies, and because a graphic book relies almost solely on dialogue, there was a lot of slang, and because it’s an American film/book, both the language and the sense of humour was a bit unfamiliar to me. So maybe that’s partly why I missed out a bit. But I definitely enjoyed reading it!

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