In Review: Scanners on Blu-ray

by Neil Sheppard on 24/04/2013


The late, great Roger Ebert said the problem with Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) is that “it is about its plot rather than about what happens to its characters’’. While Ebert and I differed on many movies, on this I could not agree more.

Scanners is about a secret group of telepaths whose powers have the added bonus of causing horrific physical trauma to the people they use them on. This ranges from a simple nosebleed up to a full-on head explosion, created by filling a prosthetic with offal and shooting it with a shotgun. This is a disgustingly beautiful shot and joins many similar scenes of Cronenberg’s trademark body horror. The trouble is, there’s not really anything else going on here.

Studio constraints left Cronenberg still writing the script’s end as he filmed the start, and it shows. Even Michael Ironside and Patrick McGoohan seem stunted as the director barely had chance to give them back stories or motivations. The plot trundles along from set piece to set piece without any real progress or sense. Even the final reveal is just an excuse for another effects sequence.

Still, it’s hard not to appreciate the originality of the story or its interesting sci-fi concepts. The film explores the idea that a telepath’s ability to interface with the brain’s electrical system might allow them to control a person’s nervous system directly, or even a computer. However, what must have seemed like plausible conceits in 1981, seem quaintly ridiculous in the modern day. Even laymen now know that a hacker can’t cause a computer to explode in a deadly shower of sparks, even a telepathic one.

While the Blu-ray release may be rather crisp and clean, there are some things you just can’t polish, and grainy, lo-fi 1980s film is one example. A handful of behind-the-scenes interviews aren’t really enough to make the disc worth your money either. If you’ve not seen Scanners before, it’s probably worth satisfying your intellectual curiosity, but if you have already fast-forwarded to the effects scenes on a worn VHS, there’s nothing here to bring you back.

Neil has awarded Scanners two Torches of Truth


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