Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source MGM DVD
In a stalwart example of camp, early in Scanners, a man addresses a room of people — it is a conference, of sorts. He is a scanner, and intends to display his ability to the group. A man volunteers, sits beside the speaker, and is soon scanned (the process involves, in the scanner, tightening every muscle, clenching teeth, and glaring evilly). Unbeknownst to the speaker, the volunteer is a renegade scanner, and more powerful. The two become awkwardly tense, convulse a bit, and the speaker’s head explodes — it is a perfect culmination for the building action.
“Scanning” involves telepathy although, exampled here, the process causes harm in the scanned. In other hands this ability may have been depicted in a humorous or respected manner (What Women Want) — it would be a talent, whereas here it is a handicap as well as skill. The conflict arises between two groups of scanners: one set for world domination, the other set to stop them.
Early on, at a mall a man is captured (his scanning sent a woman into convulsions), sedated, and tied to a bed. He awakens in a roomful of people. Immediately their inner monologues and thoughts are heard to him. This room contains people silent to us; to the scanner their thoughts join in an unbearable commotion.
The man is Cameron Vale, and he is enlisted to discover the whereabouts of a man named Darryl Revok. Revok is another scanner who exploited his ability, resulting in violence and murder (the aforementioned speaker is but one victim). In his search Vale finds a deeper truth to the conflict. Vale gains knowledge of the drug ephemeral, used to suppress scanners. The drug was also given to women in the 1940’s during pregnancy. Furthering this coincidence, all the known scanners are roughly the same age.
Strong visuals and action can easily redeem a film with poor acting (and often does); however, here Steven Lack’s performance as Cameron Vale is awful. The man does not act — every single line he has is delivered in a stilted manner, as if he is merely reciting lines to be heard. He inflects no emotion or tone. Lack is so completely inappropriate that it distracts, unfortunately, from what is an otherwise engaging film.
The narrative suffers from convolution (it is trademark science fiction — deliberately paced, with technology infused with philosophy). At the point the film’s narrative — suffering from musings buried in scientific (or invented) jargon — the film becomes an effects showcase, a final duel between scanners. As the presence of Rick Baker in the credits promises, the conflict involves prosthetics and latex mechanisms — here, spurting blood and fire. Because scanning is an imagined behavior, its capabilities are dictated by those creatively responsible for the telling. And because this film is directed by David Cronenberg, the final conflict is expectedly gruesome.