Scanners (1981)

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Released 18-Aug-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1981
Running Time 99:09
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By David Cronenberg

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Jennifer O'Neill
Stephen Lack
Patrick McGoohan
Lawrence Dane
Michael Ironside
Robert A. Silverman
Lee Broker
Mavor Moore
Adam Ludwig
Murray Cruchley
Fred Doederlein
Géza Kovács
Sony Forbes
Case ?
RPI Box Music Howard Shore

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Scanners epitomises much of what controversial Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg sets out to do with his films – create a creepy atmosphere in which to explore themes of technology’s impact on the human body, and the inherent sexuality of technology’s melding into the human form. Whereas film directors such as David Lynch have been more influenced by the works of French impressionist artists and the decontructivist post-modern art world to explore similar notions, Cronenberg has more in common with the futurist school of art – a rebelling against the intentionally vague impressionist movement in favour of linear forms exploring humanity’s connection to the real and the tangible, and in particular the technology upon which we are dependent for our survival and ultimately our evolution.

    The generally linear plot of Scanners follows a homeless man named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack). Plagued all his life by voices in his head, Vale is brought to the attention of Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who has discovered a way to help scanners live with their disorder. However, Ruth works for a security company called ConSec and has an ulterior agenda for Vale. When ConSec is attacked by a radical and unstable scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), Ruth proposes sending Vale to track him down. Vale’s own investigations lead him to a subculture of benevolent scanners, led by art manager Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill). But when the benevolent scanners start getting murdered, Vale finds himself in the crossfire trying to uncover a conspiracy that leads right back to where he started, and the reason for his gifts.

    Themes of mental illness building to greatness – the artistic virtuosity of so many schizophrenic painters, musicians and sculptors – are taken to new levels by Cronenberg in this film. Scanners is essentially a big what if - what if all mentally ill people were not deranged psychotics but actually gifted if different individuals? What would happen if there were lots of these people? Would it not precipitate a conflict of the evolving species, with the benevolent among them wanting to help humanity, and the belligerent wishing to wipe humanity out as an inferior species, much like the war between differing factions of mutants as explored in comic books like The X-Men?

    While less thematically (or intellectually) challenging than Cronenberg’s subsequent 1983 cult masterpiece Videodrome, and less accomplished than the brilliant and terrifying 1986 remake of The Fly, you can see the genesis of both films in Scanners. Indeed, had Cronenberg had the budget and cast of The Fly to make Scanners, this too might have been a greater commercial success, remembered in the annals of horror and science fiction less as a cult classic and more as one of the greats. This does not mean that Scanners could have been a great success merely if it had had more money, and I am wary of the Hollywood remake of Scanners set for 2005. While information is scant at this point in time, unless Cronenberg himself is on board and at the helm (which at the time of this review he is not), it is going to take an extremely talented director to make more out of this than Cronenberg did.

    The faults with the original Scanners, however, do have a lot to do with casting and budgetary restraints. Lack does a passable job, but is far from outstanding. Ironside is ultimately far more convincing as the deranged scanner Revok, and even Lack’s female counterpart Jennifer O’Neill ultimately does a better job than he does, despite her smaller role. The script too suffers from several flaws, rushing towards a conclusion that could have been much better if it had been paced slightly better. Too many loose ends were tied up too quickly, and clumsily, while others were left hanging in the wind – an intentional ploy on Cronenberg’s behalf, no doubt, but some of the ties could easily have been left as threads as well, in keeping with such an approach.

    What this ultimately comes down to, though, is that even a decent but flawed Cronenberg film is much better than a big budget Hollywood movie with a script drafted by producers, a bunch of big name actors, and ultimately no ideas. Cronenberg, on the other hand, is far more adept at cramming more ideas into ten minutes than most filmmakers can get into two hours. For that reason, Scanners will remain a rightly deserved cult classic.

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Transfer Quality


    Unless you have been out to the Astor cinema on a cult night, or have purchased the R1 release, it is likely you have not seen this film in all its glory. Thankfully, Universal have provided us with a fairly smooth transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (which is very close to the original ratio or 1.85:1), and enhanced for 16x9 viewing.

    If anything, this transfer is a little soft, although this never really results in a noticeable lack of detail.

    Shadow detail is acceptable, but reduced due to the quality of the original print – some scenes are not as well lit as they could be, likely due to budgetary constraints, and this can result in a slight murkiness to the image, rather than a well graded shading.

    Colour is a little washed out, but for the most part well balanced. Most of this is likely due to the age of the print and the quality of the film used to make the film in the first place.

    There are no MPEG artefacts. Film-to-video transfer artefacts crop up every now and then, and mostly consist of moire on the tweed jackets favoured by much of the cast. There was some faint background aliasing, but this was greatly reduced due to the softness of the image.

    There was quite a bit of dirt on the print, and the odd tiny hair here and there, but nothing woefully distracting.

    There are no subtitles.

    This is a single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Audio is only available in 2.0 Dolby Mono in English.

    This track is acceptable, but suffers from a lot of audio sync problems, as if nearly all of Lack’s dialogue were dubbed over in post-production. I vaguely recall the VHS version I first saw suffering from similar problems, but it had been borrowed out so many times by that point that many of the faults were attributable to the quality of the tape, not the source material. In any event, the sound is not as well done here as it was done for the DVD release of Videodrome, and a worthlessly pale shadow compared to the sound on the DVD release of The Fly.

    The score by Howard Shore is quite effective at times, and suits the film quite nicely. It is nothing by the standards of the passionate score done for The Fly, or even the haunting score done for Cronenberg’s more post-modern exploration of sexual passion, the highly controversial Crash. But it does work, no more so than the final blood-soaked confrontation where it adds much to the exploding veins and gushing blood.

    Due to the mono origins of this track, there are no directional cues and no subwoofer use. Definitely a wasted opportunity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    All menus are 16x9 enhanced. The main menu has the score playing in 2.0 Dolby Stereo which contrasts greatly with the actual soundtrack.


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R1 version comes as a single disc, without the two non-Cronenberg sequels. The R1 version reportedly also has the original theatrical trailer, and comes with a French 2.0 Dolby Surround track and subtitles in English and Spanish.

    There is also apparently an R2 release which is only available in 1.33:1, Pan & Scan.

    The R1 release gets my vote.


    Scanners is not as good as many of Cronenberg’s later films, but given the budgetary constraints placed on him he has done a fantastic job of creating a film that will – for better or worse – stick in your head. And if you’re really lucky, your head will not explode in a shower of gore afterwards.

    Video is very smooth, if a little soft. Infinitely better than when I saw it on VHS, though.

    The 2.0 Dolby Mono track is limited, but for the most part serviceable. The lack of other language options is a bit of a shortfall for our multicultural society.

    There is nothing, not even a lowly trailer, in the way of extras. This is more than a little disappointing as a commentary on the special make up effects would have been quite interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RV31A-S, using S-Video output
DisplayBeko 28" (16x9). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationMarantz SR7000
SpeakersEnergy - Front, Rear, Centre & Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
R2 AR - napalm68
Region 2 French disc - Scanners fan