Scanners II: The New Order

tn_scanners2Of all David Cronenberg’s movies the one that lends itself the most to sequels is SCANNERS. I mean I guess they could’ve easily done M. BUTTERFLY: APOCALYPSE or DEAD RINGERS: THE CRACKDOWN, but in my opinion extending the SCANNERS story makes a little more sense, so that’s the one they made a bunch of sequels to. It’s funny though – I think looking back we have an understanding of Cronenberg as a soft-spoken genius with half his brain devoted to insane perversion. We’ve seen his chest vaginas, gristle guns and everything. We’ve seen him stay true to his vision for 30 years, and once he got bored with the New Flesh and hooked up with Viggo it was just as good and not much more mainstream. He’s a true Canadian original.

But back in ’91 when this came out I think they still thought they could tame him. They must’ve missed DEAD RINGERS, and NAKED LUNCH hadn’t come out yet. He folded his twisted sensibilities into THE DEAD ZONE and THE FLY, both pure Cronenberg visions that could pass for commercial entertainment. And all his movies had great gore in them. Melting, bubbling, tearing flesh, all done with rubber and foam of course, and it still holds up better than anything done with pixels. So that made him a hero to the Fangorians, and therefore a “horror director.” And that means SCANNERS is just a regular genre picture just asking for a lackluster part 2.

Like the first one it starts with a grimy drifter scanner going nuts in public – he goes to an arcade and wins all the video games telepathically. He gets picked up by an organization but instead of getting cleaned up and becoming the hero he just gets used as an evil henchman. This guy is guilty of serious overacting. I wouldn’t say mega-acting because even if it was a deliberate artistic choice I think it was a poor one. When Nicolas Cage mega-acts he seems genuinely nuts. This guy seems like he’s fakin it.

scanners2-timberlakeThe real hero is some dude who looks like Justin Timberlake (David Hewlett) who’s a student at a veterinary school (he uses his powers to cure a cute puppy). He’s found out in the same way martial artists often are – he foils a convenience store robbery and people see the security camera footage of how awesome he is. Some scientists tell him what he is and help him hone his powers, supposedly to help society. They’ve been looking for good scanners but most of them freak out so they give them a drug that turns them into ghoulish junkies. They mostly keep those guys in the basement and when they use them outside it’s easy to spot because hey, that security guard looks like Lurch’s shorter cousin, must be a scanner.

He starts to get suspicious when they have him scan the mayor at a press conference and make her appoint the wrong person as acting police chief. That’s what this is all about – a takeover (which is weird since that’s the subtitle for part 3). The new chief talks Machievellian shit about the greater good, but the actor plays him as evil, so it’s hard to think of him as just misguided.

mp_scanners2Our scanner decides to quit the team and go on the run, and he has to take on the conspirators himself. The writer, B.J. Nelson (LONE WOLF MCQUADE) must’ve thought scanning was like the Force, because he put in some stuff for the Star Wars trekkies. There’s a part where his dad (SPOILER coming up next word) dies and telepathically tells him he has a sister, just like Yoda did as he was (HUGE YODA SPOILER) dying in Return of the Jedis. Also he finds out he’s the son of Cameron Vale from part 1.

I have to give this movie some credit, because it has some pretty cool ideas in it. The best new scanner concept is that the brother and sister focus in on one of their enemies until they can see through his eyes, then they remotely control him into a secure building, then scan other people through him. Daisy chain scanning. But then the bad guy shows up and it’s three scanners poking around in the same head, so that causes problems. By the way, a medical tip: don’t leave a big rack of syringes on a table with the needles pointing up.

Also there’s some good effects – veins popping, heads bulging, and of course they do 2 (two) head explosions this time. In the first one the bad guy was pretty much trying to take over the world by leading a scanner uprising, in this one they’re just trying to rule the city with an iron fist. So it seems like a de-escalation but it’s not, because there are 2 exploding heads. That’s how sequels work.

I thought they were gonna do three exploding heads for a second there but with the last guy they stop right before it hits the breaking point, leaving his face horribly deformed. I like that. Also there’s a weird, ambiguous ending where I think brother and sister both have two pupils per eye. I think it means they both can see through each other now. Not sure.

That reminds me, there’s some weird, incestuous undertones when he scans his sister and she has to tell him to be more gentle. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but at least they didn’t go completely safe.

But without Cronenberg’s style the movie just doesn’t work. They turned it into a normal movie. The guy has a mullet, the end credits have a song that sounds like Brian Adams or somebody. The score contains what I think should be called “mystery sax” – you know, that cheesy type of saxophone they put on movies and TV shows when they want to say, “You know, this is like one of those old timey private eye type stories.”

Director Christian Duguay was considered a cool, stylish, MTV type director at the time. I don’t know this from any research, but from the fact that there’s a scene that takes place in a room only lit by a light behind a big rotating fan, creating a strobing effect. And there are a bunch of mannequins in the room. But it’s the fan that’s the dead give away. For some reason they were all into that trick, they really thought it looked amazing. Cronenberg’s scene taking place inside a giant sculpture of a head still looks cool. The fan trick I don’t think holds up quite as well.

Duguay went on to become an Emmy nominated director of mini-series such as JOAN OF ARC and HITLER: THE RISE OF EVIL. Hewlett became a regular for director Vincenzo Natali, appearing in CUBE, NOTHING, CYPHER and SPLICE. But also BOA VS. PYTHON.

If you’re a scanner you can just read my mind instead of continuing to read this, but all I got left to say is I wouldn’t really recommend this picture.


This entry was posted on Friday, June 4th, 2010 at 2:29 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

41 Responses to “Scanners II: The New Order”

    I love this guy and I just met him 4 weeks ago at a SciFi convention. If you ever have the chance to see him in person, do it. He is hilarious and a very nice guy.

  2. Also I recommend to you Christian Duguay’s “Screamers” (because it’s seriously good).

  3. I suggest they make “Crash 2: Crash Harder”

  4. Yes, Vern, please review SCREAMERS. It has some problems (hey, which movie doesn’t), but it does manage to capture that paranoid what-is-real-and-what-is-fake uncertainty that’s in the original Philip K. Dick story.

  5. I third the SCREAMERS recommendation.

  6. I may be looking back with rose-tinted memories, but I remember enjoying Scanners 2 quite a bit – especially the way it trie to expand the Scanner mythos.
    I remember watching Scanners 3, which starts [spoiler]with the hero being asked to use his scanning powers at a party –
    it involved “pushing” a woman with an invisible forcefield. Suddenly someone knocks into the Scanner, and he accidentally “pushes” too hard, throwing the poor woman out of the window to her death. [end spoiler] Then the movie switches to Thailand as he goes in search of himself, only to be attacked by muay thai scanner dudes.

  7. yeah SCREAMERS was decent. Go for it. Do it for Robocop. Do it for Buckaroo Banzai.

    Oh fuck, another movie you need to review! “Whereever you go, there you are.”

    As to your original paragraph or two, well Cronenberg was dismissed and ghettoized as simply a “horror” director. Wasn’t really until the past what, decade that Cronenberg is finally seen by the mainstream as the master auteur that we knew he was all along?

    Or am I wrong? That seems to be my memory of events.

  8. hey RRA, I bought the dvd of Buckaroo Banzai over four years ago and have still not watched it

    maybe that’ll change soon though

  9. Griff – You got no idea how many bargain DVDs I buy and not watch yet. It’s rather pathetic.

    BUCKAROO BANZAI is a funky cult movie, and I truely mean that in the best proper definition of the term “cult movie.” People seem to either love it* or just don’t get it and move on. Though then again I’m one of the few humans who apparently understood BANZAI fully what the fuck was going on the first time around. At its best, BUCKY really does reflect that boys-going-to-town saturday morning gleeful adventurism except you missed part 1 and watching part 2 or 4 of that matinee serial.

    *=Like Wes Anderson. Shit the ending of LIFE AQUATIC is a homage to the BB ending. The Jeff Goldbloom casting was probably incidental.

  10. I will also jump in on the affection for SCREAMERS. It’s not the best of all Philip K. Dick adaptations, but it’s one of the most faithful in tone. It’s got a great mindfuck plot, some solid action and special effects, and a (typically) strong lead performance by Peter Weller. Also, lots of great cynicism and some sneaky social/political commentary. The ending is pretty weak, though. Still, I saw it last year for the first time and was impressed.

  11. You could create a drinking game out of Buckeroo Banzai – take a gulp every time one of the band members/Buckeroo’s entourage jumps round a corner pointing a gun at someone.

    i will give it credit for one thing though – it brought to my attention Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.

  12. Jareth Cutestory

    June 4th, 2010 at 7:01 am

    RRA: Here in Canada, Cronenberg was never firmly situated in the horror camp; rather his viewers put him in some weird cult ghetto. There has never been a question up here that there is more going on in his films than just horror. Which isn’t to suggest that Canadian media were necessarily easy on him.

    Around 1984/85 it wouldn’t be unusual for kids at slumber parties to “graduate” from slasher films into “truly dark stuff” around age 15 or 16; the “dark stuff” in question was inevitably VIDEODROME, which was widely available. If ERASERHEAD was as easily available on video at the time, the two films would have filled many adolescent double features.

  13. RRA – I’m sure I’ll probably like it, it sounds right up my alley

    I have no excuse as to not watching it yet save for laziness

  14. I’m glad that I’m not the only person who has bought too many DVDs without ever watching them.

  15. I was buying so many BLu-rays and DVDs that I wasn’t getting around to watching that I finally had to say enough, and made a rule to only buy things I feel I HAD to own. Netflix has made this a lot easier.

  16. Finally got your book yesterday in the mails Vern.

    Looks like I’ll have to watch Knightriders.

    I mean, with a poster like this, how can you go wrong?

  17. I ordered Vern’s book a few weeks ago, along with some other shit from Amazon, and the package has been mysteriously held by the carrier, awaiting “seller input.” It’s been like that for over a week now. I have no idea what’s going on.

  18. Jareth Cutestory – True, but Cronenberg was used by your country’s PC liberal elite and conservative wingnuts as a poster child for wasting government funds for movies too awesome to be taxpayer-subsidized.

    Now to be fair, alot of people outside the Fangoria fanbase and industry critical cabal did see Cronenberg as truely special. I’ve repeated that story before right about admirer Martin Scorsese wanting to meet him? The story goes that Scorsese was afraid though of meeting Cronenberg because he wondered what kind of guy makes movies like THE BROOD and SHIVERS and whatever. And you know, is that an unfair fear to have? I wouldn’t say so.

    Then they meet and to Scorsese’s surprise, and with his own words, “The guy who came to my door looked like a Beverly Hills Gynecologist.” You can’t make this shit up.

    Or apparently the letter Cronenberg wrote to Scorsese when he gave him as a present the uncut version of THE BROOD: “My version of KRAMER VS KRAMER.” And you know, he’s right!

  19. Jareth Cutestory

    June 4th, 2010 at 9:02 am

    RRA: It’s kind of amazing how both right wing and left wing political parties go out of their way to avoid bringing Cronenberg’s name into discussions about government funding to arts programs. The left know that many potential voters find Cronenberg too scary and objectional to be the poster boy for state-funded arts, while the right know that he has too much substance and critical respect to be vilified as “state-funded pornography.”

    The artists who support subsities, on the other hand, were generally behind Cronenberg when he spoke out recently against the
    conservative government’s scheme to fund only “non-offensive” material. Cronenberg lent an authority to the debate that was
    impossible to ignore. He also ensured that the international press picked up the story.

  20. Jareth Cutestory – that’s a shame. Cronenberg is probably your nation’s greatest filmmaker. Sure you guys also popped out Ivan Reitman and Atom Egoyan and James Cameron and so forth, but Reitman did a few enjoyable comedies. In the 1980s. Atom Egoyan is too arty and uninterestingly pompous for my taste, and shit don’t hit me for being surprised that Cameron wasn’t an American in the first place.

    Cronenberg is so absolutely unique. Not a film nerd unlike most of his colleagues, more a literary nut who somehow found his way to movies and I think that is why he’s so fucking refreshing these days. You can’t pick this or that shot and frame as being borrowed from another movie, usually a better one. Plus his Canadianness gives him a good healthy outsider’s perspective. I mean if an American had shot A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, it either would have boiled down to another vigilante porno or a too polite anti-gun poster. Both which would have disserviced that story.

    And yeah he was right to shit on that “non-offensive” nonsense. That sort of talk belongs only to pussies. The fact that the Left didn’t propogate that first instead of the Conservatives surprises me. That would have happened that way in the U.S.

  21. RRA,

    I can see how Egoyan could be too arty for your tastes; certainly I understand why his often fractured/out-of-sequence storytelling style is off-putting for a lot of people. But can you elaborate on why you think his films are pompous? I don’t see them as turning up their nose at other films. In fact, even though they are usually populated with dysfunctional weirdos, Egoyan always seems to approach the characters from a place of empathy, even obviously terrible people like the serial killer in FELICIA’S JOURNEY.

    I guess I’m wondering what specifically about his films rubbed you the wrong way?

  22. Dan P. – Same way that Cronenberg seems to rub some people the wrong way.

    Or is that too cryptic?

    I’m not sure really why. I mean that’s like trying to describe the meaning of life or something. I respect Egoyan’s skills and understand why he has his fans. I get it, but that’s not the same as being in love with his work.

  23. Jareth Cutestory

    June 4th, 2010 at 11:03 am

    RRA: I like Cronenberg a lot, and I agree with you that he is unique. But I’d put Guy Maddin up there with Cronenberg among our best film-makers.

    Dan Prestwich: My problem with Egoyan is the same problem I have with David Lean: the films are so ponderously enacted and shot. To my sensibility, he’s not arty enough: it’s the empty motions of art that cloak utterly banal, sentimental narratives. It’s like Greenaway without the profundity or lunacy. The few inventions Egoyan employs are pretty standard stuff. There’s also a strange lack of mood in most of his stuff, a kind of sterility that serves no thematic purpose.

    And there’s a strain of moral hysteria that runs through his work that I find objectionable. I can respect the skill with which he makes his films, but I have a hard time enjoying his stuff.

  24. Jareth,

    Interesting points. I’m not sure if I agree with your characterization of a lack of mood in his films… if, for the sake of argument, we agree that there is sometimes a “sterility” to his films, could we not perhaps agree that this in fact counts as the mood he’s trying to set? I would argue, for example, that EXOTICA is an extremely atmospheric film, from what I recall of it, especially the Exotica set itself with its moody lighting, bizarre layout/patterns and that ever present Leonard Cohen song.

    I’m curious to hear more, if you care enough to elaborate, about the moral hysteria you sense in his films. Not the impression I ever got… like I mentioned before, I always felt like his films came from a place of great empathy and rarely judge the characters. For example, I liked CHLOE alot (although I seem to be in the minority) in part because while it was a fairly ludicrous thriller on the surface, it seemed to have an equal amount of empathy for the three lead characters, even as they behaved (or seemed to behave) in ways the audience might object to. And most of his other films struck me the same way.

    Anyways, thanks to both you and RRA for responding to my OT Egoyan questions, I’ve really gotten into his films in the last year or so but haven’t had enough chances to discuss them.

  25. Jareth Cutestory

    June 4th, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Dan: My earlier post is unclear and overly harsh.

    I guess the “hysteria” I mentioned is actually something far more subtle, but it still bugs me. You’re right, he’s not judging his characters, but I get the sense from his staging and camera work that he really plays up the drama and supposed transgressiveness of the scenes he is depicting, scenes that a less lurid film-maker wouldn’t get so worked up about. Like in WHERE THE TRUTH LIES: in the climactic scene, the camera, music and centrality of the scene to the themes and characters of the film all conspire to almost shout out: look! how! outrageous! this! is! Can! you! believe! what! Firth! tried! to do to Kevin Bacon!? Holy! Shit!

    Like you said, Firth and Bacon are dealt with sympathetically (less so the girl), but another director might have felt less compelled to underline so emphatically the capital-s Significance of the scene.

    I think EXOTICA suffers from a similar approach, and in addition I think the “sterility” (again, not a great choice of words on my part) lies in the obvious unfamiliarity with the world he is trying to depict. If he’s going for realism, it’s nowhere near as visceral as the bar scene in the TWIN PEAKS movie; if he’s going for something more like an allegory, it isn’t as compelling to me as COOK, THEIF, WIFE, LOVER was.

    When a director deals with familiar, mainstream narratives and themes, I guess I have an expectation that I’ll see more of his or her identity in the work, an identity I don’t feel Egoyan has shown me yet.

    But hey, I’m making small, insignificant points about a talented guy. Really, there’s stuff in there to appreciate.

  26. Jareth,

    Thanks for the follow-up. Lynch and Greenaway seem like appropriate comparisons to me, so I think I’m getting a better sense of what you mean.

    Weird, now that you mention it, although TWIN PEAK, EXOTICA and THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER seem to all be completely at odds with each other…. there’s something, a vibe or I don’t know what, in common between all of them. Maybe its just the “sleazier” elements, or some of the more stylish elements… I’m not sure what, but suddenly I think that would make a great triple feature.

  27. I can definitely understand why Egoyan’s films are not for everyone. They have an oddly clinical quality about them, even as they sometimes go for the big punctuation mark Jareth is describing. There’s something very staid and reserved about them, even as their plots often veer into the lurid and extreme. The fratcured plots and timelines can be disorienting but not always necessarily illuminating either.

    The best I can describe it is that it sometimes feels like Egoyan is a scientist intently watching someone else’s most intense dreams. He’s intently watching, but while the characters are going through these crazy exteme plots, you never get the sense that he’s all that intense about it. Kind of an Olivier Assayas DEMONLOVER sort of thing — I dont know that Egoyan feels sympathy for his characters so much as he simply watches them carefully and makes notes. Its hard to know how he really feels about it all. I find it a sometimes ingrossing kind of weirdo voyeurism, but it also feels a little shallow to me at times. I think his most effective film is FELICIA’S JOURNEY, which is also maybe his most subdued — just an intimate portrait of a few deeply damaged folks without a lot of hyperstylized stuff. I dunno. He’s certainly a unique filmmaker, even those who dont care for his films have to give him that. Keep up the good work, Atom.

  28. Oh, God.
    get some whisky if you’re gonna watch screamers.
    strong whisky to dull the pain.

  29. I vote you get a bottle of whiskey for the Peter Weller double feature: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eight Dimension, and Screamers, and Naked Lunch if you want more Cronenberg.

  30. Don’t forget Leviathan!

  31. I’m Canadian and I’m not crazy about Egoyan either. He’s not to my taste, like aspartame. Granted I’ve only watched EXOTICA, ADORATION and CHLOE, but I have no urge to give him any more of my time. His films feel like the works of someone who has learned everything he knows from late night Showcase. I feel like he’s constantly saying “look at me, aren’t I edgy and risque and scintillating in a totally safe liberal Canadian bourgeoisie kind of way?” and my response is usually “well no, not even, you clinical weirdo.” Guy Maddin on the other hand is a genius, and has really honed his style in the last decade or so. THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD, MY WINNIPEG and my personal favorite BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! are as singular works as any in the collaborative medium of film. And while we’re on the subject, despite some pretty intimidating efforts from Mr. Cronenberg and Mr. Maddin, I think the film that most defines us as a nation is GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD.

  32. I couldn’t bring myself to watch any of these SCANNERS sequels. Never even considered it when I found out Cronenberg wasn’t involved.

    Maddin is a genius. For sure.

    I liked Egoyan’s earlier work, but I haven’t seen anything he’s done in the last decade or so. Don’t know why; the lukewarm reviews, maybe. I should catch up.

    “I’m one of the few humans who apparently understood BANZAI fully what the fuck was going on the first time around.”

    A true love-it-or-hate-it film. A friend of mine got up and walked out of a screening after about twenty minutes, saying “this makes no sense.” Which is true — but also beside the point.

    Now I’m curious about SCREAMERS. Wonder if Netflix has it on instant view.

  33. Jareth Cutestory

    June 6th, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Gwai Lo: Did you get a chance to see BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! when Maddin toured it around with a live orchestra and foley artists? It was a beauty to behold. Also, how cool is it that you get a choice of all those narrators on the audio track of the Criterion version of the film?

    ARCHANGEL is my sentimental favorite, but it can’t be denied that Maddin has taken his game to a new level recently.

  34. Jareth: I did not, and it is my life’s great shame. Well, one of my life’s great shames. Another being that I don’t have the Criterion DVD. My favorite early Maddin is probably CAREFUL, but it’s all good. I love that a portion of my taxes, however minute, goes to Guy Freaking Maddin.

  35. Jareth Cutestory

    June 6th, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Actually, Gwai Lo, can you believe that a portion of your taxes also subsidizes big mainstream acts like Rush, Brian Adams and Celine Dion? They all use arts council grants too depiste being rich, the shameless fuckers.

  36. Ah well. Telefilm is giving me money soon so I can’t hold too much of a grudge.

  37. Jareth Cutestory

    June 7th, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Still, Geddy Lee owes us all a drink.

  38. David Hewlett looks more like Clint Eastwood or Hugh Jackman than Justine Timberlake

  39. “Scanners II” isn’t a Cronenberg-canon sequel but it’s a good solid movie that has held up very well. It’s one that I can, and do, rewatch regularly. That’s not true of “Scanners III.” David Hewlett is way cooler-looking than Justin Timberlake.

    “Screamers” is just okay. You have to give it credit for fooling us into thinking it’s a better-budgeted movie than it is, at least for the first little while. You see Peter Weller and there are some nice sets and you think “OK, this is a medium-budget sci-fi action movie, I can trust it.” Then, as the trek across the wasteland starts to drag on, and the characters start bickering, you realise that it’s another movie set on a remote deserted planet with nothing but a military/industrial base or two on it. They trick us in the beginning because there’s some cool stuff like a bar and anti-radiation cigarettes and a hologram of the Waldorf salad guy with new orders for them. But there’s a reason I have a rule against movies that are set in a desert, a small town, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the Old West, or a remote planet with only a base or two.

    This one at least has snow, which is more interesting than a hot desert. Filmmakers love deserts for some reason…whereas I want to see civilisation: buildings, cars, newspapers, TV and radio broadcasts, restaurants, stores, suburbs, punk rockers, bars, hotels. But I know that’s asking a lot in terms of budget, doubly so with science fiction. Sometimes you’re making a glorified student film and you have to make efficient use of limited resources.

    In spite of that there’s still some worthwhile things to keep you watching through the movie. Peter Weller’s good as usual. Roy Dupuis is enjoyable as the mean guy; he’s cool but you also hate him. I don’t want to spoil it too much.

  40. Oh right, about David Cronenberg: IIRC when they were debating him in parliament someone pointed out that his movies turned a profit. The market had spoken in support of what he was doing, in agreement with the government’s good taste in movies as shown by giving him money, and there was such a thing as a commercially-successful Canadian movie.

    I wish we could see what his “Total Recall” would have been like. He seems very compatible with the Philip K. Dick what-is-reality vibe, as seen in movies like “Videodrome,” “Naked Lunch,” and “eXistenZ.”

  41. eXistenZ is exactly what a Phillip K. Dick would write at that time.

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