Review: Scanners (1981)


One of my favorite directors lets me down!

Written By: David Cronenberg
Directed By: David Cronenberg

Somewhere in the final product of Scanners there is an interesting idea, or set of ideas. Anyone who is a fan of science fiction knows that the idea of telepathy and telekinesis offer fertile ground for cool stories and for stories that question the order of society and the limits of the brain. Because of the many ways in which they can be used telekinesis and telepathy have been found in science fiction since the very beginning of the genre. Enter David Cronenberg and his take on the powers, Scanners.

In the world of Scanners, telepathy or telekinesis aren’t pretty, they can be controlled by drugs, and they can kill both the victim and the proprietor. These are the good ideas I was talking about, the idea of telekinesis as a weapon both individually and between corporations. Then, as inevitably happens as weapons in a war between those with the ability to scan and those without. When Scanners is dealing with these gray areas it is quite interesting and gives you something to think about. It is also very inventive in its use of gore and make-up, but those are Cronenberg specialties. Sadly, it doesn’t stay with these ideas for that long and there is very little special make-up to dazzle us.

The majority of Scanners feels incredibly cold and formulaic. A lot of the blame can be placed upon Stephen Lack who has zero personality in the role of the lead. But, a lot of the blame falls on Cronenberg who wasn’t able to take interesting ideas beyond the idea stage and into fully functioning movie territory. The ideas quickly take a back seat to clunky exposition, scenes that don’t make much sense and moments that don’t matter to the viewer.

Besides being a typical movie climax, the ending sequence of Scanners is problematic because it features what should be a gigantic revelation, but the audience hasn’t been given a reason to care about a single character in the film and thus we don’t care about the revelation. I won’t hold the low-budget against the film, because movies are movies regardless of budget. But a low-budget is no excuse for an inability to craft a compelling story around an interesting idea.

It pains me to be so hard on Scanners, because I did like the ideas invoked in the film and as I have said in the past I am a big fan of David Cronenberg. But, Scanners never feels like a picture that matters, is any fun or can ascend beyond the level of cold functionality and formula. Even Cronenberg junkies will have problems with this one, but we’ll still watch it, otherwise there’s no need to take a look at Scanners.




3 responses to “Review: Scanners (1981)

  1. Just reviewed this myself a couple days ago, and I agree, total letdown. You’d think a movie that starts out with Michael Ironside blowing up someone’s head with his mind would be awesome throughout, but alas…

  2. For me it all came down to a decent idea that remained a decent idea, and that’s rare for Cronenberg. He always has good ideas, but he goes places with them, yet in Scanners it was the same idea over and over again.

  3. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Directing Props, Pt. 2! | Bill's Movie Emporium

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