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Scanners: Criterion Collection (1981) - Blu-ray Review

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Scanners - Blu-ray Review


3 stars

A human head explodes. When asked about David Cronenberg’s Scanners, a film about people with telepathic mutant abilities, that’s what people remember. Never mind the fact that this is Cronenberg’s fifth and probably most important film as it was the turning point in his career with horror. Beginning here and extending outward, Cronenberg shifts his focus from the horrors of the body to the horrors of the mind. It can be argued that he is still there today, exploring those alienating themes with films like Cosmopolis and Eastern Promises.

Starring Stephen Lack, Michael Ironside. Patrick McGoohan, and Jennifer O'Neill, Scanners is a creepy twist on the thriller/spy genre. Imagine picking up everyone’s thoughts like a radio but instead of being able to tune into just one station, you get them all at the same time. Maddening thought, no? That’s a bit what it is like to be a Scanner. In this weird reality, the Canadian government has been running tests on Scanners for a while. Led by Dr. Paul Ruth (McGoohan), a team of scientists are looking for the right man to infiltrate and take down the leader of the Scanner revolt, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) because controlling individual minds is a bad thing.

Unfortunately, modern day science and its tampering with pregnant test subjects is what has created the government’s problem of Scanners. Revok – while using questionable methods – knows this and refuses to give up without a head-exploding fight as he masters his psychic abilities. Captured and trained by Ruth, Cameron Vale (Lack) goes from dealing out psychic attacks in a Montreal mall to a sort of spy as he prepares for his government-sponsored showdown with Revok. But when he learns the truth behind the Scanners program, will his allegiances stay with Dr. Ruth or will he join the revolution?

Cronenberg focuses solely on the relationship between Vale and Revok. We are not dealing with global matters here and, for budgetary limitations, makes for a certain tightness in the script. Scanners is far more personal than it sounds. The fate of the world is not at stake. Just two males going toe-to-toe and a sort of wasted female love interest in O’Neill’s character smack dab in the middle of the chase. While set pieces dominate the script, the shuffle from one to the other makes for a clean experience as Vale closes in on his target and an unsuspecting truth.

There’s a lot to appreciate about this low budget affair. The effects from Dick Smith shine as the showdown between Revok and Vale takes off. Veins engorge, eyes roll white, skin bubbles and grows as the two try to convince each other that they are on the right side of this mental battle. The gore is as simplistic as random bloody noses and gets as wild as a head popping open under the pressure of one Scanner’s ability to “block” him. Cronenberg’s ability – even as a young filmmaker – to maneuver a film that is both as quiet and as loud as Scanners is an accomplishment not to be taken lightly.     

Scanners is Canadian B-movie antics at its weirdest.

Scanners - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: R.
103 mins
: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Jennifer O'Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan
: Horror
Their thoughts can kill!.
Memorable Movie Quote: "But you do have a nervous system. And so does a computer. And you can scan a computer, as you would another human being."
AVCO Embassy Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
January 14, 1981
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 15, 2014
Synopsis: A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him..

Scanners - Blu-ray Review


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - July 15, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH
English: LPCM Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (1 BD, 2 DVDs); DVD copy
Region Encoding: Locked to region A

Scanners is one of those Holy Grail titles that fans have been chomping at the bit to see on blu-ray since the format launched. Criterion doesn’t disappoint in its handling of the Cronenberg-approved 1080p transfer, encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression. The image, with solid stability is strikingly improved from previous DVD transfers, with strong color and a level of sharpness that reveals newfound details. The utilized print is in good shape, with very few film artifacts nor other imperfections to be found. Grain is at times thick and clumpy, with no obvious attempts to digitally reduce which is a good thing. Scanners is presented in DTS HD MA 5.1 at 24 bits. It neither weakens nor strengthens the print.



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Special Features:

Criterion has delivered a wonderful package for this release. It's packed with special features including trailers, interviews (old and new), a new documentary, a remastered version of Cronenberg's first feature Stereo, three original radio spots, and more. The release also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Kim Newman.

The Scanners Way (23 min)

Mental Saboteur (20 min)

The Ephemerol Diaries (15 min)

The Bob McLean Show (12 min)

Stereo (63 min)

Trailer (3 min)

Radio Spots (2 min)

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