David Cronenberg’s Scanners receives a new dual-format release from Criterion, who presents the film in Cronenberg’s preferred aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The film is presented in a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer on the dual-layer Blu-ray disc, while a standard-definition version is delivered on the first dual-layer DVD. The latter has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The presentation is a superb looking one and it is odd seeing the film look this good. The restoration work is especially impressive, very few flaws remaining, limited primarily to a spec here and there. The digital transfer itself is solid, remaining clean and natural throughout. Fine object details come through clearly, digital artifacts are not a nuisance, and with clean film grain it retains film-like look. Based on screen captures posted elsewhere many have already complained about the colours in this version. I never saw the film theatrically and my only experience with the film was usually whatever was on television (I never got around to picking up the MGM DVD) so I can’t say much on the subject, but nothing about the colours here stood out to me and they didn’t look off or too dark on my television. Some crushing can occur in the shadows, but it’s pretty mild and not altogether not too distracting.
The DVD’s transfer looks to be the same one used on the Blu-ray. It presents more obvious compression and fine object detail isn’t as remarkable but it still looks rather good itself. Outside of the normal DVD limitations there was nothing all that glaring here.
In the end I was very pleased with what we get here. It’s sharp and clean and a whole new experience. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Fans should be fairly pleased with the release Criterion has put together here, starting with a fairly comprehensive look at the special effects called The Scanners Way, featuring interviews with Mark Irwin, Stephan Dupuis, Chris Walas, Gary Zeller, and Rick Baker. All recorded separately the five talk about the difficulties in making the film, especially for those called in late in the game. Cronenberg had/has a tendency to change things as he goes, so the effects people would be looking at the script, trying to plan out scenarios, only to find out the scenes they were working on have been replaced or dropped (in an interview with Michael Ironside, also found on this disc, he states his role was much smaller until Cronenberg decided to expand the character later on, showing the director really did write as the production went on.) When certain things weren’t working (like the ending) make-up artist Dick Smith was brought in to help reshoot some effects scenes. The 23-minute feature examines certain effects scenes, specifically the “exploding head” sequence and the showdown during the finale, and also looks at some of the contributions the film made to the effects world, specifically “Zel-Jel”. Though there isn’t much in the way of footage, with only a few pictures available to show us behind-the-scenes material (like how the exploding head was executed,) it’s a fascinating and fairly amusing documentary.
Mental Saboteur presents a 19-minute interview with actor Michael Ironside, which has been recorded exclusively for this edition. I’m used to Ironside always playing a heavy or general tough guy in most of his work that I’ve seen so I was rather surprised how mellow and introspective he is in person. He covers a variety of subjects, from his rather poor upbringing (losing himself in books) to how he developed a love for science-fiction (his grandfather was heavily into science-fiction and even knew Frank Herbert) and more, being surprisingly open. He also talks about what it’s like being an actor (or artist in general) in Canada and the difficulty in making a living there: it was particularly humbling when he found out how much co-star Jennifer O’Neill made a week for her role in Scanners. Ironside also talks fondly about Cronenberg and the film as well, sharing a few stories about it. It’s a particularly wonderful interview, with Ironside lacking any sort of ego or pretensions, simply sharing the things he’s learned over the years working as an actor. It’s one interview I wish went on a little longer.
Criterion then pulls over an interview with Stephen Lack from the German edition of the film. Entitled The Ephemerol Diaries the 14-minute interview features Lack talking in about his work as an artist in Toronto and how he came to be involved with Scanners and shares a few anecdotes from the set. Unfortunately not as involving as Ironside’s interview but it offers another perspective on the art scene in Toronto, Lack’s sounding to be a little more successful than Ironside’s.
Criterion then includes an 11-minute clip from a 1981 episode of The Bob McLean Show where Cronenberg appears as a guest. He’s there to promote Scanners but the two talk a little bit about his previous work, particularly The Brood and Rabid, with Cronenberg discussing the central themes of the films. Clips are shown, though they look to be from trailers.
Fans of Cronenberg’s films should also be rather thrilled with the next feature: a new high-definition digital transfer of the director’s first film, Stereo. The 63-minute film shares a somewhat similar storyline with Scanners in that it involves a school/hospital experimenting in telekinesis on a variety of subjects, which leads to some troubling results for a few.
Flourishes of Cronenberg’s style and the themes that intrigue him pop up here, and on a technical level it’s pretty impressive for a first feature. It’s also interesting in that the film is mostly silent, other than the narration/inner-thoughts spoken over the image (apparently this was by accident, a side effect of a very noisy camera.) Unfortunately I found it to be a rather plodding film despite any strengths it may have.
Most surprising, though, is it looks like the film has received a rather vigorous restoration and transfer. The black and white film, presented in 1.66:1, looks very clean with very little damage remaining and has been delivered in 1080p/24hz. The transfer is clean, with sharp details and impressive definition, retaining a film-like look itself. I was expecting something to be simply slapped on here but it looks like a decent amount of work has been done here and its very impressive.
The disc then closes with three radio spots and the film’s original theatrical trailer. The included booklet features an essay on the film by Kim Newman, where he goes into detail about its impact when released, and other films of its ilk like Carrie and The Fury (and even a mention of The Men Who Stare at Goats surprisingly.)
The DVD features the radio spots and trailer on the first disc with the film. The second dual-layer disc features the remaining features.
Though Criterion includes a solid set of supplements, with the inclusion of Stereo being a particularly big one, I was disappointed Cronenberg doesn’t provide anything new (up to this point all of Criterion’s Cronenberg releases have featured a commentary by the director) and the lack of deleted/alternate material (it would have been fun to include the alternate “exploding head” sequence made for televisions, or to see the alternate ending, even if it didn’t all work.) As it stands, though, it’s a nicely stacked edition. 8/10