The Film: 3/5
"Scanners" are unique individuals born with the power to read the minds of others. They can also use those abilities to control the thoughts and actions of whomever they choose. Those who won't bend to their control are destroyed. Corrupt police official John Forrester (Yvan Ponton) is using Scanners to help him bring down criminals all over the city and consolidate power with the assistance of Dr. Morse (Tom Butler), a scientist who specializes in the study and suppression of "scanning". Their latest find is Peter Drak (Raoul Trujillo), a rogue Scanner who is one of the most powerful of his kind but is also dangerous and enjoys using his destructive gifts a little too much. Forrester and Morse find the solution to their problems in David Kellum (David Hewlett), a former country boy who has come to the city to study veterinarian medicine. Born with the power of a Scanner but ostracized himself his entire because of it, Kellum finds love with fellow medical student Alice Leonardo (Isabelle Mejias), but when he is forced to use his powers to save Alice’s life during a convenience store robbery he comes to Forrester’s attention. The crooked cop persuades David to embrace his scanning abilities to help the police solve crimes, giving him a sense of confidence for the first time in his life. But he also finds himself becoming a pawn in Forrester’s scheme to rise up in the ranks of the police department. When Drak keys him in to Forrester’s plan for using the Scanners to bring about a “New Order” of justice in the city David must uncover the truth about his origins and battle the police and his fellow Scanners under the commander’s control. He won’t be alone though.
Man am I going to catch some hell for this review. I have seen the original Scanners directed by David Cronenberg, most recently for Second Sight’s new DVD release, but both times the movie that has been hailed by horror fans and admirers of the director’s work as one of the most imaginative genre efforts of the 1980’s left me feeling cold and unfulfilled. I expected to have a similar reaction to Scanners II: The New Order, a sequel mostly unrelated to the first movie that went straight to video here in the U.S., but perhaps it was because of those lowered expectations that I found myself enjoying the sequel a lot more than the original. Though Cronenberg was probably approached for the directing job he decided that no amount of money or freedom was worth making a movie that is at worst a cheap and workmanlike retread of the first Scanners. Pierre David, the driving force behind the Scanners franchise, decided instead to retain the services of Christian Duguay, a former cinematographer and second unit director whose only experience as a director came from a handful of television episodes.
Making his feature directorial debut on Scanners II, Duguay had logged more than enough hours on film and TV productions to be able to make a highly enjoyable product that was better in the original in the areas of pacing and delivering on the promise of its story and ideas without overshadowing Cronenberg’s lauded work. The first Scanners went into production without a finished script and that was likely the source of most of its story problems. It was also saddled with a lead actor who could only emote like a lobotomy patient who had just been hit with a bag of frozen prawns. Duguay cast a relatively unknown Canadian actor named David Hewlett (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as his troubled hero, and though Hewlett looks like Will Forte playing MacGruber - in fact every time he was on screen it made me want to watch MacGruber again - he managed to convey emotions convincingly and create a relatable and sympathetic lead character whose plight we can be easily invested in. Sadly Scanners II did not have the benefit of a villain with an ounce of the charisma and menace as Michael Ironside’s Daryl Revok in the original. Here we have Raoul Trujillo as the rogue Scanner given the unfortunate name of Drak, making him sound like a refugee from Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. It doesn’t help any that Trujillo’s performance is a hammy display of unrestrained villainy with little room for empathy. Revok was a evil man but at least we were allowed to see the internal struggle to deal with and control his Scanner powers that ultimately drove him to madness. Trujillo merely flashes evil grins and bugs out his eyes like he’s trying to out-Joker Jack Nicholson. Drak is certainly no Revok but there is another Michael Ironside character he seems to be channeling; unfortunately that is General Katana from Highlander II: The Quickening. See what I mean?
Yvan Ponton is the better developed of Scanners II’s trio of baddies. Though he is completely devoid of sympathetic qualities there is at least a sense of self-righteousness that compels his actions; Forrester craves power but he is also a believer in his cause to use Scanners to clean up the city’s criminal element. Tom Butler does fine as the scientist Morse though the character is as one-note as they come. He does get a great death scene and that has to count for something in the end. Isabelle Mejias infuses her thinly-sketched love interest with the warmth and sweetness that would make a good man like Kellum fall head over heels for her without a doubt. Deborah Raffin, a veteran actress with extensive credits in cult faves like God Told Me To and Death Wish 3 who passed away last November, doesn’t enter the movie until nearly an hour in as another Scanner with a connection to Kellum that I will not spoil, but her performance is solid and one of the best of the movie.
The script by B.J. Nelson (Lone Wolf McQuade) keeps the action moving full-throttle with nary a slow spot. Though the characters aren’t the most fascinating their motivations are clearly defined. Duguay keeps the movie soldiering on with lots of chases, shootouts, and some juicy special effects sequences including the requisite exploding head and other messy displays of Scanner fury. Nameless extras are tossed across rooms into walls that always burst with showers of sparks. It gets repetitive after a while but that’s all part of the cheesy good times. Despite obviously being filmed in Canada, the country where the 1980’s managed to stay alive on life support well into the 90’s, characters go out of their way to avoid identifying any city or town names, giving the setting a very generic and unappealing feel. Duguay also has a few stylistic flourishes lifted from the films of Ridley Scott to give Scanners II a little visual life, and it also shot with neon-lit vibrancy by Rodney Gibbons, who also served as director of photography on the original (and best) My Bloody Valentine as well as Duguay‘s 1995 Philip K. Dick adaptation Screamers.
Second Sight presents Scanners II: The New Order in an excellent 16:9 enhanced 1080p high-definition transfer in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The picture is mostly clear of visual defects including scratches and other visible signs of print damage and there is a moderate amount of grain to keep it from looking too clean. The Ridley Scott-inspired visuals look very bright and moody. English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 and LPCM 2.0 stereo audio tracks are provided. For standard televisions your best bet would be the stereo track but both channels feature a steady balance in the music and dialogue mix that keeps one from overwhelming the other and strong volume levels where it counts. Even the keyboard noodling of composer Marty Simon sounds perfectly adequate. English subtitles are also provided.
There are no extras. Some contemporary interviews with cast and crew, a commentary, or at the very least a trailer or two would have been much welcome. Fortunately my head isn’t in danger of exploding.
David Cronenberg’s original film may be the best directed and most influential of the series, but Scanners II: The New Order outpaces it in terms of being a purely entertaining B-flick that has more virtues than most would give it credit for. Lack of extras aside Second Sight has done a great job with this new Blu-ray. If you can get this one cheap I recommend giving it a shot.