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Screamers (1995)

by on 2010/07/24


The futuristic Screamers recalls an ancient debate.  At what point does the combination of others’ ideas become an original whole?  I have little doubt the filmmakers involved are not only aware of its similarities to other science fiction movies, but would welcome such comparisons.  To stand their piece in proximity to more successful contemporaries might cast it in a favourable light.  While it presents a smattering of interesting concepts, their potential remains unrealized.  Rather than succeeding as a best-of-all-worlds effort, it falls short in comparison to every other inspiration it draws upon.  It is that most frustrating of B-movies:  an utterly unremarkable one.

Screamers presents the story of a group of human survivors, scattered across the mining colony Sirius 6B.  In the year 2078, they ride out the twilight of war on this barren, irradiated world, populated by war machines run amok.  The machines, dubbed Screamers for their distinctive sound, appear to be not only multiplying but also evolving.  The survivors band together but are gradually whittled down as they seek passage back to Earth.

Ostensibly inspired by Philip K. Dick’s story “Second Variety”, the film version feels like a hodgepodge of lifted influences.  One could easily compile a recipe for Screamers based on a checklist of references…

  • The milieu of Total Recall,
  • the star of Robocop,
  • the isolation of Outland,
  • the quest of Battle for the Planet of the Apes,
  • the visual effects of Tremors,
  • the point-of-view perspectives of Predator,
  • the complications of Star Trek the Next Generation’s “Arsenal of Freedom”,
  • the creepiness of Village of the Damned,
  • the paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
  • the violent shifts of John Carpenter’s The Thing,
  • the philosophical underpinnings of Terminator 2 Judgment Day,
  • and the combined resolutions of various Alien movies,
  • all achieved with the budget and resources of a single episode of The Outer Limits.

…but the end result remains less than any single component, let alone the sum total.

As if to underscore an admission of creative surrender, the dialogue is laughable, the delivery melodramatic, and the production values often slipshod.  Better actors than this piece deserves climb aboard the soap opera express to articulate such Oscar moments as, “You must be confusing me with someone who gives a shit!”, “My God, you’re beautiful!”, and “I learned something else too; I learned to love!”  Likely as a defence mechanism, I decided that Screamers is a B-movie by intent rather than accident.  Its “yesterday’s tomorrow” props — an ergonomic keyboard, portable CD player, and elaborately-contoured sunglasses — stand in odd company with quaint depictions of robots, holograms, and virtual reality.  Eye-popping haloes bring to mind the forty-year-old effects of The African Queen; the stop motion does likewise for 1933’s King Kong.

Did I actually enjoy anything about Screamers?  I appreciated the idea of the red cigarettes, used to protect a smoker’s lungs from atmospheric radiation.  I thought some of the backdrops looked good.  I enjoyed the fact that a lot of the indoor environments reminded me of Fallout 3‘s metro stations.  And obviously I had fun playing spot-the-homage although, in truth, it was less “had fun” than “passed time”.

In fact, this experience is one I hesitate to call an “experience” at all.  It occupies a lacuna of almost two hours in my life, time I lost caught in a tangle of unflattering comparisons to better movies.  It represents the sort of thing I dread about CanCon, and illustrates a general pitfall of the English-Canadian film industry:  In the absence of the kind of funding available to American productions, Canada might still compete in the realm of ideas.  A production like Screamers, however, squanders that opportunity by remixing more original works into an unsatisfying result, one whose budget might otherwise have funded a Last Night, a Ginger Snaps, or even a modest Cube.

* *

Rated R for language, nudity, and violence

108 minutes

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7 Comments
  1. Definitely not one of the best PKD adaptations — however, it’s probably better than the dismal ‘Paycheck’ or ‘Impostor.’ But yes, I definitely agree that’s it’s an unsatisfying hodgepodge.

  2. andymovieman permalink

    peter weller is a good actor who can do scifi. he proved it with robocop and buckaroo banzai.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. RoboCop (1987) « Geek vs Goth
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