The age-old battle between management and labor finally erupts into open warfare when the corporations involved in mining operations on distant planets decide to strike back when miners refuse to work after a spate of radiation induced deaths. The managers--now formed into an economic bloc called the NEB--decided to retaliate with atomic strikes on mining bases on Sirius 6-B, thereby turning the planet into a desolate plain populated by increasingly diminishing numbers of soldiers on both sides. The commander of the "good" guys, if there are any good guys, is Hendricksson (Weller), a miner turned soldier rapidly tiring of the attrition warfare raging on the planet. A message that the war may soon be over allows Hendricksson and his men a brief respite from their miseries until a shuttle crash lands near their base. The only survivor of this mission tells Hendricksson some disturbing news about the situation on earth, information that contradicts what he thought he knew about the cease-fire. In an effort to discover just what in the heck is going on, Weller's character, with the survivor from the shuttle crash in tow, sets out across the planet's surface to meet with the leader of the enemy forces. It is a risky mission but a necessary one. If things go well, Hendricksson and his fellow soldiers may yet get off this miserable ball of dirt.
Significantly complicating matters are the screamers, nasty little pieces of military hardware cooked up on earth for the miners to use against the NEB forces. Essentially, these tools of death are small machines bristling with saws and razors that cruise beneath the soil looking for unprotected soldiers. Only a grunt wearing a special bracelet that sends an "I'm O.K." signal to the screamer will be safe; all others are fair game. Even worse, after some ten years in use the screamers have somehow mutated underneath the earth, so much so that even the miners know little about the devices anymore. Not only does Hendricksson have to trek through the dangerous landscape of Sirius-B, he also must worry about what the screamers are doing. By the way, the radiation levels on the planet are still so high that anyone venturing outside for an extended period of time must smoke a special type of cigarette to neutralize the toxins building up in the body. By the time Hendricksson reaches the enemy base he realizes things are going on that bode ill for himself and his men. Mutated screamers wiped out NEB headquarters except for three hardy souls who somehow managed to survive. When Hendricksson makes a horrible discovery about his own base, he resolves to get off the planet any way he can. The conclusion to the movie is well done, to say the least, as is the entire movie. I enjoyed "Screamers."
The movie is a lighter on the action than you would expect from a movie about an intergalactic war, and a little cheap on the set pieces, but director Christian Duguay wisely works within his budget to create a movie loaded with bleakness and despair. The snowy, desolate atmosphere of the nearly abandoned planet looks like it was shot on the dark side of the moon (it was Canada, apparently). The interior shots of the enemy base and the desperate escape the characters make from this fortress added even more claustrophobic mood to the movie. When the end of the film finally rolls around, you find yourself praying that Weller's character will escape from the planet and finally make his way back to earth. Throw in dashes of gory violence, the interesting effects work of the screamers, and Weller's hard-bitten performance and you have the makings of a minor cult classic. I have never read anything written by Philip K. Dick, so I cannot speak to the compatibility of this movie with the story it came from, but "Screamers" functions exceedingly well as a stand alone picture.
The DVD doesn't offer very many extras, unfortunately. Only a trailer for the film and a choice between fullscreen and widescreen presentations graces this disc. A commentary from Weller would have been nice but is not a necessity in order to enjoy the film. Watching "Screamers" makes me want to check out some of Philip K. Dick's books. I have heard great things about him, along with some weird things about his personal life, which gives me reason to believe reading some of his writings would be worthwhile. In the meantime, I will probably rewatch "Screamers" a time or two.
Philip K. Dick has been adapted before. Movies like Blade Runner [Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?], Total Recall [We Can Remember It For You Wholesale], and in summer 2002 The Minority Report [same title] have thrilled audiences while not remaining entirely faithful to Dick's ideas [especially Total Recall, in which Paul Verhoven took huge liberties]. Screamers holds to the idea, but not the setting, of Dick's story. To understand this story you must understand the context and what was on Dick's mind: The US and USSR [keep in mind the time of writing] have finally done it. They have finally blown each other up, and the remnants on earth fight it out in a style reminiscent of WWI. The US develops mechanized standoff weapons called Claws [the Screamers of the movie] which kill in an indiscriminate fashion. US troops are protected by wrist bands which ward off the Claws. Because the Claws are built in wholly mechanized factories, Dick takes them to another level - that of designing new weapons of their own. The obvious happens: US and Soviet armies alike are now targets. The clever, signature Philip K. Dick twist comes when the protagonist of the story finally recognizes the fact that these mechanized killing machines, just as we humans, have developed the means to start killing each other. What irony.
This movie's telling is small, yes, and it is low budget. The story does not need glitz and special effects. The story, in order to be understood, requires perspective and a recognition of what is actually being examined. Human folly is the tale here, and it is fairly well told. Enjoy this story.
When the robots reach that human-like point of development, they no longer simply focus on breeding and staying alive as a collective race. Now the ROBOTS start slaying each other for reasons that humans find all to understandable - love and personal desire.
Yes, there's the tension as you keep thinking "what will the NEXT robot look like". You begin to examine the actions of each character, wondering if he or she is a robot too. The line between "real human" and "mechanical device" becomes blurred. At one point Hendricksson grabs Jessica's hand and slices it open on purpose, to see if she really is human or a robot. She bleeds, and he apologizes profusely - leading to them falling in love. But of course the blood was fake - this was merely the next evolution in the robot progression. And it brings to mind the classic line, "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1). Given the large number of other Shakespeare quotes in the movie, the symbolism was quite apt.
It was impressive that Hendricksson treats the people around him with casual disregard many times - but the robots are showing emotions. The humans are often brusque and untalkative - but the robots make insightful comments drawing from Shakespeare and other great thinkers. It is almost the robots who are the better race here - they have managed to wipe all the humans off the planet, evolved themselves to higher levels, and have their sights set on Planet Earth next. In that sense, Screamers is VERY much like Blade Runner, making us really think about how we would differ from intelligent robots - and if we would measure up. A movie to watch over many times.