“The Last Scream You Hear Will Be Your Own.”
Director: Christian Duguay
Cast: Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis, Jennifer Rubin
Synopsis: (SIRIUS 6B, Year 2078) On a distant mining planet ravaged by a decade of war, scientists have created the perfect weapon: a blade-wielding, self-replicating race of killing devices known as Screamers
I’m inherently mistrustful of any movie which begins with a load of textual exposition; it smacks of laziness or impatience, as if the writers can’t be bothered to employ a little creativity to provide the background against which the story we’re about to watch will unfold. And, yeah, I know Star Wars did it, but that’s just the exception that proves the rule (or proves my point, if you’re not a fan). The opening explanatory text in Christian Duguay’s Screamers is also read to us by a faintly robotic voice, as if the makers weren’t sure we’d be able to read all the words before they scrolled off the top of the screen. But then, the budget for Screamers is pretty small for an SF movie, so perhaps they were counting pennies.
Anyhoo, Screamers takes place on a mining planet on which a war has raged for 10 years. Once a paradise, the landscape has been laid waste, first by the mining operations which released vast amounts of radiation, and then by the war that followed when the miners quite understandably felt a little unhappy about working in such treacherous conditions. Clearly, standards of industrial health and safety fall by the wayside in the future once we’re out of Earth’s atmosphere. The reason the stakes are so high is that Berynium, the mineral they were mining, provides the cure for all Earth’s energy problems, so the massive mining operation is reluctant to let such a lucrative cash cow slip through its fingers.
Colonel Hendricksson (Peter Weller), who commands a handful of Alliance soldiers, begins to suspect that his paymasters down on earth have forsaken him and his colleagues when a military aircraft trying to pass itself off as a commercial flight crash lands right outside his front door. The craft is carrying a nuclear weapon and one surviving passenger, a rookie named Ace (Andy Lauer), who informs Hendricksson that the leader from whom the commander received a message via hologram the day before actually died two years ago, and the flight was on its way to another planet where large volumes of Berynium have been discovered (or something — the script’s a little bit hazy here, which makes Hendricksson’s subsequent deductions something Sherlock Holmes would have been proud of) . All this happens at the same time that he receives a message from his opposite number proposing a peace deal.
Hendricksson decides to pay a visit on his enemy to discuss the proposal, a journey that involves traversing untold miles of bleak terrain on foot because technology has somehow overlooked the invention of land vehicles while devoting all its attention on making shiny spaceships. Travelling by foot would be bad enough, but metallic robots known as screamers roam the plains looking for humans to cut up. These screamers, which plough their furrow underground, are equipped with lethal little buzz saws and are sort of mollusc-shaped. Initially developed by Hendricksson’s lot, they were perhaps unwisely allowed to manufacture themselves and have now evolved to such a sophisticated degree that they are able to manufacture convincing human lookalikes.
Screamers is based on a Philip K. Dick short story, and apparently sticks pretty close to its source material. It’s written by Dan O’Bannon, who also has the original Alien movie and Total Recall, another Dick adaptation, under his belt, so it’s perhaps surprising how pedestrian the whole thing is, and how much it resembles other — better — movies such as Tremors and, once we learn that the humanoid screamers have infiltrated our hardy band of survivors, The Thing. O’Bannion’s script does have its moments, but they’re few and far between, and are far outnumbered by irritating plot holes and incidents of supposedly smart characters doing incredibly stupid things. Matters aren’t helped by a typically B-movie performance from Peter Weller who, when he isn’t adopting a laid-back cynical tone, is bellowing his lines to signify emotion.
It’s not all bad, though. The special effects are pretty good for a picture that’s nearly twenty years old and has a relatively small budget, and Duguay does manage to create a number of moments of suspense. But, overall, the picture runs a good twenty minutes too long and doesn’t have enough going on to keep the audience involved.
(Reviewed 20th May 2013)