Screamers – Blu-Ray Review

Shockingly, Screamers was only the third American film based on a novel or short story by Philip K. Dick, although there was also a little-seen French adaptation of Dick’s more realist novel Confessions of a Crap Artist in 1992. Total Recall would start the trend of using a short story of Dick’s (the novels are rarely ever adapted) and making essentially a sci-fi action film—and Total Recall remains probably the most successful of the short-story adaptations, as it does retain a sizable amount of the key themes in Dick’s work of alternate realities, large corporations, the nature of reality and so on. Minority Report could’ve been the great one, but Spielberg threw on a tacky happy ending, which undermines all the trappings of Dick’s work.

Total Recall and Screamers are linked, because both short stories were initially optioned by the legendary screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (he was one of the writers on Alien), who went on to be a credited screenwriter on both films, although both were rewritten by various other scribes in the development process. Both stories were also optioned during PKD’s lifetime, so at least he got some money from them. The big difference in the film of Screamers and the short story it’s based on, “Second Variety,” is that the original story is set on Earth and it’s a conflict between America and the Soviet Union. Naturally, given that the film was made in the ’90s, they transported the setting to a distant planet and a war between disgruntled miners and mercenaries.

Both films were in development hell for years, and O’Bannon wasn’t even aware it was made till his agent called him to notify him that he had a new screenplay credit. He said the basic plot and characters were the same, but the dialogue had been almost entirely rewritten. The film ended up being a relatively low-budget affair: director Christian Duguay claims it cost 5 million, while the internet claims it was closer to 20 million, so who knows for sure. I think the problem that the film had was partly that you needed a more authoritative directorial voice behind the helm, not Duguay, who is a relatively hacky French-Canadian director.

In the end, Screamers  is a OK-ish Philip K. Dick adaptation, which does have some of the who-is-and-who-isn’t-a-human theme in relation to the ‘screamer’ robots. It has some decent sci-fi/horror genre thrills, but it always feels incredibly cheap. The cast, with the exception of Peter Weller, is completely uninspiring. Weller is trying his best, and from all accounts had much input into the final shooting script. It’s still a big of slog of a film, and never quite lives up to the mind of the greatest sci-fi writer who ever lived.

Shockingly, Screamers was only the third American film based on a novel or short story by Philip K. Dick, although there was also a little-seen French adaptation of Dick’s more realist novel Confessions of a Crap Artist in 1992. Total Recall would start the trend of using a short story of Dick’s (the novels are rarely ever adapted) and making essentially a sci-fi action film—and Total Recall remains probably the most successful of the short-story adaptations, as it does retain a sizable amount of the key themes in Dick’s work of alternate realities, large corporations, the nature of reality and so on. Minority Report could’ve been the great one, but Spielberg threw on a tacky happy ending, which undermines all the trappings of Dick’s work.

Total Recall and Screamers are linked, because both short stories were initially optioned by the legendary screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (he was one of the writers on Alien), who went on to be a credited screenwriter on both films, although both were rewritten by various other scribes in the development process. Both stories were also optioned during PKD’s lifetime, so at least he got some money from them. The big difference in the film of Screamers and the short story it’s based on, “Second Variety,” is that the original story is set on Earth and it’s a conflict between America and the Soviet Union. Naturally, given that the film was made in the ’90s, they transported the setting to a distant planet and a war between disgruntled miners and mercenaries.

Both films were in development hell for years, and O’Bannon wasn’t even aware it was made till his agent called him to notify him that he had a new screenplay credit. He said the basic plot and characters were the same, but the dialogue had been almost entirely rewritten. The film ended up being a relatively low-budget affair: director Christian Duguay claims it cost 5 million, while the internet claims it was closer to 20 million, so who knows for sure. I think the problem that the film had was partly that you needed a more authoritative directorial voice behind the helm, not Duguay, who is a relatively hacky French-Canadian director.

In the end, Screamers  is a OK-ish Philip K. Dick adaptation, which does have some of the who-is-and-who-isn’t-a-human theme in relation to the ‘screamer’ robots. It has some decent sci-fi/horror genre thrills, but it always feels incredibly cheap. The cast, with the exception of Peter Weller, is completely uninspiring. Weller is trying his best, and from all accounts had much input into the final shooting script. It’s still a big of slog of a film, and never quite lives up to the mind of the greatest sci-fi writer who ever lived.

The disc from 101 Films is essentially a port of the US Scream/Shout Factory release. which includes interviews with Duguay, producer Tom Berry, co-writer Miguel Tejada-Flores and actress Jennifer Rubin. The additions from 101 Films are a new commentary track from critic Kevon Lyons and a new booklet with the essays “In Space, No One Cares If You Scream” by Liam Hathaway and “When the Machines Rock: Philip K. Dick and the Dystopian Dream” by Scott Harrison.

★★

Ian Schultz

Buy Here

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