Screamers (1995 film)

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Screamers
Theatrical release poster
Directed byChristian Duguay
Screenplay byDan O'Bannon
Miguel Tejada-Flores
Based on"Second Variety"
by Philip K. Dick
Produced byFranco Battista
Tom Berry
Starring
Narrated byHenry Ramer
CinematographyRodney Gibbons
Edited byYves Langlois
Music byNormand Corbeil
Distributed byTriumph Films
Release dates
  • September 8, 1995 (1995-09-08) (Toronto)
  • January 26, 1996 (1996-01-26) (United States)
Running time
108 minutes
CountriesCanada
United States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$14 million[1]
Box office$5,711,695 (U.S.)[2]

Screamers is a 1995 science fiction horror film starring Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis, and Jennifer Rubin, and directed by Christian Duguay. The screenplay, written by Dan O'Bannon with a rewrite by Miguel Tejada-Flores, is based on Philip K. Dick's 1953 short story "Second Variety",[3] and addresses themes commonly found in that author's work: societal conflict, confusion of reality and illusion, and machines turning upon their creators. The film received generally negative response from critics at the time of its release. A sequel Screamers: The Hunting, was released in 2009, to mixed reviews.

Plot[edit]

In the year 2078, the planet Sirius 6B, once a thriving mining hub, has been reduced to a toxic wasteland by a war between the mining company the New Economic Block (N.E.B.) and "The Alliance", a group of former mining and science personnel. After miners discovered that their mining had released toxic gases, they went on strike, and the N.E.B. hired mercenaries as strike breakers. Five years into the war, Alliance scientists created and deployed Autonomous Mobile Swords (AMS) — artificially intelligent self-replicating machines that hunt down and kill N.E.B. soldiers. Nicknamed "Screamers" after their signature high-pitched noise, they are efficient at killing all living targets, so Alliance soldiers wear "tabs" which render them invisible to the machines. A fragile stalemate is in effect between the two exhausted, poorly-supplied, and undermanned armies.

An N.E.B. soldier carrying a message to the Alliance compound is killed by screamers. The message guarantees safe passage through N.E.B. territory to discuss a truce. Alliance commanding officer Joe Hendricksson reports to his Earth-based superiors but is told to stay put, and that peace negotiations are already underway on Earth. However, Private "Ace" Jefferson, newly arrived from Earth, refutes this claim. Hendricksson is not surprised; he has long suspected that both sides have simply written off Sirius 6B and abandoned their armies.

Deciding the truce offer is the only chance of survival for himself and his soldiers, Hendricksson and Jefferson set out for a meeting with the N.E.B. commander. While traveling through a city ruins they come upon David, a young boy clutching a teddy bear, and bring him along. The following night they are attacked by a never-before-seen reptilian screamer. Hendricksson is alarmed that their Alliance tabs did not protect them.

As the group nears the N.E.B. compound, two enemy soldiers, Becker and Ross, open fire on David. They explain to the shocked Alliance men that David was a new "type 3" screamer impersonating a human. Most of the N.E.B. contingent has been wiped out by another "David" screamer that a patrol unwittingly brought into the base; Becker, Ross, and a black marketeer named Jessica are the only survivors.

The group heads to the N.E.B. command center but finds only an empty building and pools of blood. Locating the mainframe computer, Hendricksson learns that the N.E.B. truce offer was just as false as the Alliance message from Earth. The group retreats to the N.E.B. bunker, pursued by "Davids". They discover that the screamers have "evolved" new versions on their own that are indistinguishable from humans and immune to Alliance tabs. Becker becomes convinced that Ross is a screamer and kills him, only to discover that he was human. The four survivors retreat to the Alliance base, only to find that it had been taken over by "Davids." As dozens of "Davids" pour out of the bunker's entrance, Hendricksson fires a micro-nuclear missile into the bunker, wiping them out. Jefferson rushes to help Becker, who was apparently injured in the blast, but Becker is revealed to be a "type 2" screamer and kills Jefferson. After Hendricksson destroys Becker, only he and Jessica remain. Worrying that Jessica could be a screamer, Hendricksson cuts her hand and is relieved to see blood.

The pair locate an emergency escape shuttle, but discover it can carry only one person. Hendricksson offers the shuttle to Jessica but a second "Jessica" arrives, confirming that she is an even more human-like type of screamer. Hendricksson resigns himself to death, but to his surprise, Jessica shields him, then sacrifices herself in battle with her lookalike. With her last breath, Jessica confesses her love for Hendricksson, who departs for Earth with the teddy bear carried by the original "David". As the screen fades to black, the bear slowly begins to move.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Screamers was stuck in development hell for over a decade before finally being produced. Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon had completed his adaptation of Dick's short story Second Variety in 1981 (along with his adaptation of another of Dick's short stories, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", which became the 1990 film Total Recall).[4] By 1983, O'Bannon's screenplay for Screamers had been optioned by Tom Naud (SFX designer on the 1981 film Outland).[5] However, the production never went ahead as planned. At various times, Charles Fries showed interest in the project,[4] but it was not until the 1990s that Screamers went into production. By this time the screenplay had been rewritten by Miguel Tejada-Flores. O'Bannon was unaware that the film had been made until after its release, when his agent called him to notify him of his screenwriting credit for the film.[4] According to O'Bannon, they had kept much of the plot and characters from his original script the same while changing much of the dialogue.[4]

The film, directed by Christian Duguay, was made in Canada. Locations included a quarry in Quebec, in Montreal's Olympic Stadium, as well as Joliette.[6][7]

Release[edit]

It premiered at the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 1995. It was released in the United States on January 26, 1996, by Columbia Pictures.

Reception[edit]

Critical response [edit]

The film holds a 29% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 35 reviews.[8]

James Berardinelli gave the film a positive review, awarding it a rating of three stars (out of four). Berardinelli said that the film "oozes atmosphere" and "underlines an important truth: you don't need a big budget or big-name stars to make this sort of motion picture succeed."[9] Joe Bob Briggs also reacted positively, calling Screamers "a pretty dang decent [movie]" and saying, "I loved it. ... Three and a half stars."[10]

Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars (out of four), remarking that it was "made with a certain imagination and intelligence," "the dialogue is often effective," and "what makes the film somewhat intriguing is its Blade Runner-like ambiguity: who is, and who isn't, a human being."[11]

Time Out New York Film Guide criticized director Christian Duguay's "flashy, aimless direction", saying that the movie "lacks the intelligence to follow through its grim premise", but added that the film "does offer many ... guilty pleasures" and "the design and effects teams have lent scale and impact to the futuristic locations and sets."[12]

The Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Film Review gave Screamers three stars out of four, calling it a "two-thirds excellent and intelligent science-fiction film" that "builds towards a climax that never arrives ... After an impressive build-up, the film blows its third act and falls into cliches."[13] Popcorn Pictures gave the film two and a half stars out of four, writing: "Screamers isn't terrible. The scenes inside the refinery are creepy enough with them stalking and being stalked by the Screamers. But the intro and finale are terrible ways to start and end a film respectively. There was a good film waiting to come out here, it's a shame only half of it did."[14]

Rob Blackwelder of SplicedWire said, "Screamers is inundated with movie clichés, stock characters, stolen premises and scenes that just don't make sense."[15] Beyond Hollywood wrote, "One of the biggest problems with Screamers is the near absence of a likeable character, or at least someone who we actually give a damn about escaping those slice-and-dice robots. ... There's no doubt Screamers could have been a lot better than it is. The whole sequence at the refinery is the best of the movie, managing to elicit both a couple of scare scenes and a lot of creepiness. The rest, unfortunately, doesn't live up to that middle section."[16]

Box office[edit]

The film earned about $5.7 million in the United States and Canada,[17] on a $20 million budget. It was moderately popular in France, Japan, and the Netherlands. Worldwide box office was approximately $7 million.

Awards[edit]

Year Group Award Nominee Result
1996 Genie Awards Best Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design Perri Nominated
Best Achievement in Music - Original Score Normand Corbeil Nominated
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role Ron White Nominated

Sequel[edit]

Screamers: The Hunting, directed by Sheldon Wilson and starring Gina Holden, Jana Pallaske, Greg Bryk, Stephen Amell and Lance Henriksen, was released straight to DVD in 2009.[18][19]

The sequel is set several years after the events of the original film. Hendricksson died when he deliberately allowed his escape shuttle to burn up in the atmosphere during reentry to Earth. The official determination is that he committed suicide due to post-traumatic stress; but it is strongly implied that he actually did it to prevent the "teddy bear" screamer on board from reaching Earth. Meanwhile, an SOS signal arrives from Sirius 6B. A contingent of seven soldiers, including Hendricksson's daughter Victoria Bronte (Holden), is dispatched to the war torn mining planet to investigate. The film features all of the screamers from the original film, as well as a sleeker, longer, and more serpentine screamer with cutting mandibles for a mouth.

As with Screamers, critical reaction to Screamers: The Hunting was mixed. David Johnson of DVD Verdict wrote that "the visual effects were surprisingly effective" and "[p]ractical effects impress as well", but added, "Unfortunately ... the script defaults to a clichéd finale, and a predictable—though well-executed—final twist ending." He concluded, "I had a pretty decent time with [Screamers: The Hunting] ... [I]f you're hankering for a serving of effective sci-fi B-movie shenanigans, you could do a lot worse."[20] Scott Foy of Dread Central wrote, "They've basically recycled the first film but dumbed it and dulled it down considerably, doing away with the paranoia and sense of desolation that gave the original some spark in favor of logic gaps and tedious predictability. ... The best that can be said ... is that most of the production values and make-up effects are top notch for a direct-to-DVD production. Too bad they didn't put as much work into crafting the screenplay."[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Quebec Scene: CFP launches new slate with Mihalka comedy l'Homme Ideal". Playback. October 23, 1995. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  2. ^ "Screamers (1995)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  3. ^ "Ring in the New Year with 10 Futuristic Horror Films". January 11, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d Spelling, Ian (July 1996). "Screaming Reversals". Starlog (228): 118–121 – via Internet Archive.
  5. ^ Goldberg, Lee (June 1983). "Dan O'Bannon: My Son, The Hitman". Starlog (71): 26–28, 66 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ Spelling, Ian (February 1996). "Science Fiction Hero". Starlog (223): 27–32 – via Internet Archive.
  7. ^ Spelling, Ian (March 1996). "Sirius Business". Starlog (224): 14–18 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ Rotten Tomatoes. "Screamers". Rotten Tomatoes.
  9. ^ Review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews, 1996
  10. ^ Screamers review Archived 2009-04-22 at the Wayback Machine Joe Bob Briggs, joebobbriggs.com
  11. ^ Review by Roger Ebert Archived September 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Chicago Sun-Times, January 26, 1996
  12. ^ Time Out Film Guide Review Archived 2008-12-15 at the Wayback Machine, Time Out, 1996
  13. ^ Screamers review Archived 2010-05-15 at the Wayback Machine The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review
  14. ^ Screamers review Archived 2010-11-26 at the Wayback Machine Popcorn Pictures
  15. ^ Review by Rob Blackwelder Archived May 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, SplicedWire, 1996
  16. ^ Screamers review Beyond Hollywood, March 9, 2003
  17. ^ "Screamers". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  18. ^ "Screamers 2", The Movie Blog, 2007
  19. ^ Exclusive: Lance Henriksen Talks Screamers 2, Near Dark Redux & More!, Dread Central, 2009
  20. ^ Screamers: The Hunting review David Johnson, DVD Verdict, February 20th, 2009
  21. ^ Screamers: The Hunting review Scott Foy, Dread Central

External links[edit]