Artificial Life (2)
Game Theory (1)
Movie Reviews (67)
Outer Space (4)
Quantum Theory (5)
Special Relativity (1)
Science Fiction (4)
Fatally undermined Philip K Dick adaption
ARTICLE INFOThe third Philip K Dick adaptation to jettison his original title Screamers is based on his short story Second Variety (1952). The screamers are autonomous weapons of war; intelligent, feral circular saws. Dick's story is set in World War Three ravaged Europe where the screamers have provided the Americans with a technological edge that has resulted in stalemate. In deference to a modern audience the film transposes the action to an extra-solar planet. The Russian and American adversaries become the New Economic Block and the Alliance, divorced from any real world associations. Perhaps a good idea in theory this is scuppered by the silly backstory to the NEB/Alliance war, including a tortuous, scrolling prologue a la Star Wars.
added 2002 june 13 by Martin
The film proper opens with a NEB soldier trying to make contact with the Alliance command to broker peace. He is shredded by the screamers before he can do so but his message makes it through intact. The war weary Alliance commander Hendriksson (Peter Weller) decides to investigate the offer of truce and heads off to NEB command with a green private, Jefferson (Andrew Lauer). Along the way they come across a young boy, David (Micheal Caloz), in the wasteland of an industrial city. He begs them to let him come with them and Hendriksson grudgingly allows it.
When they arrive they discover that there only three NEBs left alive; two soldiers, Becker (Roy Dupuis) and Ross (Charles Powell), and Jessica (Jennifer Rubin), a spiv. The screamers have evolved, become more deadly and virtually wiped out the NEBs. They have developed the ability to imitate human form and they are no longer loyal to the Alliance. Though Henriksson and the NEBs banded together they are all strangers. It is not long before tempers flare amongst the group and suspicious fingers are pointed at one another.
Second Variety is a fairly basic story, Dick's first exploration of his grand theme, and in places Screamers offers some improvements. The arrival of Jefferson at the beginning of the film and his revelation that the Alliance communications they relay on have been corrupted wonderfully foreshadows the main theme of the piece. The relationship between Becker and Ross improves immeasurably on Dick's brisk characterisation. However when the script depart significantly from the source material it all starts to go wrong.
The first problem is the expansion of the role of Jessica to love interest. There is no place for a relationship to blossom in these grim, paranoid circumstances. Needless to say it is handled unconvincingly and Weller, as the other half, looks particularly uncomfortable. The other problem is the shoe horning of copious action into Dick's rather staid story. Dick's effective ending is jettisoned for a hotch-potch of twists, cliches and fistfights. On top of this the final shot provides us with an unlikely image of terror that is simply laughable.
Viewers should perhaps quit whilst they are ahead and stop watching after the first two thirds of the film. Of course, then they wouldn't know what the second variety was but at least they wouldn't feel cheated.
This review originally appeared in Matrix #159