Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.
Release Date: October 19th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Christian Duguay Actors: Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis, Jennifer Rubin, Andy Lauer, Charles Powell, Ron White, Liliana Komorowska
or the last 50 years, the N.E.B. (New Economic Block) Corporation has controlled mining operations throughout the known solar systems. Two decades ago, on the colony Sirius 6B, the company discovered the solution to the world’s energy crisis: berynium. But extracting it caused lethal levels of radiation and pollution, instigating a federation of scientists and workers called “The Alliance” to protest the operations. This led to an all out war, though fighting was confined to Sirius 6B. Now, in the 10th year of the war, the survivors on the once beautiful planet are faced with a new threat.
That introduction is a weighty bit of information leading into the film, shown via a good 3-4 paragraphs of text – all just to set up the futuristic environment. Similarly lengthy conversations take place between initial characters to detail the incredibly complex premise that, for the sake of palatability, could have been truncated with obscurity. Later, the main character explains that he doesn’t have the answers to everything, which is an equivalently convenient excuse for creating mysteries to surround the horror elements that creep up from the science-fiction basis.
The year is 2078 and the decimated, nearly deserted dunes of Sirius 6B are home to a small band of remaining soldiers who are protected by “screamers” (“Autonomous Mobile Sword”), small mechanical spheres with numerous saws and cutting instruments, residing underground, tuned to living organisms and programmed to carve up any such entity in its path. When a lone NEB grunt attempts to deliver a message to the Alliance Commander, the screamers tear him apart. But the communication is nonetheless received, requesting a peace negotiation between NEB leaders and the Alliance. Joseph “Joe” A. Hendricksson (Peter Weller) and his assistant Chuck Elbarak (Ron White) believe it may be what they’ve all been waiting for – or it could be a trap.
Another bad omen arrives in the form of a crashed civilian transport cruiser carrying a nuclear reactor and Private Michael “Ace” Jefferson (Andy Lauer), the only survivor of 38 passengers. He was part of a task force heading to Triton 4, where new sources of berynium were discovered and another war is being waged. Fighting notions of governmental betrayal and the thought of never returning to earth, Joe takes Ace with him on a multi-day trek through blustery snows to the NEB headquarters, hoping the requested treaty is legitimate.
Based on the story “Second Variety” by legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, the screenplay was penned by veteran writer Dan O’Bannon (“Alien,” “Dark Star,” and “Total Recall”), who changed major factors to present a more appealing movie conclusion (in theory), but a far less effective nod to the title and to powerful, bleak dystopian drama. Although the initial appearance of the titular antagonists resemble something out of “Tremors,” with the robotic creatures scurrying about just underneath the surface of the sand, it eventually moves toward an idea that “Virus” (1999) would run away with to a much more impressive degree. And the cutting tools of the metallic orbs can’t help but be reminiscent of “Phantasm.” After the stuffed introduction, and the realization that the screamers have evolved into highly advanced cyborg-like hunters, the story starts looking more and more like “The Thing.” Even the finale is clearly reminiscent of “Aliens,” “The Terminator,” and “Blade Runner” – before it all just gets silly, trying to pack too many twists into the closing sequences.
It becomes a matter of paranoia, or deciphering the real enemies amidst the characters being killed off, like typical horror movie fare. Jessica Hanson (Jennifer Rubin), a black market freelancer who feels the need to sponge-bathe herself in front of Hendricksson when they first meet, and two NEB troopers, tough guy Becker (Roy Dupuis) and skittish Ross (Charles Powell), round out extra fodder for the murderous androids. The lighting and sets are nicely horrific, immersed in shadows, rubble, and dried blood, and the futuristic devices and technology manage to meld appropriately. But the execution lacks the seriousness needed for a truly standout experience, resulting in a very “Star Trek: The Next Generation” vibe, with the harder edge of language and violence. Plenty of good (albeit derivative) ideas and evident potential clash with contrived concepts, inconsistent pacing, and last-minute designs, preventing “Screamers” from being the memorable science-fiction project it could have been (ignoring the ludicrous final scenes).
– Mike Massie