Screamers is a bit of a mess. It has a solid pedigree but somewhere between its origin and its filming, I imagine a number of things went wrong, culminating in the disappointing movie it became.
The film stars Peter Weller and is originally based on a story by Philip K. Dick and Dan O’Bannon had a hand in the script. There are a lot of details and ideas mixed into the story, but there’s no balance to it so instead of coming across as a solid reality it is a hodgepodge of ideas cobbled together that just doesn’t work.
On a far distant planet, a fuel source has been found, but mining causes it to turn it and the planet radioactive, prompting a conflict between scientists and business interests. To aid in their efforts against the businesses, the scientists invent a robotic defense network known as screamers because of the noise they make upon attack.
Joe (Weller) is in charge of the Alliance or scientist contingent on the wartorn planet and he’s in a position to be completely shocked when things begin to change. There are revelations about the war and even more troubling discoveries about the screamers.
Summoned to the N.E.B. (the business faction) under an offer of peace Joe finds himself in a fight for his survival as the entire game has changed.
There is so much detail hinted at in this world but none of it is explored or even treated properly. It’s all just mentioned and supposed to be seen as shaping the world we’re watching, but it just doesn’t work. Instead, the film descends into a run and gun chase filled with questionable (even for the time) visual effects.
One has to wonder how the film got from Dick’s original story to the mess that is onscreen and why so many changes were forced on the story to turn it into what ended up on-screen.
Weller is always a solid watch and I enjoy his performances, but even this one seems to be beyond his ability to help.
The film struggles to do the best with what it has, but its backstory is so convoluted and nothing is given its due attention that it all just flounders and becomes an unengaging, rather unexciting film that has no measure of believability to it, not to mention a complete lack of scientific reality.
I remember seeing this when it hit video a long time ago, and honestly, I should have left it in the past. It wasn’t good then, and it certainly hasn’t gotten better with time.