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Screamers

Screamers (1995) Movie Poster
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  •  Canada / USA / Japan  •    •  108m  •    •  Directed by: Christian Duguay.  •  Starring: Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis, Jennifer Rubin, Andrew Lauer, Charles Edwin Powell, Ron White, Michael Caloz, Liliana Komorowska, Jason Cavalier, Leni Parker, Sylvain Massé, Bruce Boa, Tom Berry.  •  Music by: Normand Corbeil.
        SIRIUS 6B, Year 2078: a distant mining planet, ravaged by a decade of war scientists have created the perfect weapon: a blade-wielding, self-replicating race of killing devices known as Screamers designed for one purpose only -- to hunt down and destroy all enemy life forms But man's greatest weapon has continued to evolve without any human guidance, and now it has devised a new mission: to obliterate all life. Col. Hendricksson is commander of a handful of Alliance soldiers still alive on Sirius 6B. Betrayed by his own political leaders and disgusted by the atrocities of this never-ending war, Hendricksson decides he must negotiate a separate peace with the New Economic Bloc's decimated forces. But to do so, he will have to cross a treacherous wasteland where the deadliest threat comes from the very weapons he helped to create.

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Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
Image from: Screamers (1995)
"We are now in a new form of schizophrenia. No more hysteria, no more projective paranoia, but this state of terror proper to the schizophrenic. [...] The schizophrenic can no longer produce the limits of its own being. [...] He is only a pure screen." - Baudrillard

"That's right - Pinnochio's not a real little boy!" - Becker ("Screamers")

Scifi author Harlan Ellison once took James Cameron to court, alleging that the director's 1984 film, "The Terminator", plagiarised "Demon With A Glass Hand" and "Soldier", two tales written by Ellison in the 1950s.

But Cameron, a scifi nut, seems to have also borrowed heavily from Philip K Dick's "Second Variety", a 1953 short story which finds the world ravaged by war and mankind locked in combat with a race of machines. These machines were created for defence purposes, but eventually became "self aware", started evolving, making armies, factories and hunting down humans, whom they sought to completely eradicate. The machines then began creating terminator-like infiltration units; cyborgs which convincingly resemble humans and which are programmed to penetrate human bases. Dick's hero, a resourceful soldier, even resembles Cameron's Kyle Reese, and much of Dick's dialogue, desperate, fast and apocalyptic, recalls the frenetic banter in Cameron's "Terminator".

While "Screamers", Christian Duguay's adaptation of Dick's "Second Variety", barely captures the tone and urgency of Dick's short story, Cameron's "Terminator" films do, though all these "adaptations" are more interesting in the way they demonstrate how Dick's approach to scifi changed from the 1950s onwards. All of Dick's novels are ontological conundrums, taking place in a landscape in which all "reality" seems to be constantly shifting, and in which worlds and selves constantly seem to fall apart. For Dick, there is no definitive reality, human identity itself is uncertain, nothing exists as it seems, and everything is simply a perception of pure information. In "Second Variety" these themes are approached in a fairly simple manner ("Is it an undercover killer robot or is it a human?", "What constitutes a robot?", "What constitutes a human?", "Aren't humans already cyborgs?", "How do I know what is real?", "How do I know what is machine?", "How do I know what I think I know?"), which is largely why it, and Dick's early work, remain his most popular. As Dick turned to drugs, stopped proof-reading, stopped perfecting and re-writing his stories, abandoned conventional narrative structures and started churning out novels quickly in a desperate attempt to pay his bills, his books, like his heroes and his own state of mind, became increasingly schizophrenic, paranoid and shapeless. Many deride Dick for this, but such a stance was the logical continuation of his early 1950s work. Today, Dick's later writing bare a striking similarity to postmodernist theories by thinkers such as Jameson, Baudrillard and Brian McHale. Dick anticipated the twenty-first century network society, a fragmented, culturally overloaded, media saturated world characterised by rapid technological change, constant movement and a dizzying, excessive and sometimes surreal aesthetic. For Dick, the future, our postmodern present, would morph into a sort of virtual reality game. A "consensual hallucination" in which all traditional demarcations or distinctions are erased. It is no longer an issue of there being a split between man and robot, but of man and technology constantly co-mingling, of both servicing the other, of all being technology, of man himself already being cybernetic, of the world already being cyberspacial, representational, all emotions faked, all behaviour play-acting, every object in quotes, everything grounded on the illusory. Whereas in an explicitly modernist film such as "Metropolis" the dichotomy between the original copy or experience (man) and the replication (machine) is very clear, in later Dickian films ("Blade Runner", Total Recall", "A Scanner Darkly", "Matrix", Cronenberg, Assayas etc - note how comparatively conservative Spielberg's version of Dick's "Minority Report" is) a crisis of representation occurs, as the signifier is now alienated from the object it signifies, a Deleuzian "schizoid existence" brought about by a breakdown "in the signifying chain".

Unlike the apocalyptic, cosily hopeful rubble of "Terminator" and "Second Variety", later Dick also posits a urban, networked and mechanical landscape which engenders a consequential decline in organic feeling and sensibility. Men then become "consumers of illusion", an illusion of "belonging and participation" covering up massive industrial alienation. But every connection seems to lead back to corporations, a "soft fascism" whose grid it is impossible to escape. Here, everything is organised by the constant flow of money, all landscapes are advertising-saturated and the "goal" of commerce is to destroy history itself, to put its customers in the eternal Now, the big happy theme park of desires. No surprise then that one of Dick's last stories, "Stability", takes place in a world in which mankind doesn't progress anymore, despite the illusion of constant, hyper-motion. The story's solution? The invention of a Terminator-like time machine. If Dick got one thing wrong, it was in his assumption that this "schizoid existence" would trouble or traumatise man. Today, the opposite is true. Man's adapted. He loves his cage, even as he fantasises about Judgement Day.

So postmodernist theory has itself has become what Brian McHale calls the "sister genre" of science fiction, both revolving around similar themes (What is reality? What constitutes the authentic human being?) and issues of technology and its effects on society and the individual subject. And while modernism was mainly interested in epistemology, the condition of knowledge, both Dick's scifi and postmodernism are governed by ontology and the basic conditions of existence. But "Screamers" and "The Terminator" films represent a kind of outdated, 1950s Philip K Dick, with nice easy, clear demarcations best suited for action cinema. Latter Dick is perhaps unsuited to the medium of cinema itself, though some of Olivier Assayas' more trashy films capture well his style ("Boarding Gate", "Demonlover").


Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.