Cyberpunk Review » Screamers

February 6, 2006


Year: 1995

Directed by: Christian Duguay

Written by: Philip K. Dick (story), Dan O’Bannon & Miguel Tejada-Flores (screenplay)

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • Joe Hendricksson: Peter Weller
  • Jessica Hanson: Jennifer Rubin
  • Becker: Roy Dupuis
  • Rating: 5 out of 10

    DVD Cover


    Overview: Screamers is a low budget near future outer-space movie with some cyberpunk elements in it. We get all powerful corporations and some interesting android/robot self-replicating development. While it has some serious story issues, and doesn’t always have the best acting or FX, there’s still enough here to make it pretty interesting, especially if you’re a fan of RoboCop star, Peter Weller.



    The Story: Screamers takes place in a dystopic near future (2078)e environment, where mining colonies on remote planets have been at war with the N.E.B. Corporation for the past 20 years. After a new substance that made space flight possible, called Berynium, was discovered, the N.E.B. Corporation sent out mining teams to the planet “Sirus 68” to mine the Berynium, but unfortunately, it was discovered that the Berynium was accompanied by massive does of radiation. The miners and scientists on the planey Serius 68 revolted, and soon a larger alliance was formed to fight the all-powerful N.E.B. Corporation.

    N.E.B. responded by dropping nuclear bombs to kill the alliance soldiers on Serius 68, and then sent in ground troops to finish the job. The alliance responded by developing “screamers.” Screamers are small sentient robots that can burrow underground at a high rate of speed, and then come up and chop humans to mincemeat. The alliance developed a self-sustaining lab that allowed the robots to self-replicate and included learning algorithms to improve their attack capability. The alliance also included an identification beacon so that the screamers would not attack alliance soldiers. Unfortunately, the screamers have begun to learn, so much so that they have started developing their own models, and worse, have started to disregard the identification beacon.

    Commander Joe Hendrickson, who has been on Serius 68 since the beginning of the conflict figures out that the war has forgotten Serius 68, and has decided to try to visit the commander of the N.E.B. forces in order to make a ceasefire. Unfortunately, as he discovers in his trek, the N.E.B. forces are the least of his concerns.



    The Visuals: Screamers is a cross between Alien inside visuals and a desert-like Road-Warrior setting (without the punk stuff), or perhaps better said, a Pitch Black setting. Orange is the color du jour. In general, the look and feel of the internal set designs are far less realistic than the outside world. Some of the inside sets would look right at home on a sci-fi TV series. The creatures are pretty low budget too.

    The Believability Factor: Although originally based on a Philip K. Dick short story, there are enough problems with the story here that cause you to pause. In addition to some real whoppers regarding the overall plot (for instance, if humans could build adaptive learning robots, why didn’t they just get the robots to mine the radio-active Berynium?), and some serious acting issues on the part of some of the minor characters. Still, both Peter Weller (RoboCop) and Jennifer Rubin are good enough to make this worth watching. More so, the evolution of the robots, while often “magical,” is done at least well enough to make you take pause and actually have a deep thought or two about it.



    The Bottom Line: I’m really torn in deciding whether to give Screamers a 5 or a 6 star rating. This is not a great movie, but there’s just enough here to make watching it worthwhile. If you’re in to dystopic futures, especially ones involving outer space, you’ll probably want to see this. If you’re in to developing AI type movies, this also should hold interest for you. In terms of “cyberpunkness,” the same thing applies – there’s just enough here to include it as watchable cyberpunk, although you’d be find just calling this a space-sci-fi movie.


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    Tags: cyberpunk movie review Screamers

    This post has been filed under Dystopic Future Movies, Horror, 5 Star Rated Movies, Good low-budget movies, Android Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 - 1999 by SFAM.


    February 6, 2006

    ETM said:

    I think you’re being too hard on Screamers, SFAM. The visuals may not be expensive, but I wouldn’t say it has low cp visuals… from the run-down feel of human habitats, holograms, AI… it really showcases a great ammount of true cp elements - on a budget. The stop-motion was particularly bad.
    I wouldn’t argue on themes, but I wanted to comment on the “plot hole” you mentioned - the screamers the humans first created weren’t AI in the strictest sense - they were designed to learn, but the evolution, IIRC, happened on its own, and the robots developed intelligence themselves. Although, I haven’t seen it in a while.

    February 7, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi ETM, I was borderline on both the themes and the visuals being between medium and low. I decided one medium and one low. Perhaps it would be best reversed (visuals at medium, themes low). But yeah, the stop motion was pretty bad. The holograms weren’t that great either, but I agree with you that the visuals, especially with the dominating color choice, fit the cyberpunk mold.

    BTW, the overall plot point (making killer robots versus mining robots) was only one of the issues (although to me it is a pretty massive one - even if they couldn’t “learn” back then, they could still be made to mine). Also strange was the dramatic speed in evolution, or some and some of the decisions of some of the robots.

    Hmm…in thinking about it, perhaps I should put both at medium and bring the rating down to a 5 stars. This is really my issue I think - not that it doesn’t have visuals or themes, but that there are some significant problems.

    EDIT: Done. Changed accordingly - medium/medium with 5 stars.

    ETM said:

    Makes sense. Still, one could argue that the mining process required constant human attention. Who knows?

    SFAM said:

    Yeah, but really, these screamers are contantly able to engage in sensemaking of their environment, while, um, mining underground. :)

    I don’t want to make too big an issue out of it though. I’m guessing the film makers were far more interested in the dynamics that took place once the screamers were in place. This, I think, still holds its relevance. If others aren’t bugged about the upfront stuff, that’s cool too. For them I’d guess the movie easily rates 6 stars then.

    February 11, 2006

    Tim said:

    The original PK Dick short story, called Third Variety, is awesome. I highly recommend it SFAM if you haven’t read it it yet. The movie doesn’t do it justice, but then, Blade Runner is the only adaptation so far that has even come close to dealing with the themes that Dick did….

    SFAM said:

    Hi Tim, I haven’t read that PK Dick story, although I hear it takes place on Earth in a completely different setting. I’ll definitely give it a go.

    March 24, 2006

    Muad'dib said:

    It’s actually called “Second Variety”, but it really is a great story. You definitely have to read it, although the ending now probably can’t surprise you any longer. Yes, it takes place on a destroyed earth in the future, but besides that the setting is more or less the same. It is, of course, far better than the movie. Nevertheless I’d rate “Screamers” higher, 6 stars probably.
    But that’s just my opinion, I liked the style and you cannot expect the best special effects from a B-movie.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Muad’dib, as I mention, I was torn with giving this either a 5 or 6 star review. I almost want to figure a way to increase my ratings to allow half-stars. Some of the story issues dropped this in my mind to 5 stars, not so much the FX. As a token, I did include this in the “good low budget movies” list instead of the “B-cyberpunk cinema.” But if a few more tell me they feel this should be 6 stars, I’ll raise it up.

    September 8, 2006

    Natakuaya said:

    I was wondering you were saying that a plot hole was; that why the humans didn’t make robots mine the Berynium for them because of the radiation. If I remember correctly (I haven’t watched it in about a year) I thought that the mines were putting off the radiation into the atmosphere, and that this made the entire planet inhabitable hence why they had to smoke those cigs. I could be wrong but that’s kind of what I thought. I shall have to watch this again.

    Just got back from Dragon-con, I went to a really awesome panel on Cyberpunk made me look through your website for some movies to watch hehe.

    September 19, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi Natakuaya, I’d be VERY interested in hearing more about the cyberpunk panel. Do tell!

    July 7, 2007

    noskich said:

    In my opinion this is one of the best SF movies ever made. And I would give a 1 to the 5th Element and other soft-sweet-junk “SF” blockbusters.

    July 15, 2007

    Burnt_Lombard said:

    The short story is so much better. The final sentence (I won’t spoil it) is such a great jab at human nature and war.

    August 3, 2007

    f54280 said:

    Mmm. Tim said:

    “The movie doesn’t do it justice, but then, Blade Runner is the only adaptation so far that has even come close to dealing with the themes that Dick did….”

    Well, as a huge PKD fan, I beg to disagree. Blade Runner is probably the less faithful Dick adaptation ever. A fantastic movie on its own, but a betrayal of the author’s ideas. faithful dicks adaptation would be:

    A Scanner Darkly (Perfect adaptation), Screamers & Total Recall (really captures the B-grade style of Dick early novels and shorts) and Confession of a Crap Artist (but that is not even SF guys, so it isn’t really interesting here).

    Come on, Roy Baty ends up being more human that Deckard. That is the opposite point of view of ALL pkd position! The Android is not human, and cannot be. Read Dick’s conference (you can even find them on the net now, like in ).

    Blade Runner is a hugely great film, but is definitely a bad adaptation of Dick’s themes.

    September 1, 2007

    Tony said:

    Thats a serious bullshit review!! Screamers is the best movie.
    For what it is and in the mid 90´s.. its an amaaaaazing movie!!!!
    Im still waiting for the sequel!!!


    Maverick said:

    Although I really like Screamers I would say that objectively it’s only worth giving 6 stars. Technically it’s not that great but it is an effective b-movie that I managed to enjoy on several viewings.

    March 1, 2008

    Dean Parks said:

    Screamers is a good adaption with a not so dark ending. Dick loved pure bleakness & betraying woman. As always the Chiodo Brothers did great work with the budget given. The Matte work is above average. Again this flic had some very early cgi and kept most of the books dialog. Dan Obannon wrote this right after her finished “Alien”. The sequel is in pre-production. Sci-fi is propably the hardest type of film to pull off it diserves a 6 or better.

    March 2, 2008

    Mr. No 1 said:

    I remember enjoying this film when I watched it years ago, even though it could be considered a b-movie. It was fun nevertheless. More than Natural City anyway ;)

    September 5, 2008

    onnies said:

    good movie..good script…good work…

    October 10, 2008

    fernando said:

    I think it’s a great movie considering it’s low budget. I haven’t read the book
    so I cannot agree or disagree. I like it because I like these older sci fi’s.
    They are making a sequel!
    There aren’t many new sci fi’s around these days. I also like Natural City,
    it has some strange things, but I love that style and the costumes were great.

    January 1, 2009

    Bg said:

    TBH i kinda liked it, i didnt expect Alien or Terminator level, and i was quiet pleased, for me its like 6 or even 7 if u consider that this movie is not so no-brainer like most B movies.

    February 5, 2009

    Immortal_Peregrin said:

    I just finished watching this, and was pleasantly surprised. I felt sorry for the only other human in the NEB base.

    February 8, 2009

    Bill said:

    I just watched screamers 2 and I got to say its poor compared to this, how they got that actor(Bishop) from the alien movies in it I dont know, even though he was only in it for five mintues, It looks like by the ending that their making more, I can only hope its better if so, after seeing it, this first movie goes up in its rankings considering what the pulled off almost 15 years ago! it puts the new movie to shame.

    February 13, 2009

    Jennifer Rubin said:

    not bad for a b-movie.

    June 21, 2009

    zii said:

    Check out Moontrap from 1989, it has some similarities with Screamers!

    August 18, 2009

    Quaigon said:

    I liked the comment. Anthough I have to admit, that I too would give more than 5 stars.

    The actors did a really good Job here and the movie was real fun.

    The sequel was IMO just the same plot all over again. And if you watched the old one several times, you just know, what is going to happen .. I had this feeling about 10 times during the film and every single time I was right ….
    Even the end was very similar. .. well apart from the scene back at earth’s orbit.

    Greetings from Berlin

    August 19, 2009

    Marc McKenzie said:

    SCREAMERS isn’t the greatest movie ever made, but it is a solid film, and a pretty good adaptation of “Second Variety”. In fact, I actually sought out the story when I read about the film back in the 1990s.

    Yes, there are changes made from the original story, but according to Dan O’Bannon they were done because of the differences between the two mediums–books and film. Some things that work on the printed page will not translate well–or at all–to the movie screen. It’s a tghtrope that screenwriters walk, and I wish that more people would understand that.

    On a whole, I liked the movie–it is a B-movie, but Weller’s performance and the opening minutes are dynamite. Is is as good as the story? No, but it isn’t a piece of crap, either.

    November 20, 2011

    Kevin Remisoski said:

    I must’ve missed the part where humans intentionally built them to learn. I also missed the part where it explains that computers are inefficient in the future and their rate of evolution must therefore be exceptionally slow once they reach self-awareness on a planet that they build themselves on.

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