For our science fiction issue, it seemed obvious to address and Cronenberg or Vincenzo Natali film, so we decided to go a little off the beaten path and choose Screamers, a 1995 Canadian co-production (with the US and Japan) starring Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis and directed by Christian Duguay.
The film takes place in the the year 2078 on a planet called Sirius 6B, on which miners are at war with the corporation who employs them to mine a very potent energy source. Unfortunately, the side effect of the mining is severe radiation, creating horribly unsafe working conditions. To combat the corporation, the miners create weapons called “screamers”, spinning blade weapons that follow heartbeats and come up from the ground to slice their enemies into pieces. The war seems close to an end, but now the miners face a new enemy: screamers who can think and replicate themselves.
Trista: I realize that this is a Canadian co-production, but I actually feel an interesting kinship with this film based on the fact that it has a Canadian director, has Roy Dupuis in a major supporting role and was shot in Quebec. But I also feel a strange kinship with it because this film would not exist in its current form without the work of David Cronenberg.
I haven’t read the short story, so I can’t say how much of the film came directly from that text, but I can say with certainty that the physical way in which the Screamers were realized is something that could only have happened in a world in which Cronenberg makes movies.
Will: I never thought about David Cronenberg during the film. I did think about a pile of other sci-fi films though, ranging from Terminator, to The Thing, and even a bit of Total Recall. I think it’s safe to say that there are a lot of films and ideas that would never exist in a world without David Cronenberg though!
As I was saying, it did remind me of a lot of other films, but never really seems to be treading in the same territory. Of course, those are some great films I mentioned, and Screamers doesn’t quite live up to them. It is a fantastic film though, and that’s mainly because it manages to be fun and freaky, without trying to be something that it isn’t. The cast does help out there, but it may be Peter Weller who winds up being my favourite.
Regarding the Canadian content of the film, I’d like to think that only a Canadian, like director Christian Duguay, could bring together elements that seem so familiar, without winding up with a total rip-off of any of those movies.
Trista: I would also like to think that. I feel like Canadians have the ability to direct films that have major stars in them without being intimidated by them, and the result is excellent. (See Dallas Buyers Club for another good example.)
What disappoints me most about the film is the ending. It takes this from solid sci-fi classic down to B-movie status, and I think that’s a shame. If the film had ended 20 minutes sooner, this would be a film people would put on lists and celebrate as one of the great sci-fi films of the 90s. Instead it takes a truly nutso turn and goes directly off the rails.
I do agree, however, that Peter Weller is the one who stands out the most. He completely grounds the film and makes even those crazy plot points seem more reasonable. I also like that he was able to take the “grizzled, battle hardened soldier with nothing to lose” character and make him one with heart. It’s one of my favourite of his roles.
Will: I actually enjoyed the ending, and it stays slightly true to the short story it’s based on. I never thought the film was exactly sci-fi classic, as the ones I would consider outstanding tend to outshine Screamers by a large margin. I still think this is a great 90s sci-fi film though, and a Canadian one at that. The screamers look amazing, and are a lot less choppy looking than I had imagined they would be, and the cast manage to make some very cheesy dialogue actually sound great, especially Peter Weller.
I wasn’t really surprised to see Dan O’Bannon credited on the screenplay, and I only wish we could claim him as our own. He played a part in creating some of my favourite films, including Alien, Total Recall, and The Return of the Living Dead. I think you can feel his work here, and it’s a huge reason why this becomes such a great B movie.
Trista: I dunno, man. I think this could totally have been a classic if not for the crazy ending. But that being said I think it was pretty great regardless.
I find it interesting that you say the ending stays true to the short story. Is the out-of-nowhere-laugh-out-loud love story in the book too? Does it feel as tacked on as in the film?
I felt Roy Dupuis did some excellent work in this film, as did Andrew Lauer. Perhaps it’s just the roles he has taken recently, but I really felt he got to explore a psychopathic character that he doesn’t usually get to with his work. Lauer was great in a fairly standard role for him, but I also liked that it did away with some of the airhead stereotype that he got from “Caroline in the City” and allowed for a little bit of additional dramatic character stuff.
Will: Yeah, the love story seems to be something created for the movie, because for some reason, you can’t have a movie without a love story. I do like the way it works into the story when you think about it though, but that may be revealing too much of the film.
Roy Dupuis didn’t get enough time to be the bad guy, if you ask me. There’s so much going on in the last 30 minutes though, and it would have been a bit smoother ride if they had simplified the story a little. It would have given Dupuis more time to be a great villain, and made for a more exciting final battle.
I think this becomes one of those films where it’s not really that great, but for some reason, I really love it. It works well, and I even enjoy the nutso ending! When you start looking a little deeper, you see the flaws, but it’s just so much fun to watch. I would definitely go back and watch this in the future.
Is Screamers Essential Canadian Cinema?
Trista: As for whether it is Essential Canadian Cinema or not, I’m on the fence. There are a number of great Canadian things about it, but I’m not sure that the film itself stands out enough to make it truly “essential”, despite how much I like the film. I want to say that it’s “essential” because it’s a very little seen film that I think deserves more eyeballs, but then, if we just set the bar for “essential” at exposure, that would be most Canadian films.
I think, as much as it pains me to say it, it’s not “essential”, but everyone who loves sci-fi should grab a copy of this and watch it. It’s so much fun.
Will: I may be in the same boat here. Essential Canadian Cinema really should be a film that everybody must see. Screamers happens to be a movie that I think would have a great run at a smaller indie theatre, preferably in a late evening time slot where the audience has enjoyed a few drinks before. To say that it’s essential is one step above where this film lies.
I’ll also agree that sci-fi lovers should pick this up, and if anybody has a fondness for Dan O’Bannon or Peter Weller, there’s even more reason to check it out.
There you have it! Screamers is not Essential Canadian Cinema, but is a film that sci-fi lovers should make time to see.