August 5th: Not Enough Dick


163. Screamers (Christian Duguay, 2005)

When I reviewed Minority Report a few weeks ago there was a whisper or two that I hadn’t mentioned Screamers as one of the better adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s work. Always one for a bit of top quality sci-fi I decided to have a watch.

Peter Weller leads a retinue of soldiers stationed on a distant planet, engaged in a pitched battle against another army on the other side of a disputed desert mine. Weller’s forces are protected in this war by the titular ‘Screamer’ robots, rat-sized mechanicals with buzz-saws attached. When Weller decides to take up the offer of peace talks with the opposing forces he sets off only to find that things have taken a sinister turn on the planet and the Screamers are evolving.

Screamers is something of a disappointment. It’d be too easy to dismiss it as no-budget, idea free banality. But there are ideas, from the source material, evidently tossed away early on. The evolving machines raise some questions about identity but there’s no contemplation on the answers here, just an excuse for some very poorly directed action sequences. There are two locations for most of the film, the desert and the warehouse, I mustered some excitement toward the end when there was a scene in the mountains but they just found their way into another warehouse. If you are making a cheap sci-fi film then you should concentrate on the ideas (see Moon), if you’re making it action heavy then you should make sure you’ve got the budget, or creative talent, for it. Anything else is a recipe for failure and means you won’t be making it onto any list of successful adaptations.

5 thoughts on “August 5th: Not Enough Dick”

  1. I just don’t think that PKD translates to the screen at all. His books are quite introspective, thoughtful pieces. If you think of the ‘successful’ adaptations of his stories (Bladerunner, Total Recall, Terminator*) then they’ve only really worked because they’ve thrown away everything Dickian about them – in the case of Total Recall and Minority Report, they’re virtually unrecognisable compared to the source.

    The film that’s got closest to the PKD spirit is, for me, The Truman Show – they shied away from talking too much about the outside world in that, but that idea of there being two worlds – the perceived visible world and the true world – has never been done better in film (I’m looking at *you*, The Matrix)

    * it bloody well is. Credits be damned.

    1. Recently I think Moon managed to capture something of the ‘Dickian’ and I certainly think Blade Runner did a bloody good job too. Total Recall just uses the source material as a jump-off point, a framing device. It’s a successful film but perhaps not a successful adaptation of the meaning and tone of the story. I understand what you mean about The Truman Show though. I’d never considered that to be honest.

      I’d heartily recommend Moon though Chris, I think you’d love it.

  2. Yeah, really want to see Moon – but got dragged to see The Time Traveller’s Wife on the annual Ahchay cinema visit instead – it’ll have to wait for a disc release now.

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