Philip K Dick
Movie - Screamers (1995)

Based on Story - Second Variety


Story Version Notes
Second Variety was written in 1953 and is so far the earliest published work of Philip K Dick to be converted in a movie. He wrote this in the same year that he wrote Imposter and Paycheck. The short story is 38 pages long.

It's post-nuclear-war with the UN vs the Russians. Apparently the Russians turned the US into a radioactive wasteland, and the US responded by destroying Russia. The US/UN was almost taken out completely, but they started churning out deadly little robots. The first ones were crude, but over time by updating designs the robots grew more and more complex. They went from tiny crab to larger to larger. The US forces are only safe because of bracelets they wear.

Despite the success of the robots, the fighting is intense on Terra (Earth). Most of the remaining US government is hiding out on the moon.

A Russian soldier gets a message to the US side that they need to talk. So Hendricks goes over to chat. He finds that the Russians have almost entirely been wiped out by new humanoid robots. One in particular is an innocent boy. Only three people remain - a prostitute and two soldiers. One solder kills the other, thinking he's a robot. The remaining three head back to US lines, but it turns out the US base has already been taken out by the little-boys. Then it turns out the remaining soldier IS a robot. So now we're down to Henricks and the prostitute. She convinces him to let her fly up to the moon base in the single-person rocket to warn them. But, of course, it turns out SHE is a robot, and now all of humanity is doomed.

But he takes solace in the fact that, with the robots willing to kill each other, they are just as flawed as humans are.

Lisa's Reaction to the Story Version
An interesting story with the classic Dick twist at the end. Here it's not too surprising - the moment we learn that little David is a robot, and robots can be made to look at humans, now every single person is suspect. Maybe Hendricks is a robot. Every person gets examined. They never try any tests, though. They simply trust in each other until proven wrong.

Where other stories often interweave ideas of love and loyalty, here it's all about killing. Tasso, the prostitute-robot, is coldly efficient about everything she does. She praises the socialism of the robots and admires the functionality of the gun. She is quite happy to kill the other smaller robots they encounter on the way over to the US bunker.

It feels a little odd to me that Hendricks so completely ignores the idea that Tasso could be a robot. He's already seen that they're making little boy robots and wounded soldier robots. Surely sexy woman robots would not be far behind.

Also, it's bizarre that the one way to get onto the moon base is with a one-person rocket which will ONLY open to Hendrick's eyeball. What if Hendricks fell in battle? Nobody else on the entire Earth could ever leave?






Movie Version Notes
Screamers is set in the year 2078, on a far-away mining planet. The Corporation wants to mine an important mineral despite its radiation risks - a faction is fighting against them. Peter Weller plays Hendricksson, the leader of the Corporation forces. This war has been going on for 10 years or more and the only contact with earth is supply ships and virtual reality messages.

The Corporation created killer robots, known as "screamers" which are in essence spinning blade machines that tunnel under the sand, killing anyone without a special bracelet. A faction force braves the screamers to deliver a plea for peace. Hendricksson radios this back to earth and is told to hang tight. But a chance crash of a spaceship bound for another planet has the group realize that they are deliberately being kept out of the loop - the "person" who is giving them orders from Earth is a computer reproduction of a long-dead person.

Hendricksson decides to arrange the peace and bring an end to this false war. He brings along with him Ace Jefferson, played by Andrew Lauer. Ace was the sole survivor of the spaceship crash and is a young, naive soldier. The two trek out to the enemy base, picking up a young refugee boy along the way. It turns out this boy is actually a new form of Screamer, and that the Screamers are actually "breeding" and developing new versions of themselves somewhere underground.

At the enemy base, only three people are left alive - two soldiers and a woman, Jessica. They find a new mini-lizard style of Screamer, and one of the soldiers kills the other one claiming he acted like a Screamer too. Now the four remaining people trek back to the Corporation base, only to find IT overrun with the little-boy Screamers. They take out the base with a rocket. The one remaining faction soldier is hurt - and it turns out HE is a Screamer. He slays Ace, the naive soldier from Earth. That only leaves Hendricksson and Jessica, played by Jennifer Rubin.

Hendricksson and Jessica go off to a secret base where an emergency escape pod is stashed. Hendricksson's friend from his base shows up - and is a Screamer. Yet another fight. Now it turns out the escape pod only fits one person and Jessica refuses to go. Hendricksson is forcing her to go when "another Jessica" appears - and now we learn that Jessica is in fact a Screamer, but she fell in love with Hendricksson. She didn't want to go in the pod because she was afraid her "true nature" would revert itself and she'd hurt people on Earth. The two Jessicas in essence kill each other, and Hendricksson goes off alone in the pod.

In a classic Philip K Dick twist, a teddy bear left in the pod somehow, seen in the hands of the Screamer little boy, starts moving on its own as the pod flies through space towards Earth.

Lisa's Reaction to the Movie Version
If you look at this movie as a version of "Aliens", you're missing most of the theme here. The movie isn't about "people fighting robots". It is how people initially create mindless devices to slay other humans. These devices grow on their own from spinning blades, to crawling lizards, to simple happy children, to "help me!" heart-string-tugging hurt soldiers, all the way up to Shakespeare-quoting men and real-love-feeling women.

When the robots reach that human-like point of development, they no longer simply focus on breeding and staying alive as a collective race. Now the ROBOTS start slaying each other for reasons that humans find all to understandable - love and personal desire.

Yes, there's the tension as you keep thinking "what will the NEXT robot look like". You begin to examine the actions of each character, wondering if he or she is a robot too. The line between "real human" and "mechanical device" becomes blurred. At one point Hendricksson grabs Jessica's hand and slices it open on purpose, to see if she really is human or a robot. She bleeds, and he apologizes profusely - leading to them falling in love. But of course the blood was fake - this was merely the next evolution in the robot progression. And it brings to mind the classic line, "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1). Given the large number of other Shakespeare quotes in the movie, the symbolism was quite apt.

It was impressive that Hendricksson treats the people around him with casual disregard many times - but the robots are showing emotions. The humans are often brusque and untalkative - but the robots make insightful comments drawing from Shakespeare and other great thinkers. It is almost the robots who are the better race here - they have managed to wipe all the humans off the planet, evolved themselves to higher levels, and have their sights set on Planet Earth next. In that sense, Screamers is VERY much like Blade Runner, making us really think about how we would differ from intelligent robots - and if we would measure up. A movie to watch over many times.

In many ways, I think the movie version improves on the short story version. In the movie there are the love, loss, and loyalty themes which are so powerful. They are themes that are present in many of Dick's other stories. The original story provided the bare bones ideas, but had plot holes regarding how they didn't suspect each other. Here in the movie they DID suspect each other and were fooled. And she has evolved enough that she can feel loyalty and love, which conflicts with her programming.

Buy Screamers DVD from Amazon.com
Second Variety from Amazon.com

Philip K Dick Stories Made Into Movies
A Scanner Darkly
Barjo
Blade Runner
Imposter
Minority Report
Next
Paycheck
Screamers
Total Recall


Philip K Dick Homepage