Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Screamers" Philip K Dick, "The Second Variety"

I am no fan of horror movies. Having witnessed death and murder in close quarters in the South Bronx and on 9/11 I have no desire to see it simulated as entertainment. So I missed the 1995 sci-fi horror-thriller Screamers the first time around. Yet even the mere commercials gave me at least two nightmares that I can remember, based merely on the movie's premise, that of miniature self-replicating killing machines as the ultimate reductio ad essentiam of war. That premise haunted me as it has fascinated others, like the writers of the Terminator series and the creators of the Replicators from Stargate SG-1.

It's a great premise. It bespeaks an ecological sophistication you don't find in most science fiction that varies between the mindlessly loud shoot-em-up physicalism of Michael Bay and the reality-is-whatever-you-wish-it-to-be mysticism of Solaris and every bad Star Trek incarnation you've ever seen. Or the Matrix series, which combines both in what Stan Marsh might call an apotheosis of poop. Screamers has none of that slick nonsense .

Screamers shows both mindless violence and effortless fantasy to be dead ends. It uses plot, suspense, and character to show the importance of values pursued through effort toward a rational end. It is a high-budget B-movie which, due to its writing, achieves the status of Art with a capital "A". Some will complain it is not high art, but any work worth seeing twice meets that definition in my book.

Peter Weller, the veteran character actor of Robocop and Naked Lunch, plays the hard-boiled hero Joe Hendricksson, a military man who has, by the pretense of cynicism, just managed to maintain his hold on his compartmentalized humanity. He knows that his is a world of shit. But he chooses to listen to Mozart, not Lady Gaga. Offered the opportunity of peace in a war with no dignity he takes it. But he utteres no platitudes and expects no miracles. All he demands from his charges is common sense, if not actual competence.

Hendricksson goes on a quest to negotiate peace with the enemies of his commanders, even if his commanders and his enemies both turn out no longer to exist. Just as the offer of peace negotiations from the enemy turns out to be a ruse, so do the refugees from war Hendricksson meets on the way to his barren destination. The apparent "refugees" are not victims, but disguised and deadly weapons of war. And his would-be negotiating parties are dead. I won't spoil the climax, which includes two of the standard cliches of science fiction, the conflicted robot and the "or ist it?" ending, by giving any details. But they are cliches because they work, and they work fine here. If you like edgy drama that doesn't insult your intelligence, I think this is one B-movie that will leave you thoroughly satisfied.