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Screamers (Blu-ray Review)

One title that I’d also forgotten for many years when making my Brandon’s Blu-ray Wishlist articles was Screamers starring Peter Weller and Jennifer Rubin, based off of one of Philip K. Dick stories. I’d actually finally kept it noted to put on the next one and the Scream Factory went ahead and beat me to it. You never got to see the list Screamers, but know that you were always on my mind, just to be remember shortly after posting each year’s list. Well, the time has come and while its not getting a Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory, it IS getting some love. Plenty of it with some brand new interviews and a reversible cover. This forgotten 1990s thrillers was released just a year before Scream and I had always wondered why they wanted to call Scream “Scream” when this film with a similar title in the horror genre had just come out the year before. But, alas, we all know that not many saw this and it didn’t really matter. You’ll be able to pre-order this one now for when it arrives on Blu-ray January 29th.

Film 

The year is 2078. The man is rebel Alliance Commander Col. Joseph Hendrickson (Peter Weller), assigned to protect the Sirius 6B outpost from ravage and plunder at the hands of the New Economic Bloc. His state-of-the-art weaponry are known as Screamers; manmade killing devices programmed to eliminate all enemy life forms. Screamers travel underground; their intent to kill announced by piercing shrieks. They dissect their victims with precision, then eradicate all traces of the carnage. They are lethal. Effective. Tidy. And somehow, they are mutating … self-replicating into human form … and slaughtering every beating heart on the planet.

Screamers, believe it or not, is one of the very best movies to come from a Philip K. Dick property. Blade Runner was still in its phase of learning to be appreciated in 1995, Total Recall was the author’s most celebrated work come to screen. Its the one that had more people trying to pluck his stories. This 1995 film was based on a story called Second Variety, and was in development for many years, originally penned by Dan O’Bannon who also wrote Total Recall.

The film came and went pretty quickly and I’m not sure if it even found a big life on home video. Which is a shame, because it has a lot to offer. I don’t imagine this had a huge budget, so the production design is even that much more expensive. Computer animation was still too expensive and in its early stages, so this film relies on the practical for everything, only utilizing the digital in a few spots. The monsters and make-up effects are practical and use many miniatures with stop-motion. What I love the most is probably the set design and the use of many beautiful and cool looking matte paintings. It helps to add to the wear and almost to the touch, realistic setting the film has. Its a world that is both familiar enough and strange enough to feel like you kinda know and kinda don’t. That same feeling you get from an Alien, Blade Runner and Total Recall. Oddly enough, all of those things have either Philip K. Dick or Dan O’Bannon attached to them.

Peter Weller is rock solid and aces as always here. He makes this world much more believable and not just in his performance. According to everyone in their interviews, he had quite a hand in the production, rewrites and on set decision making to help guide the film to success. Everyone seems to respect and appreciate the contributions he made and think he’s rather a genius when it comes to every angle of his craft Notable here too, is Jennifer Rubin as she’s a wonderful presence who I don’t think was ever utilized enough. This film gives her plenty to chew on as she’s a pretty interesting character and Rubin gives her a even more than what appears to have been on the page. She’s able to hold her own with Weller for the most part which is pretty impressive.

If I have any complaint about Screamers, its that it might be a hair too long. There’s maybe about 10 minutes that could be tacked off to tighten up the movie and make it move a little better. While I say that, I do enjoy just sitting and looking at the sets and costume design of the film and just watching Peter Weller do his thing. The film doesn’t get near the credit it deserves as its very much in the vein of something like The Thing or Pitch Black which seemingly have a pretty solid fan base. We need to have one of those fan bases for Screamers.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Screamers has no information regarding the transfer in the press release or on the packaging, but we can assume this is either an HD master or 2K transfer. Overall, it looks pretty good, with some areas being really impressive. Details are terrific when the action is close up, pulling back they can tend vary. The grain seems to be kept intact and it doesn’t appear to have had a lot of post production work done. There’s a couple areas in the print that showcase its condition just a hair if you’re looking for it. The film has a pretty worn and bleached out look to it for the “lived in universe” feel so by design its not the prettiest thing, but because of that it actually can be to many of us. A lot of the snow and establishing shots with matte paintings actually turn out quite well being a highlight of this image.

Depth:  Overall, the depth of field on Screamers is pretty good. In some moments, its pretty damn impressive. There are both interior and exterior sequences that really feel the multidimensional pushback of the back drop, but other moments come across a bit flatter. Motion is cinematic and smooth with no real distortion issues.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and decently saturated throughout. They only tend to hide details intended to be and get quite dark to shade up the nighttime or tunnel sequences. There is a little crush in areas, as can be noted on some shadowing on faces at times. in the more lit darkened sequences.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty worn out and natural here to fit the “lived in” sci-fi look of the film. Its features many beige, whites, grays and such in the mix. When you have screamer-vision, you get some nice pop from colors. Otherwise the most striking colors come from uniform bulbs, tunnel lights, laser beams and fires.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones feature a natural and consistent look from the open to close of the film. The frost bitten, reddened and dried up skin look comes across quite well and very apparent. Textures and details on faces like stubble, wrinkles, sweat, tattoo ink and more come through quite clear in close ups and plenty decent from most medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Overall this is all right, but there is one shot with Weller in the snow that features some distracting amounts of noise.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: The stereo track here on Screamers is quite good. The mix features a good balance of score, vocals and effects. Its plenty loud and gets surprisingly deep and bumps at times via an explosion or a gunblast. Sound travel and volume placement are both plenty accurate. Sure, a 5.1 would have been nice, but this original theatrical mix for the film will more than do the trick for you and does well enough to engage and immerse.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, pulling through in all different kinds of environments with warm comfort or outside and echoing.

Extras 

Screamers comes with reversible cover art featuring the original poster design.

Northern Frights (HD, 21:11) – An interview with director Christian Duguay.  Duguay talks how he came to being a film director, going into his film school work and then goes into terrific detail over the production of Screamers.

From Runaway To Space (HD, 18:58) – An interview with actress Jennifer Rubin. “It was nice to shoot, cuz you could look like shit and you didn’t really have to”. A candid, bubbly interview with Rubin where she discusses her modeling career and turning to acting before leading into her Screamers experience. She’s very glowing about Weller (“Guy’s intelligent”, credits him with many of the film’s smarter aspects) and has many anecdotes unrelated to the film that happened during it (“Audrey Hepburn was staying in our hotel”).

Orchestrating The Future (HD, 23:56) – An interview with producer Tom Berry. Goes over a bit of what he was brought in to do as well as going over some of the delays and holdups with the film. Berry is pretty happy to go over it and feels overall positive while talking about the film.

More Screamer Than Human (HD, 11:03) – An interview with co-writer Miguel Tejada-Flores. The Revenge of the Nerds writer talks about his work prior to getting in as a script reader, thinking his “book reports” were better than his scripts. He then talks about moving away from being pigeon-holed to comedy by writing Fright Night part II and his meeting and befriending producer Tom Berry. Miguel goes over how he felt when he read Dan O’Bannon’s original script and what he brought to it to make tonal changes and shifts in his draft as well as making it more modern (Originally set having to do with the Cold War’s perceived future).

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:56)

Summary 

Screamers is definitely a forgotten cult gem of the 1990s that hopefully will finds itself some new fans with Scream Factory’s debut of the Peter Weller starring film. He doesn’t show up for the bonus materials, which is a bummer, but they did nab Jennifer Rubin, director Christian Duguay and other important people from the production. The presentation here is pretty solid and more than does the trick. As a fan of this film for the last 24 years, I’m happy to see it finally make its debut under good hands. Fans and those curious should pick it up.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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