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Soylent Green (1973)

February 3rd, 2006 · No Comments

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By the year 2022, greenhouse gases and global warming will have killed off most of our natural resources. Soaring population rates – 40 million are packed into New York City – pollution, corruption and the rule of the corporations over the basic necessities of life are some of the other issues we’ll look forward to. In particular, the mysterious Soylent Corporation will produce color-coded cracker subsidies to feed the population.

Charlton Heston plays a Gotham detective investigating the assassination of a member of the Soylent board. Leigh Taylor-Young plays a concubine who lives in the apartment of the dead exec, much like a piece of furniture. And Edward G. Robinson – in his last film – memorably plays Heston’s police book, Sol Roth. Chuck Connors and Joseph Cotton also make appearances.

The good news is that – instead of just being a gag on The Simpsons or the place where Green Day got the name for their band – there’s a real movie here.

Robinson, who was in seriously declining health during filming, is great and probably the chief reason to see the film. Once his character learns the truth about Soylent’s foods, he visits a euthanization company, who provide you with a bed in your own surround theater and screen a nature film for you – the way the world used to be – set to your favorite music before they put you out of your misery and shuttle your body off for processing. It’s a great, standout scene in the science fiction genre.

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The nature montage, and an opening credits sequence which brilliantly shows the progression from an agrarian society to an industrial, over populated and polluted one, are the work of documentary producer Chuck Braverman. A similar montage was employed for a film in The Parallax View and – set to sweeping classical music – were vogue in the early ’70s.

My faults lie with the scope, or lack thereof. The film’s sets on the MGM backlot are incredibly skimpy. There are a total absence of visual effects that would give a sense of the futuristic metropolis integral to the story. There’s no sense of size or scope and not for a minute do you buy that we’re in a New York City of the future. Since the producers didn’t want to invest in believability, there’s no reason for us to.

Production limitations of the time aside, it doesn’t help that the direction by Richard Fleischer and adapted screenplay by Stanley Greenberg (based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison) are both flat and uninspired.

Still, it is novel seeing Heston play a cop with few scruples about stealing items from the murder victim’s home. The vision of a future where a corporation uses an out of control population as grazing cattle is memorable and haunting. In an era before Greenpeace or the EPA, when things like DDT or Red Dye Number Five ran amok, such a vision of the future probably did have a certain relevance.

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