Monday, October 19, 2009

HORROR EPICS: Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green may be more on the science-fiction tip than expected from Horror Epics, but it’s easy to believe that the events that take place in the film could really happen in a not-so-distant future. Now, THAT is scary. Maybe people had this movie in mind when protesting Obama’s so-called “death panels.” The year is 2022, and where else would it take place besides New York City. And this is no kind of future for anybody to live in. Overpopulation and depletion of natural resources have destroyed Adolph Giuliani’s Disneyland dream. Things we take for granted—natural food, ice in our drinks, soap—are now items for the privileged class who can actually afford to spend $150 for a jar of strawberry jam. The rest of us are unemployed and homeless, forced to sleep on top of one another and fight for things like water. Women’s liberation has also been put to rest. Young women are essentially prostitutes, considered part of the rented furniture in a luxury apartment. Like an old couch, the girls can be thrown out like useless trash too. Times are so bleak, there’s even an assisted suicide center serving as the only way out of this horrible mess. A corporate-controlled government appears to run the world (sound familiar?), and they are so unremittingly evil, you wouldn’t believe what ingredients they use to produce affordable food. The latest processed crap they’ve offered to the masses is Soylent Green, a tasteless wafer purported to be produced from high-energy plankton. One of the Soylent Corporation’s executives discovers the truth, but is beaten to death before he can spread the word. Detective Thorn is the cop assigned to the case, assisted by an elderly researcher named Sol, who remembers the days of democracy, trees growing, alcohol, and food with flavor all too well. Sol gets all emotional when Thorn comes back to their tiny dump of an apartment with real food and liquor stolen from the dead executive. Being too young to remember the good old days, Thorn laughs at Sol’s nonstop bitching and moaning about how things came to be the way they are. When he finally realizes that Sol makes a good point, Thorn sheds his corrupted and apathetic nature in favor of getting to the bottom of the case and uncovering the details behind the Soylent Corporation’s cover-up. But the trail that leads Thorn and Sol to the horrible truth also leads to their undoing. Charlton Heston is fine in the role of Detective Thorn. Fortunately, his teeth are less prominently displayed than they were in Planet of the Apes. The dead Soylent Corporation executive is played by Joseph Cotton from Citizen Kane, while Chuck Connors (former baseball and basketball player turned star of TV’s “The Rifleman”) is his bodyguard and government co-conspirator. Leigh Taylor-Young (Mia Farrow’s “Peyton Place” replacement) is a nice piece of furniture. But it is 1930s gangster movie prototype Edward G. Robinson who gives Soylent Green its heart and soul as Sol. It was his final role, and Robinson died just nine days after they’d finished shooting the film. When Sol has had enough and decides to “go home,” it is a most awesome send-off and a fine cap on Robinson’s illustrious 101-film career. Some people complain about the slow pace, but I’m of the opinion that it properly conveys the grim, claustrophobic feeling. In fact, I actually thought Soylent Green was too short at 97 minutes. I would have liked the movie to dwell less on the murder mystery and do more to illustrate 21st century Manhattan’s nightmarish dystopia. That aside, Soylent Green is an excellent film that does what it’s supposed to do: it makes you think about the potential for an ecological disaster that could be just around the corner. Based on the 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, although the movie changes around much of the plot.

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