Movie Magazine International

Soylent Green

USA - 1973

Movie Review By Casey McCabe

I always wanted to be an archeologist as a kid. It was a dream cut short by discovering that I'd have to major in archeology. So I adapted the process of digging through ancient rubble, looking for nuggets and learning about the culture that left them behind to my trips to the video store. Some people might call me lazy. They couldn't be more right.

My latest quest was to revisit the Paranoid American Cinema of the 1970s, when filmmakers, filled with a new social consciousness, were trying to outdo each other with visions of our inevitable doom. Many of these films impressed my impressionable young mind. But then, so did George Carlin records, so naturally I was apprehensive.

And sure enough, there were "Rollerball" and "Parallax View," two films with the startling premise that powerful corporations could manipulate the social order. To which today's proper response is: shhhyeah? In "The Boys From Brazil" it's a plot to clone Hitler. And as any genetic engineer today will tell you, that plot is laughable. I mean, can you imagine a biotech firm risking its NASDAQ standing, when the supply of insane dictators so far outweighs the demand?

Next up: "The Andromeda Strain," the old Michael Crichton thriller about a mysterious interplanetary virus. Nice try, but these days we can get our Mad Cow disease directly from fast food hamburgers.

I was pretty jaded by the time I got to "Soylent Green." I remembered the 1973 flick as having one of the most hysterical premises in the genre, and that it starred one of the most hysterically earnest actors in history in Charlton Heston. It takes place in that once very far away year of 2023; the Earth is in the throes of the greenhouse effect, Manhattan is sweltering and wildly overpopulated, and cops are both corrupt and unappreciated. So where's the science fiction, you may ask? I don't think it'll ruin anything to give away the secret that made the film famous. Yes, Soylent Green is people. In a desperate attempt to feed the doomed populace, the powers that be have secretly taken to making energy bars out of the newly deceased. Again, this may merely strike some folks as a very progressive approach to recycling.

But my revelation was that "Soylent Green" is not only better than I remembered, it's actually a good movie. Both Heston and director Richard Fleischer show impressive restraint; Heston as a morally complicated police detective, Fleischer for underplaying the conspiracy and focusing on a world of such diminished expectations that a jar of strawberry preserves is more precious than gold. And Edward G. Robinson's death scene -- in the last film the great actor would make -- remains haunting, indelible, classic.

So now I'm wondering what new films will speak of our pre-Millennial take on the future -- the films lazy archeologists will be renting in 2023. I have this idea about a brilliant little nebbish who becomes the world's first trillionaire by monopolizing access to all its information systems. But who's gonna believe that?

© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 8/99

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