Soylent Green (1973), or LET MY 40 MILLION PEOPLE GO!

7 02 2009
Charleton Heston doing what he does best...Over-acting.

Charlton Heston doing what he does best...Over-acting.

Happy Saturday, everyone!  I was working for the weekend, I don’t know about you, and now I’m working to see two more movies this weekend. And as of this moment, it is one down, and one to go. Today I have seen the future, everyone, and it is Charlton Heston. That’s right, today we will be rooting for everyone’s favorite gun-toting right-wing psycho Charlton Heston! Now, let me clarify something. I do not review based on what these people do on their off time. These are professionals in the entertainment industry, and I would not review them based on the silly shit that they do. Celebrities rarely do things that I agree with. Howard Hawks for example, was someone I just gushed about for his direction on The Big Sleep. As a person, I think his politics were deplorable and I would most likely despise the man for his views on blacklisting and blind faith in the government if I ever met him. But I like him a lot as a director, and since movies is what this is all about I’ll stay pertinent. So, for Charlton Heston, I will be fair and balanced, so fret not. And lucky for him, because Soylent Green is all about him, for good or ill.

It is the future (again), the year 2022, to be exact. The earth is severely overpopulated. So much so that food, real food like vegetables and fruits, is a scarce commodity that only the wealthy can afford. The rest of the unwashed masses, a staggering 40 million in New York City alone, can only be given processed food rations made by the giant Soylent Corporation. The company’s biggest product are nutritious colored wafers with corresponding names (i.e. red wafers are called ‘Soylent Red’ and yellow wafers ‘Soylent Yellow’). A new product comes out called Soylent Green, and is lauded as being tastier and more nutritious than all the others, but because of this the supply is low and the demand is incomprehensibly high. While this new craze is sweeping the city, two police detectives, Robert Thorn and Sol Roth are sent to investigate a murder. The victim is one of the richest men in the city, a higher-up in the Soylent Corporation. His murder is deceivingly a complex web of lies, involving his bodyguard, his personal mistress, and the Soylent Corporation itself that begins to set its tendrils on the duo. Can Thorn and Roth handle the truth that lies at the end of this murder mystery? Can they keep themselves alive long enough for them to unravel this case?

This is your standard warning about a future gone wrong. The plot is almost a noir if you discount the overcrowded streets and FUTURISTIC SET PIECES!!! It is actually very powerful as an allegory in certain places, and makes you feel a little worried about the possible loss of our standard of living with more people coming into the world every day. There is a general sense of wistfulness in the air, as if everyone knows what has happened and understands that it was their own doing.

Cinematographer Richard Kline works very well with director Richard Fleischer to create a future where people are everywhere and they are sick of being so close to one another. It seems like a very good relationship they have with another, considering how much better the cinematography is compared to Fleischer’s other movie on this site, Barabbas. Not to say that that movie’s cinematography was horrible, but you can tell from a technical standpoint that there is no qualms between them as to how to get this look. As for Fleischer, he has grown a lot since Barabbas. I really enjoy the shots he sets up this time around, and while judging from his filmography there are some complaints I might have in some of his choices later in his career (i.e. Mandingo(!!), another Kline and Fleischer pairing…) he is in rare form here.

Now here is where I get picky. Charlton Heston really does not do it for me in this movie. Let me be clear. I like him in some of his movies. I think he was a talented individual and brave for some of the roles he took. He had a bravado that is hard to find today, and that is certainly a quality one needs to be a leading man. But as Detective Robert Thorn, he is simply too ambiguous, which is really the wrong motivation to go with in this role. I cannot know this man. He performs good deeds, bad deeds, and in the end I felt he was more like a diegetic force or a deus ex machina than a real actor, as if he was simply a catalyst to make events in the plot happen. I could not invest any interest into this man. His partner Sol Roth, played by Edward G. Robinson, stole the show for me. He is an older character who saw the earth before the overpopulation and the food scarcity, and it breaks his heart to see the planet reduced to its current state. Robinson acts circles around Heston, and becomes the star for me. Keep an eye out while watching this movie for this man. He really runs the rest of the cast ragged with his skill.

But in the end, I feel like we spent too much time with Heston, this obfuscated personality with no deeper drive than to move the plot. It hurt the movie for me. This is a pretty good movie that is not watched enough, especially since people feel that the infamous last line sums it all up. It doesn’t. This one has a lot to offer, and I am glad I watched it. Just try to cut out Heston for most of it and you will be fine. I give Soylent Green 7 1/2 delicious green wafers out of 10.

See you tomorrow, where I slum it up on The Night Out with Slumdog Millionaire!