Posts Tagged ‘charlton heston’

Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)

20 January 2009

Ecological dystopia (loosely) adapted from Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! (1966). Charlton Heston needs a chapter to himself as veteran of two Planet of the Apes films, The Omega Man (Sagal, 1971) and Earthquake (Robson, 1974). Here he is Thorn, a policeman in an overcrowded, near-future Manhattan, where people are forced to sleep on staircases of tenements for want of a better habitat. Crops and lifestock have all but failed thanks to pollution, with the population fed on various products of the Soylent company. (Soy – soya; lent – lentils.) With the brutal murder of wealthy Simonson (Joseph Cotten), Thorn finds a case that threatens to get to the heart of a starving and doomed society.

There are plenty of good world-building touches – an opening montage offers a technological history of the city from pioneer to contemporary times, the designated and rentable prostitute/lovers are referred to (in suitably sexist terms) as furniture and rioters are scooped up by JCB-like vehicles. Special effects seem to be kept to a minimum – mostly matte shots of the city, and a greenish fog to suggest pollution.

Thorn feels at times like an earlier version of Deckard in Blade Runner (Scott 1982); a detective character of course is able to visit all levels of society from the dregs to the upper echelons, and acts conveniently as a moral barometer. As he investigates, so we the audience learn about his world. On the other hand, it is his cohabitee, Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson in his 101st and final role) who first discovers the truth about the supposedly plankton-based soylent green. This is enough for him to decide he no longer wants to live, and commits suicide.

And what to make of Sol? He has memories of the old days, when food was real, and is dispirited by the dystopia he finds himself in. Sol – sun, wisdom of Solomon – with Roth it feels Jewish in origin (a reference to Ashkenazi Jews?), which might make the suicide even more horrific. He’s referred to as a book – a sort of police researcher, presumably a (euphemistic?) term like furniture. A bells rings from somewhere – am I thinking of Shepherd Book from Firefly? The most curious thing is the comments from both Sol and Thorn that they love each other – I suspect Thorn’s relationship with Simonson’s furniture, Shirl Leigh (Leigh Taylor-Young), is there in least at part to alibi Thorn against suspicions of homosexuality. I don’t read this as father and son though.

And so the final, highly telegraphed, climactic revelation is that Soylent Green is people. This is the ultimate ecological recycling, ensuring that nobody goes to waste. This works slightly better than humans as Duracells (in The Matrix trilogy), but surely runs into loss of energy from the equation rather quickly. Let’s take it as a metaphor for consumption – and no one ever complains that Swift’s A Modest Proposal would have a similar failure – rather than a serious proposal. It’s the 1970’s ending – there’s no guarantee that the truth will out, as everyone else who has discovered it has been killed off.

Harrison gave it 50% – the acting and production was impressive, despite shoddy behaviour towards him by MGM and what he perceived as a stupid script with a dreadful title.

Harrison, Harry, “A Cannibalized Novel Becomes Soylent Green“, in: Danny Peary, ed. Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies: The Future According to Science Fiction Cinia, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984, pp. 143-146.


Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Ted Post, 1970)

31 July 2008

Wooden sequel to Planet of the Apes, beginning where the last one left off: chimps Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), orang utan Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans) and humans Tyler (Charlton Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) are on the beach and Tyler and Nova ride off to have the big revelation that explains why everyone speaks English: this is a post nuclear America. Cut to another crashed ship – some crew are presumably dead, Captain Maddox (Tod Andrews) is dying and Brent (James Franciscus) doesn’t have a hair out of place. They seem to have come looking for Taylor’s mission, although this would make no sense given the distances involved and the lack of any means of sending a mayday call. Brent goes a wandering and bumps into (small world) Nova, who can’t tell him where Taylor is because she can’t speak, but they travel together to witness an ape war council and to meet Zira and a strangely changed Cornelius (David Watson). We find out – in flash back – that Taylor vanished through a rock.

The gorillas want to annex the Forbidden Zone for more agriculture, and to liquidate more humans. This is going to tred on the toes of an odd sect who are protecting the area with telepathic special effects and who worship a nuclear missile in St Patrick’s Cathedral. (I must come back here when I’ve read Riddley Walker.) The sect with their masks doesn’t make sense, and their pacifism only allows them to force their enemies to kill each other (so that’s okay then) but if necessary they will use the missile. Taylor, noted hater of human and, more recently, apekind and no fan of the nuclear apocalypse, decides that he will set it off – although preumably Heston’s wish to kill the franchise is the real logic at work here.

Sequels are just retreads of the original with a bigger budget (although actually I believe this one was smaller. More apes, more humans, more apocalyptic special effects – but equally more confusion. Obviously we get the segregation of apes and treatment on humans as being a commentary on race and racism, but 1970 is surely a little late to credit someone as “Negro” in the cast.

The other point that stood out is when Zira is hiding Brent and Nova, blood is noticed on her face. Zira explains that Cornelius had struck her. This is accepted as fair enough. But then women here are simply to serve men and reproduce.