It's the year 2002…people are still the same.
Charlton Heston. Science fiction. Science fiction. Charlton Heston. You see, these two cinematic enormities were meant to go together. After his success in the classic Planet of the Apes (not the Tim Burton bastardization), Heston went on to star in many other sci-fi classics, including The Omega Man and everyone's favorite cautionary food tale, Soylent Green. Also starring Leigh Taylor-Young and Edward G. Robinson in his final screen appearance, Soylent Green takes its message to the streets in its first ever DVD incarnation care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
The year is 2022 and the Big Apple has gone rotten, big time. New York City is densely over populated with people sleeping on the streets, in churches, and on building staircases. With the food supply practically exhausted, citizens are given only a few jugs full of water and soylent food—vegetable protein crackers and breads that provide them with the nutrients they need to survive. Delicacies in the future now include plain beef and strawberries (which goes for $150 bucks a jar) as well as spacious living quarters (and you thought New York has tiny apartments now…). Prowling the streets is detective Thorn (Heston), hot on the trail to find the murderer of a rich upper-class citizen. After discovering the body void of any signs of resistance—and after making whoopee with the victim's live-in "furniture" mistress (Taylor-Young)—Thorn begins putting two and two together, and he doesn't like what it equals. As Thorn delves deeper and deeper into the mysterious case, he finds that the makers of soylent green may have had something to do with the brutal slaying. With would be assassinators trailing him at every turn, Thorn turns to vital friends and colleagues (including the late Edward G. Robinson) to find out the secret behind Soylent Green.
"Beware the future!" This seems to be the statement used most in science fiction tales. Yes, the future is filled with horrors that only moviemakers can dream up: terrifying ghouls from a plague ridden world, man beasts from the creation of science and, of course, the evil that is soylent green. Just this past week I watched the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine, which focuses on, among other things, our nation's obsession with fear. It's on the radio, in our TVs, and lurking out in the street around every corner. But fear has been with us Americans ever since we founded this country—and in no better way does fear manifest itself than in the unknown, unholy "future."
Which brings us to Soylent Green, one of those tales that lets us know that in the future, we're all screwed like ten dollar whores. While I won't say that our country is beginning to look like a Care Bears movie, I don't think that by the year 2022 we'll be up to our eyeballs in dirty people, living in a country where farms are guarded "like castles" (as one character nobly quips) or that man will be forced to eat saltines for sustenance. But what fun would a futuristic science fiction be if the world wasn't falling apart at the seams? Based upon the novel by Harry Harrison, Soylent Green is a little bit detective mystery, a little bit sci-fi freak show, and a little bit horror show.
At the center of the movie is Charlton Heston's performance as Thorn, a weary cop who's seen it all (except for that whole soylent green thing…). Heston made a real mark for himself in the sci-fi genre, and it's easy to see why—he has a natural, action hero quality to him. In a way he's like a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone for his era, except a bit more accessible for the audience. Complementing Heston is Edward G. Robinson as his buddy Sol, a man who remembers the old world and longs for the days of Big Macs and lush prairies. Robinson brings a bit of humanity to a role that could have easily been a minor throwaway—his relationship with Thorn is touching and practically moved me to tears. Then I remembered I was watching a movie with a plot based around green crackers and quickly composed myself.
Yes, Soylent Green is a bit hokey at times, and while some of the special effects are interesting, many of the sets look…well, for the future they look very 1970s-ish. I laughed heartily when a girl started playing a state-of-the-art arcade game that was only two steps up from Pong. Yet I forgive Soylent Green of its faults due to the sheer madness of the story and the way it kept me steadily involved. And that ending, what a humdinger! If you see only one movie this year about a decimated New York City and people forced to live on colored wafers…well, your choices will be limited. But Soylent Green is well worth the watch.
Soylent Green is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I'm sure by this point fans of the film are letting out a deep sigh of relief. No longer forced to sit through cropped pan and scan version of the film, Warner has done right by DVD and given us a great looking widescreen transfer. Overall, this is a very nice looking print that sports even colors and solid black levels. Yes, there are a few imperfections in this transfer (including some washed colors and dirt in the image). However, consider the film's age and decade (those nasty 1970s), I'd say that we're darn lucky the print looks this good.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English and French. Sadly, there's not a lot to say about this soundtrack. The best that I can report is that the music, dialogue, and effects are all well recorded and easily heard. It's a shame, since I believe Soylent Green would have been a prime candidate for a new Dolby 5.1 mix. The track is mostly clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this DVD are French, Spanish, and English subtitles.
Welcome to what I like to refer to as "soylent extras." Ha! I made a soylent funny! Okay, enough with the soylent jokes. As for this first-ever DVD edition of the film, the people at Warner have included a few fine supplements. To start with there's a commentary by director Richard Fleischer and actress Leigh Taylor-Young. I was impressed with this track mostly because it included a fair amount of production information on the film (including a few discussions about Taylor-Young and her smooching scenes with Mr. Heston). Fans of the film will be in for a real treat with this track. Also included are two other noteworthy extras: a vintage documentary on the making of the film ("A Look at the World of Soylent Green") and a tribute to Edward G. Robinson's 101st film. Both of these are in pretty poor shape quality wise, though they're a great find and a lot of fun to have on this disc. The tribute is especially moving with Robinson discussing his future in movies (apparently not realizing he'll be dead within the year from cancer).
Finally, there is a pointless list of the cast and crew, a theatrical trailer for the film and a short filmography of Charlton Heston's work in science fiction cinema.
I found Soylent Green to be one of the better sci-fi flicks to come out of the 1970s. Though I like Charlton Heston, does his enormous, somewhat creepy laugh make anyone else out there uncomfortable? Either way, Soylent Green is well worth a rental and goes best with mint green ice cream. Warner's work on this disc should please fans of the film.
Soylent Green will make you red with anger and blue in the face if you miss it. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by Director Richard Fleischer and Actress Leigh Taylor-Young
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