Judge Clark Douglas is what Soylent Green is made of. Mmmm, tastes opinionated!
Our reviews of Forbidden Planet (published December 3rd, 2003), Forbidden Planet (Blu-Ray) (published September 13th, 2010), Forbidden Planet (HD DVD) (published December 4th, 2006), Forbidden Planet: 50th Anniversary Edition (published November 20th, 2006), Soylent Green (published August 5th, 2003), Soylent Green (Blu-Ray) (published April 21st, 2011), 2001: A Space Odyssey: Special Edition (Blu-Ray) (published November 15th, 2007), 2001: A Space Odyssey: Two-Disc Special Edition (published November 12th, 2007), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (published June 12th, 2001) are also available.
"Open the pod bay doors, Hal."
Four classic sci-fi flicks at a nice price? Word.
Facts of the Case
A group of prehistoric apes slowly but surely develop the basic functions of a coherent society. A glittering ship floats through space to the strains of Strauss' "The Blue Danube." A mysterious black monolith appears in the past and the future. Two astronauts battle against a super-intelligent computer for control of their vessel. A man goes on a mysterious journey that nearly defies description. These are the stories told in Stanley Kubrick's iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most well-regarded yet hotly-debated films of its era.
In a future where the world is overcrowded and intensely uncomfortable, ordinary human beings struggle to survive. Environmental conditions have prevented the ability to produce natural food, so human beings survive on a bland, peculiar food product called Soylent Green. When an executive of the powerful Soylent Company is murdered, a detective named Thorn (Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes) is called in to investigate. What initially begins as a simple murder investigation soon turns into something much bigger and more sinister. What is the dark secret behind Soylent Green?
In Forbidden Planet, spaceship Commander J. J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen, The Naked Gun) and his crew are sent to investigate a mysteriously silent planet that has supposedly been colonized by humans for quite some time. When they arrive, they are surprised to discover that the only humans left are the intelligent Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon, Mrs. Miniver) and his lovely daughter Altaira (Anne Francis, Bad Day at Black Rock). What is the sinister history of the planet Altair IV?
Finally, The Time Machine tells the story of a scientist named H. George Wells (Rod Taylor, Inglourious Basterds) who invents a machine that can travel through time. He sits in his marvelous machine and travels forward through the centuries, witnessing the turbulent and troubling future of humanity as he progresses into strange and unusual new eras.
Beginning early in 2009, Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. began releasing installments in their affordably-priced "Greatest Classic Film Collection" line. Each set offers four films from a specific genre (comedy, romance, western, war, etc.) on two discs at a retail price of under $30, giving folks a great opportunity to check out some genuinely classic films at a very reasonable price. This sci-fi themed collection is arguably one of the best quartets yet, offering four films that most assuredly deserve to be seen by those who regard themselves as lovers of cinema.
The crown jewel of the set is undoubtedly Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of my own all-time personal favorites. For me, the film is more than merely a great motion picture; it's more akin to a profound religious experience. Kubrick's meditative, fascinatingly sterile work explores themes of technology, evolution, human nature, and so much more. Many claim that the film is confusing, but the actual plot details are reasonably straightforward when you think about them. The mental challenges come when one attempts to wrap their mind around the epic subjects Kubrick is attacking with a sublime blend of forcefulness and subtlety. I'm still not convinced that I have uncovered all of the mysteries of 2001, but each time I view it I find new things to ponder and explore within the confines of my mind. Though some viewers have argued that Kubrick's glacial pacing is mere self-indulgence, I find the carefully-measured speed of the film to be just right. The images are not merely designed to be seen, but rather to be meditated upon. In its own unconventional manner, 2001 is one of the most thrilling and rewarding science fiction films of all time.
Much like the Heston-starring sci-fi flick Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green has largely been reduced to a couple of memorable lines of dialogue and a pop culture punch line. Certain members of congress are just about the only folks left who don't know exactly what Soylent Green is made of ("Did he say purple?"), but thankfully there's considerably more to the film than that famous shocking plot twist. Now that the shock has worn off, Soylent Green can be better appreciated as a film with a particularly intriguing take on the world's future. Sure, it has dated quite a bit (isn't it funny how most futuristic sci-fi films replicate the fashion trends of the decade in which they were made?), but there are a lot of compelling ideas here that still resonate. Heston's performance is one of his better turns of the era, demonstrating just what an excellent leading man he could be when given the right material. The film is also noteworthy for containing the final performance of Edward G. Robinson, whose work is one of the most genuinely affecting elements of Soylent Green.
To some modern viewers, Forbidden Planet might come across as an exceptionally silly epic, what with its gonzo machinery, cheesy costumes and wildly over-the-top synthesized sound design. It's important to view the film with the appropriate perspective, remembering that it was made during an era in which science fiction was still very much a "cheesy B-movie" genre. Sure, The Day the Earth Stood Still had managed to earn some critical regard a few years earlier, but that film (great as it was) made the sci-fi elements a bit more palatable for some by placing them in a familiar setting. Forbidden Planet looks very much like a big-budget version of the more outlandish sci-fi B-movies of the era, but at its core are socially relevant and thought-provoking ideas. Influences of many other sci-fi films and television shows (particularly Star Trek) can be seen in this film, and it becomes clear very quickly that this is an important part of sci-fi history. The movie also benefits from natural, low-key performances from Walter Pidgeon and a pre-goofball Leslie Nielsen.
The Time Machine is perhaps the least of the films included in this set, but it's nonetheless an enjoyable piece of entertainment with a few engaging (albeit watered-down) ideas from the original H.G. Wells novel it is based on left intact. The film is strongest during its first half, as Taylor attempts to convince his colleagues (including an agreeable Alan Young) of the possibilities of time travel and then as he travels through the first two world wars. Once he goes past 1960 into the then-unknown immediate future, things become pretty silly rather quickly, but it remains an entertaining adventure until the end. My only other problem is that Taylor's character seems a bit too judgmental and…well, frankly, dim-witted for a remarkable man of science with the intelligence to create a time machine all by himself. Otherwise, this is a solid slice of blockbuster entertainment.
I won't spend too much time talking about the transfers, since they're pretty much identical to the transfers on the individual DVD releases of these films. That being said, I'll note that 2001: A Space Odyssey looks and sounds the strongest. The Time Machine comes in at a close second, while Forbidden Planet and Soylent Green are merely average. The latter two films suffer just a bit from occasional scratches, flecks and occasionally lacking background detail.
Considering the nature of this set, I fully expected these films to be bare-bones, but each film actually contains some or all of the extras included on their original DVD releases. 2001: A Space Odyssey retains only the trailer and the audio commentary with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, dispensing with the many featurettes and documentaries contained on the recently released special edition. Soylent Green is more generous, offering a commentary with Leigh Taylor-Young and Richard Fleischer, two featurettes ("A Look at the World of Soylent Green" and "MGM's Tribute to Edward G. Robinson's 101st Film") and a theatrical trailer. Forbidden Planet provides additional scenes, some lost footage, excerpts from "The MGM Parade," a thematically-related episode of the television series The Thin Man and a sci-fi movie trailer gallery. Finally, The Time Machine offers a meaty 48-minute documentary called "Time Machine: The Journey Back." Not a bad collection of supplements!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Not much to complain about, aside from the fact that the films are contained on those obnoxious Side A and Side B discs that scratch and smudge so easily. Still, the pain of this is eased by the very affordable price tag (Amazon is selling these sets for about $20 each). Also, one odd note: the packaging erroneously claims that The Time Machine is a black-and-white film.
This series from Warner Bros. and Turner Classic Movies is a great way for movie lovers to check out some of the important American films of yesteryear, and this set is another excellent installment. If you don't own these yet, the collection is highly recommended.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Forbidden Planet
Perp Profile, Forbidden Planet
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Forbidden Planet
• Lost/Deleted Scenes
Scales of Justice, The Time Machine
Perp Profile, The Time Machine
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Time Machine
Scales of Justice, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Perp Profile, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Scales of Justice, Soylent Green
Perp Profile, Soylent Green
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Soylent Green
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