Appellate Judge Tom Becker hates to think of the future going all dystopian on him.
The penalty for birth…is DEATH!
After the baby boom of the '40s, '50s, and '60s, some scientists and environmentalists began questioning whether Earth had enough resources to effectively sustain all these people. "Stop at Two" and "Zero Population Growth" (or ZPG) were popular social movements in the late '60s and early '70s. The Last Child was a highly rated TV movie about a future in which overpopulation caused government-mandated restrictions on childbearing. ZPG: Zero Population Growth was a little-seen theatrical film that covered the same territory, only made the overcrowded future seem even more dismal.
ZPG gives us yet another dystopian society (called "The Society") at some undetermined point in the future. This dystopian world makes the dystopian world of Blade Runner look like a Busby Berkeley musical. The Society is constantly engulfed in thick smog and people have to wear gas masks when they go outside. Flora and fauna are things of the past—the local museum features exhibits on housecats and crabgrass, and there's a four-year wait to get in.
When a worldwide edict is passed outlawing new pregnancies for the next 30 years, it's met with horrified shrieks. Among the horrified shriekers are Russ McNeil (Oliver Reed, The Devils) and his wife, Carol (Geraldine Chaplin, The Orphanage). As an alternative, couples go to Babyland, where they purchase toddler-size robots.
For some reason, Carol wants to bring a child into this awful world, and she's willing to risk death to do so. That's right—women who dare have post-edict babies are called out by their neighbors and herded through the smog (along with child and spouse) to an "execution square," where a big plastic dome is dropped on them. The dome is spray painted red, and the fecund lawbreakers are left to suffocate.
Despite these Draconian punitive measures, Carol is bound and determined to become a mommy. Thanks to an elaborate futuristic ruse known as "hide in the basement for nine months," Carol realizes her dream.
Unfortunately, the McNeils' friends and neighbors, George (Don Gordon, Out of the Blue) and Edna (Diane Cilento, Tom Jones), discover this forbidden traditional family unit. But the danger they present—Edna's big on pointing out contraband babies to the authorities—go beyond Carol's fears.
ZPG is a clever, if minor, entry in the dehumanized-authoritarian, environmentally compromised-society canon of '70s science-fiction films. Better acted and more serious than Soylent Green and Logan's Run, it lacks the giddy outlandishness of those pop classics.
Apparently made on the cheap, ZPG uses its low-budget constraints to its advantage. The smog-filled "exteriors" were clearly shot on cramped soundstages, and even in their hokiness seem depressing and claustrophobic. The McNeils work in the museum as part of the '70s exhibit, acting out little playlets about wife swapping and infidelity, so the sets and costumes are from that period. Lots of "futuristic technology" scenes involve flashing around some colorful lights. Other than the occasional appearances of the dome of death bringing justice to breeders, there are no special effects here.
Geraldine Chaplin is typically great, while Oliver Reed is atypically subdued. Best is Diane Cilento's deranged Edna, whose frustration at having to play maternal to a robot gives the film a nice dose of tension.
Unfortunately, while ZPG starts promisingly with its wry depictions of The Society and how the excesses of the 20th century brought about all this misery, the second half of the film is nothing but melodrama. Its resolution is convenient and unsatisfying and cops out by raising more questions than it answers.
Legend Films has licensed some rather obscure titles from Paramount and is releasing them as no-frills editions. Unfortunately, in this case, "no frills" means shabby. The image here is really sub-par, faded, and with speckles, streaks, and ghosting. The sound is barely adequate, and there are no subtitles. The disc lacks any extras. While a film like ZPG certainly doesn't warrant a special edition, it's nice to have a trailer and maybe some liner notes to give a little background on the film and how it was marketed.
The $14.95 srp is a bit high for what you're getting here—for another few cents, you can get the two-disc special editions of Dirty Harry or Bonnie and Clyde at Amazon—but I'd recommend ZPG as a rental. It's an entertaining relic, and it features the underrated Geraldine Chaplin.
We won't be needing the dome of death here.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Legend Films
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