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Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)

So what's the difference between schlock and one of the 100 best films ever made? Sometimes, I'll admit, it's a pretty blurry line. That's the case with this gem from the Richard Fleischer stable, a tale of a New York City with a population of forty million and a food supply that comes in little squares of red, yellow, and green.

Thorn (Heston) chews scenery. Roth (Edward G. Robinson) spends his life moaning about how things were better in the seventies. (If only they knew.) The two of them try to get through their lives scavenging from the rich, like everyone else in New York. They have an edge, with Thorn being a cop who treats corruption like a confortable pair of undershorts. A high society murder tips Thorn off that all may not be well with Soylent, the company that makes the majority of the world's food supply, and Thorn and Roth start digging deeper deapite warnings from the victim's old bodyguard (Stephen Young) and Thorn's lieutanant (Brock Peters). The production values are strictly seventies, and it's great to poke fun at various things in the film ("my god, it's 2022 and they're still listening to bad lounge music?"). And yet there's something undefinable about this film that propels it from the realm of bad seventies science-fiction exploitation into the realm of true genius. What that thing is, I don't know; when I figure it out, I'll tell you. But something clicked. Heston's patented god-guns-and-guts character is perfect for the role. Robinson actually looks convincing salivating over a stick of celery. And somehow the movie's last lines are delivered convincingly. It's incredible. Whatever magic they managed to make with this one, Hollywood needs to make more of it. **** 1/2
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VINE VOICEon October 16, 2008
In the year 2022, the greenhouse effect has poisoned the Earth. The world is grossly overpopulated and there are practically no natural food sources left. Vendors in the street markets sell Soylent Red and Soylent yellow (made from soybeans), but the Government controls and hands out rations of Soylent Green on Tuesdays. Supposedly made from high-energy plankton, Soylent Green is often in short supply for the high demand. People stand in food lines all day waiting for water and processed foodstuffs. Real food is unheard of.

Detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) lives in a tiny, seedy apartment with his "book", Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson). A "book" is like an assistant, picking and assigning cases and performing research. To reach the streets, he must step over the dozens of homeless bodies camped out on the stairs of the apartment. Sol assigns Thorn the homicide case of William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotton). Simonson lives in a posh apartment complex complete with "furniture", which includes a woman. His "furniture's" name is Shirl. Shirl and Simonson's bodyguard Tab Fielding (Chuck Conners) were out shopping when the murder occurred inside the apartment. (Check out Shirl's "new" video game)

The murder is a puzzle to Thorn, who believes Simonson wasn't just murdered but assassinated. He steals two books from Simonson and has Sol research them. (He also steals real food, booze, soap, a towel, paper, and pencils - items not available to the general public) When Thorn finds out Simonson was the director of Soylent and friend to Governor Santini, his chief attempts to pull him off the case and close it. But there's too much mystery surrounding the murder, and Thorn refuses to give up until he solves the puzzle of Simonson and the secrets of Soylent.

I loved this movie in the 70's and still love it today. Even though 'Soylent Green' was made in 1973, it's a rare movie that has aged well, and holds up it's integrity even today in 2008. It's sort of a 70's version of cyberpunk. There's pathetic poverty, dry empty landscapes, unbearable heat, long food lines, processing plants of heavy machine complexes, the loss of personal identity, and hollow, garbage-strewn city streets and alleys. Even the soundtrack aged well, and was quite futuristic in 1973. 'Soylent Green' has always been a favorite of mine, and if you've managed to go this long without seeing it, then it's time to pick up your copy and treat yourself. Those fans like me will want to pick up the DVD to add to your collection. Definitely worth a purchase! Enjoy!
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on September 21, 2000
Soylent Green is one of those films that, as soon as I saw it, I wondered where had it been all my life? I though it was great, and made a point of telling all my friends about it.
It's based on Harry Harrison's book "Make Room, Make Room!", which is itself half story/half documentary about over-population and environmental damage. The film uses the environmental disaster the world has become, and the resultant starvation, as a kind of backdrop, while the main story, it seems, is simply about a murder being investigated by Charlton Heston.
The film very cleverly shows you all the realities of living in that bleak world by the way Heston brilliantly takes all sorts of terrible situations totally in his stride. As he leaves his apartment, he has to step over people sleeping on the steps; the air outside is murky and has a faint green glow; even though he's a detective, he sometimes has to get involved in food riot control and only has a helmet for protection; he has to recharge his apartment's batteries using a bicycle; his watch keeps breaking, but no-one is making new ones anymore. Similar small touches abound throughout the film, and taken together have a deep impact on you as you think about them after the film.
Edward G. Robinson, in his last performance, plays Heston's partner, whose speciality is information and where to get it. He's an old man, and, finally, despair at the state of the world gets to him. His ultimate fate, the murder that Heston is investigating, and the environmental hell all around them, are all brought together right at the end, in a gripping finale. As the horrible truth dawns upon Heston, he cries out the answer: a four word phrase that encapsulates the horror of the world all about them. A fabulous ending that really sends a chill up your spine.
This film features fine performances from two great actors, has good action, a fast pace, and really makes you think about the important issues at the core of the film. This truly is an excellent film.
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on December 29, 2003
The DVD release of this great Charlton Heston classic is a marvel to behold. It's in widescreen format and all the TV/VHS fog is gone, gone, gone; the images and sounds are as clear and crisp as the dawning day.
This film deserves such treatment. Along with _Planet of the Apes_ and _The Omega Man_, it's part of Heston's series of three 'last man' films, and it's much better than _The Omega Man_. (As movie buffs know, it's also the touching final film appearance of the late Edward G. Robinson.)
A classic in its genre, this film is based on Harry Harrison's 'Make Room! Make Room!' and is a somewhat heavy-handed morality play on the subject of Malthusian population dynamics. It's amazing that it works as well as it does. But it really does work; this is one of the all-time greats of SF filmdom, right up to and including its famous closing moments.
Put this on your shelf next to Heston's _Planet of the Apes_.
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on April 15, 2000
I recently caught this film on television, and though I already knew the surprise behind the film's surprise ending (I won't spoil it for possible first-time viewers) the film's high-concept science-fiction caught me. This movie takes place in a latter-day twenty-first century not far-removed from our own: the environemnt is dying, the world is heating up and the oceans are falling apart. The world is devastatingly poor, overpopulated and food is running out. Heston, as a policeman named Thorn, is called in to investigate a high-profile murder and ends up uncovering more than he had bargained for. If you're looking for some excellent drama mixed with message-based sci-fi (along the lines of The Omega Man), then Soylent Green is for you! (Note: Watch for a great performance by veteran actor Edward G. Robinson as Solomon Roth, Thorn's mentor). Check it our and enjoy!
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on April 7, 2006
A lot people seem to have a problem with the set of Soylent Green. Yes, it looks very 70's, but I like the fact that the future was portrayed as something real and tangible. No space suits or flying cars here.

The great storyline makes up for the fact that the sets weren't fancy. With global warming and rising poverty rates in the world today, this "future" may not be too far off.

I especially liked the scene between Thorn and Sol when they were eating dinner. It's sad to think of a world where eating lettuce and apples are like eating gormet food. Also the scene where Sol went to the death chamber was touching, he got to see a projection of the way the world used to be, a world that we now take for granted.

Some people also suggested a remake of this movie. Why can't people just appreciate things for what they are. That's the problem with Hollywood today, always remaking movies instead of coming up with original ideas. How many movies are made nowadays that will become cult classics 30 years from now? Not many. People today want instant gratification and consider the movie boring when they actually take time to develop the plot. This is not MTV people! This movie has substance over style.
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We live in the future. Every film made about the future no matter what the futuristic details are just cautionary tales written about our times. "Soylent Green" came out when the concern over the environment was at a fever pitch (it has since returned to that fever pitch whether or not you believe in global warming). Based on Harry Harrison's classic novel MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM the big focus isn't on a global economy (although that has clearly happened based on the corporations portrayed in the film but on over population and something very like global warming Richard Fleischer's film presaged many things we are seeing (to a lesser extent) today and but was still wrapped up in the concerns of the 70's, I'm sure the forthcoming remake will be every bit about 2012.

Set nearly twenty years from now, humanity has used up most of our resources and spoiled the planet. There isn't enough to eat and there's even less space to live in; the cities are crowded with street people everywhere. The middle class is virtually extinct and only the wealthy have lives approaching the comfort to which we've become accustomed.

Heston plays a New York City detective named Thorn who, like every other cop, is on the make but when he investigates the murder of a former executive (Joseph Cotton in a cameo)for the Soylent Corporation the company that makes ALL the food supplements for the entire world, he discovers a conspiracy involving every one he could possibly imagine. With assistance from his roommate a former private investigator named Sol (Edward G. Robinson in a marvelous final performance that truly should have earned him an Oscar nomination), Thorn begins to unravel the conspiracy but not before having his life threatened by goons (including Chuck Conners) and being pressured to drop the case by his boss (Brock Peters).

The film holds up amazingly well.

The main flaw with the film is that the conclusion is telegraphed to the audience too soon before Thorn realizes what is going on. For a first impression of a film that is important. The screenplay by Stanley Greenberg does a nice job of creating credible characters and Thorn like the other anti-heroes that Heston played from around the same time in other films ("Planet of the Apes", "The Omega Man", "Will Penny")has a veneer of weary cynicism but Heston doesn't rest his entire performance on that to his credit he makes Thorn a character we learn to care about.

There are a number of importance observations, all of them are well integrated into this sharply written science fiction murder mystery. The direction by Richard Fleischer (Fantastic Voyage, 20,000 Leages Under the Sea, Treasure Island)isn't as stylized as one would expect but he does manage to get the most out of the material. The director's commentary is often wry and observant--a rarity now on most Blu-ray's where most folks are content to pat themselves on the back for their effort.

Among the trivia we hear about form the late Fleischer (his commentary was recorded for the previous DVD incarnation)the dinner scene between Heston and Robinson (which was ad libbed) is terrific and much of the dialog and banter between the two actors is both funny and touching. He doesn't hesitate to point out a variety of flaws in the film including not being able to tackle the film with the scope he had wanted due to budget restrictions. Warner has been very good about bringing vintage films to Blu-ray with extras where possible and this film is no exception; we get the original featurettes produced to promote the film (contrast the condition of these with the good looking high def transfer) and the original theatrical trailer.

The Blu-ray looks terrific particularly after all the poor prints that have circulated on television. Yes, there's analog artifacts but this is probably about as pristine a print as were likely to see. The transfer is vivid and well balanced. Don't mistkae my praise though this is NOT a film that you will put on as a reference standard to wow people about Blu-ray and high def that doesn't mean, however, that the film doesn't look the best it ever has--it does and probably looks better than when it was exhibited in most theaters. The sound is fairly strong given the fact that this was pre-THX and stereo. included.

Soylent Green's importance in science fiction cannot be underestimated. There were a number of bad films produced after 2001 and Planet of the Apes (including many of the sequels to the original Apes film)that had cheapened the luster these two fine films had temporarily given to science fiction. Soylent Green is a somber, powerful film. It's also an entertaining mystery. After this the genre would fall back into decline (although there were a few highlights) until the success of Star Wars in 1977. Thoughtful, impactful science fiction films were rare during the 70's. Although Soylent Green hasn't aged as well as one would expect, it's intent and the power of the performances, script and direction still make it a potent look into the future.

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VINE VOICEon April 3, 2005
I was born in 1982. I wasnt familiar with this film till when Years ago my grandfather was raving about a movie called (Soylent Green). At the time I couldnt find the movie in any of the video stores. I had to wait about a year for it to come out on DVD and to finally see it. I already knew what soylent green was made of due to all the reviews online and some reviwers disclosing the secret. It was well worth it to see it anyway though. Starring Charleton Heston. The film is set in New York, the year 2022. The world is overpopulated, people are scattered in the streets and many survive off (soylent red green and yellow ) which the government is supplying at low costs for nutrition. Only the priveleged or rich can still eat decent meals and either live in tiny apartments like Heston and his friend or In more upscale apartments like the rich. Fruit and vegetables cost 100s of dollars. They have private suicide booths or rooms. Scoopers roll through the streets as a form of riot control. Women are called ( furniture ) and usually come with the apartment the men are rentings or buying. Futuristic and impressive for the movie actually being filmed in the early 70s. Excellent acting by all. This movie is about what could happen to us if the world gets overpopulated or out of control. The things that could happen , what humans are capable of and specifically the government. Only problem i had was with the ending and not knowing what happened after that. Wish they couldve shown more or what became of Heston and the events after the secret was revealed. Other than that- this is a classic! Highly recomended- 4.5 stars.
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on December 1, 2002
Charlton Heston pulls it off again,in a not so dark sci-fi film like "Omega Man" but a very dark look into the future of what might happen to our world.
This film takes place in the future where the world's population has exploded where food is only a thing of the past now and only made available to the rich people of the world.In the film Charlton Heston plays Detective Thorn a cop investigating the murder of the director of a huge corporation the produces Soylent.But,while he investigates the murder he uncovers a conspiracy but not only the truth behind the murder but the true substance in what makes soylent green.Along with Charlton Heston is Edward G. Robinson who plays Sal,Heston's partner in the movie who helps him out trying to solve the crime.
This is a great sci-fi movies based on the book "More Room,More Room!"It's not as good as Planet of the Apes,but it tops right up there with Heston's best sci-fi movies.If your a fan of good sci-fi movies or charlton heston then pick this one up and watch it.
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on March 26, 2001
After seeing this movie, you'll have to decide. The movie, now almost 30 years old, and made when the USA was first seriously starting to consider damage to the environment is an apocalyptic tale at its best. The setting is NYC in 2022, when the population has swollen to 40 million, the greenhouse effect is most noticeable, space is at a premium and life as we now know it no longer exists.
Charlton Heston made this movie less than two years after the very successful OMEGA MAN and carries forward as a police detective investigating the murder of "a very powerful, a rich man." To Thorn, the assailant is unknown, the reason, a real mystery. Thorn lives in a Manhattan walk-up, a luxury in the overcrowded city where millions sleep in stairwells, alleys, and church pews. His room-mate, Edward G. Robinson, in his last movie role is Sol Roth, a "police book" who knows how to read and do research at the now abandoned public library. Robinson is masterful in his final role and his performance lends a haunting dignity to the part. Little did anyone know on the set at the time, but Edward G was dying as he made the movie. Twelve days after his part was wrapped, the 79 year old Robinson was dead. The chemistry between Heston and Robinson is real and makes the cinematic death of Sol Roth that much more touching to watch. You see, Sol has come into possession of information that has caused him to "want to go home," to that place where people who have given up can be euthanized voluntarily.
While this film starts as a murder mystery, the setting, which is a grossly overpopulated NYC shows just how much the world has been ravaged by man's abuse of the environment. It is a world where real food is non-existent and where hundreds of millions exist on soy crackers of various colors. Supposedly made from real soybeans and the plankton from the world's seas, Roth and others have discovered a terrible secret. The oceans are dying, so where does the supply of soylent crackers come from?
The wealthy, still live in opulent quarters when compared to the masses below. They have power, money, protection and "living furniture" for their sexual gratification and entertainment. The government, which is anything but democratic keeps a firm grip on what is left of society to protect the privileged few and keep the masses in check. It is a harrowing vision of what could possibly happen in the future.
Heston is his usual larger than life self in this movie. His character, Thorn is a dedicated but sometimes corrupt policeman. He knows how to use his authority for his own self-comfort, but at heart he is a man in a difficult job trying to do the right thing. Despite his extremely hard shell, he has a soft heart and those scenes are very well played against Leigh Taylor-Young as a piece of "furniture" he meets in the murder victim's apartment and when he interacts with Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson).
Some might consider this movie dated by today's standards and yet, it should be viewed and reviewed as a potential warning to all who think that the earth has a limitless supply of natural and environmental resources. Although I do not consider myself an environmentalist, I can see that there was a point to this movie in 1973. It's point is just as valid today, in 2001.
Paul Connors
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