Soylent Green (1973) – Film Review

Soylent Green Movie PosterSoylent Green

Starring Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young, Chuck Conners

Directed by Richard Fleischer, inspired by the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

IMDB Rating: 7.1

Set in what is now the near future of 2022, this film tells a story of over population and extreme poverty. Something of a minor sci-fi classic thanks to its memorable finishing line, this is one of very few experiences I’ve had with old cinema. The idea (for which there will be spoilers ahead) sounded really cool, but also meant that I already knew what was going to happen going into this – a first for me, and probably not a great way to go into a film.

Set in a dystopian New York in the year 2022 (nearly 50 years in the future as of this film’s release), the world is falling apart. Ravaged by overpopulation – with New York having a pop. of over 40 million – and pollution, there is a desperate need for food and water. This need is met, somewhat, by Soylent Green, a food provided by Soylent industries made from the plankton on the sea floor. When William R. Simonson, a member on the board of Soylent Green is murdered Detective Thorn (Heston) is put on the case. Assisted by partner Solomon Roth (Robinson), they begin to dig into the secrets surrounding Soylent and their food product, as they are tailed across the city by people who don’t want certain secrets to get out.

The story was good, and showed us a really interesting idea of overpopulation that was, for the most part, very well portrayed. Soylent Green is also an extremely well written film, with excellent dialogue and plenty of poignant moments past the famous “Soylent Green is people!” line. Yeah, spoilers.

The line “Soylent Green is people!” was voted as the 77th greatest movie quote of all time by the American Film Institute, surrounded by “Hasta la vista, baby.” and “open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.” from Terminator and Space Odyssey respectively.

The major issue I have with this is that key plot points were almost overlooked, with the film trying too hard to play off dramatic moments as ‘just another day’. You could see major things happening, but they were almost washed over and forgotten about by the films purposeful meander. I think that if the film really tried to accentuate certain moments then this would have been a much more dramatic and entertaining movie.

Overall the acting in this film was solid. As was a theme running throughout (and a theme made more obvious to someone who rarely watches ‘old’ films), there are moments where the acting can feel a bit like a stage performance, but as mentioned earlier the dialogue in this film was really good, and that’s as down to the actors as much as the writers. The relationship between Thorn and Sol (Heston and Robinson) felt very natural, and culminated in a very heartfelt moment between the two of them that was acted really well. Detective Thorn at many points reminded me of the classic James Bond style of character, and I think he did a good job of combining that with what was overall a serious performance.

Soylent Green was well directed by Fleischer. As with the acting, some of the plain long-shots during dialogue can make the whole thing feel a little ‘stage play’, but I was seriously impressed with how Soylent Green portrayed overpopulation. Pictures such as Thorn having to climb over bodies on the stairs to his apartment, and the scoops being used to disperse people were really interesting pieces to watch that I will definitely remember!

This was one of very few experiences watching older movies (for some perspective, I’m 21, and this film was 21 year’s old when I was born). Overall I think my experience with this was a positive one, but it’s fair to say that this film did lack that bit of drama to make it a really good film. Soylent Green is an interesting idea but seriously lacks any ‘wow’ moment, despite there being plenty of opportunities for it.

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