Soylent Green (1973)

Films like Soylent Green tend to be interesting due to their out-there central premises, and this film seems to be a blend of detective mystery, dystopian sci-fi, and social commentary that’s characteristically of its time, this being the time when environmentalism starting becoming fashionable. I suppose it was only natural that we would see a film that grapples with overpopulation, and the film itself is something of a product of its time. That being said, it was certainly an interesting and entertaining film.

Set in the year 2022, some fifty years into the future, the film depicts an overpopulated, polluted world where natural resources are all but exhausted, and the climate has apparently become so warm that many animals can’t survive. Most food in this world is provided by the Soylent Corporation, which creates nutritious wafers that it claims are made from plankton. The story focuses on the life of NYPD detective Frank Thorn, who along with his partner Solomon is tasked with investigating the murder of Soylent board member William R. Simonson, who was allegedly also burglarised before his death. During the investigation, Frank finds that there are powerful men, including the governor, who want to end the investigation even if they have to kill him, and he eventually stumbles upon the company’s terrible secret.

Right off the bat I felt like there was some sort of environmentalist vibe coming from the film, which I guess was pretty much in vouge at the time. I don’t really mind that though. My real criticism is that the film is a bit slowly paced for a film of about 97 minutes in length. The film seems to meander on for a while without much happening, but when we get back on the case, all seems to be well and good. It seems to be one of those films that slowly gets better as it progresses until we reach the conclusion, which I think was a solid ending, even if it was cut a bit short.

The acting is quite good, and to be fair, there wasn’t really a bad performer in the entire film, although this is another one of those films where the characters have the misfortune of being outshone by a big lead, in this case Charlton Heston. That said, Edward G. Robinson gives a good performance as Heston’s crusty old sidekick, in what is sadly his last film. I do find it disappointing that we don’t have much exposition on the characters, but I can generally tolerate it here.

Even though I criticised the film earlier for its somewhat slow pacing, I can’t help but think that perhaps the point of it was to enhance the feeling of suspense. The film’s overall style was rather subtle, yet there was no real attempt to hide the film’s gloomy outlook. There were a lot of nice-looking set pieces, but sometimes I wonder if they were really necessarily. I don’t have a problem with them, it could simply be a way of fleshing out the futuristic world of the film.

On the whole it was certainly a good film, not without its flaws but still an interesting and intelligent sci-fi from back when sci-fi was smart.

  • Score: 70%
  • Grade: C
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The Omega Man (1971)

If you hated Will Smith’s badly paced and poisonously boring I Am Legend, then I can almost guarantee that you’ll find The Omega Man infinitely better. Both were based on a Richard Matheson novel whose name was lent to the former, but this is easily the most recognisable rendition, and probably the best. It’s probably not a very unique post-apocalyptic survival film, but it certainly seems like a step above other films of the genre in terms of its execution.

The film itself is set in the year 1977, in an alternate history in which biological warfare between China and Soviet Russia had already resulted in the spread of a plague that killed most of the world’s population, with most of the survivors being turned into deformed, nocturnal mutants who can’t stand the sunlight. In a now desolate Los Angeles, a band of mutants called “The Family” are proceeding to destroy all forms of technology, as they see science and technology as the causes of the war that lead to their mutation.

One man, a U.S. Army Colonel named Robert Neville, believes himself to be the last uninfected man on Earth, and has developed a serum that allows him to become immune to the disease. After he finds out that there are other survivors who have not been infected, he finds himself not only trying to fend off attempts on his life by deranged mutants, but also trying to help others avoid succumbing to the effects of the disease and save humanity.

The story essentially plays out like a frenetic action film for the most part, and it starts out quite strong, although I wish the film would have maintained the action-oriented approach more often, as I think the film was certainly made for that. I don’t necessarily mind the approach the film-makers took, though I found the ending to be something a disappointment.

The acting perhaps isn’t the best, but there are good moments. Though I would argue that without Charlton Heston in the lead role, the film itself would probably have been far less entertaining as it was. Here he channels the same kind of role he played in Planet of the Apes just three years earlier, and in a way the role of the desperate survivor seems to work well for an actor who is known for playing rugged, down to Earth heroes.

The production values for the film were certainly very good, and you can generally get the sense of the kind of desolation that pervades over the veritable ghost town wherein Robert Neville lives out the rest of his days in fear and desperation. The makeup effects on the rather ridiculous vampiric mutants were also pretty good, as they made the mutants look about as menacing as you might expect them to, which sort of makes up for the somewhat ridiculous concept.

On the whole, The Omega Man was an above average film, but not without its flaws, and I can’t help but feel that without Charlton Heston the film might not have been that great. Was it entertaining either way? I would say yes.

  • Score: 71%
  • Grade: C