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 Prodigal (1955)

Back in the 1950’s (and in the early 1960’s) there were many historical epics, some of which, The Prodigal included, were based on stories from the Bible. Bible films in particular were popular during the early 1950’s, and this was another film that you could say was trying to capitalise on an overcrowded market. These were film that, while typically expensive productions for their time, would generally expect to turn a sizeable profit. This film wasn’t one of them. It flopped upon release and was generally dismissed back in its day, and even its producers looked back on it with disappointment. In all honesty, I can see why. The film itself wasn’t very special.

The story is based loosely on the New Testament tale of the prodigal son, in which a selfish man abandons his family for a fleeting pursuit of pleasure. In the film, this is interpreted as the story of Micah, a young Hebrew farm boy who, after first seeing Samarra, the high priestess of the goddess Astarte, journeys to the city of Damascus in order to have her, but after being led astray and losing almost everything, he eventually returns to his family, as in the original parable.

While fairly original in its interpretation of the Biblical parable, the story itself is rather underwhelming as a film. I’m fairly certain that they wrote the film as the same kind of morality tale as the parable itself, though going as far as to put the first biblical commandment right after the title sequence just to preach to the converted. The narrative itself is somewhat stilted, and the pacing is quite slow. Much of the film is actually quite boring when you really think about it.

In this regard, some of the blame can be shifted to the film’s cast of rather unimpressive stock characters. I wouldn’t say they weren’t trying. Edmund Purdom wasn’t very bad as the film’s protagonist, and as the high priestess, Lana Turner tried breathing as much life into the film as she could, but in the end it didn’t do much with a lifeless script. The characters lack any sort of real passion even where its appropriate, and they were broadly incapable of delivering a worthy performance, killing whatever dramatic tension there may well have been.

The film itself actually looks quite nice, with a number of lavish set pieces, including what I can only assume a statue of the god Baal, and the costumes are also quite nice. The special effects are alright, but they aren’t necessarily the best. In one part of the film Micah gets attacked by a vulture, but they used a model that doesn’t look much like a vulture at all, more like a Harryhausen-style model of a giant buzzard. I personally don’t consider The Prodigal to be a bad film though. It’s certainly not the worst that it could have been, but it’s not very special either. It was basically a by-the-numbers Bible film that the producers couldn’t even save no matter how hard they tried, and in that respect, it’s no wonder that it failed.

  • Score: 62%
  • Grade: C