Behold…the future! It’s hard not to shout this at the screen during <I>Soylent Green</I>, a science-fiction parable set in the dystopian days of 2022. To be fair, the movie does try to present its audiences with a world rooted in reality, unlike the goofy locales constructed by the makers of, say, <I>Logan’s Run</I>. It’s just that, in this decidedly more cynical, post-second millennium society of ours, this film’s perfectly sensible comments on mankind can sometimes be drowned out by its dated costumes, sets, and, well, acting styles.
Charlton Heston squints and gnashes his way through the role of Detective Robert Thorn, who works in a station swamped in unsolved legal work. His home town of New York City is crumbling fast due to overpopulation and a sensory-crushing drought that makes every day a sweltering nightmare. With a murder-list growing longer every day and the people rioting in the streets on a regular basis, Thorn leaps at the chance to solve a case of real merit when an important official is offed in his own home. Was the man truly killed by a random burglar, as Thorn is told to believe, or was he assassinated for darker reasons? While following the trail, Thorn meets and beds the victim’s in-home hooker, Shirl, which makes matters all the more complicated.
Oh, then there’s the important point of Soylent, a nutritional supplement that comes in a variety of colors and shapes. The latest is Green, which comes in the form of brittle little rectangles and is rationed out to the dusty, sweaty public. I’d like to think just about everyone knows the shocking fact behind the making of Soylent Green, but to be safe, I won’t discuss it here. Besides, the dots can be connected pretty darn easily, if not by the public of ’73 then certainly by those trained on the movies of professional trickster M. Night Shymalan.
Director Richard Fleischer does a very good job of fleshing out the bits and pieces of 2022, creating an environment clogged by filth and worn down to the bits. Extras clomp about miserably wearing little more than rags and masks to block the swirling dirt, whereas the wealthy are allowed to indulge in such minor pleasures as cake soap and hot water. Some elements do come off a bit corny, such as the bulldozers known as Scoops that literally shovel up misbehaving citizens and throw them in the back for processing, but for the most part I bought this vision of the future.
On the other hand, it was pretty darn funny to see these men and women of days not yet gone by wearing outfits clearly produced by the acid age. Even the rich strut about in suits of blazing Crayola blues and reds, making them look less like socialites and more like characters from an H.R. Pufnstuf. Then there are the performances, which are never really bad but could certainly be characterized as “glazed”. Heston grows like a bear in every shot, determined to get his beefy frame laid while mopping perspiration with a dainty purple scarf. It’s truly bizarre, but entertaining.
On the whole, <I>Soylent Green</I> is a passable entertainment, even if its messages of social caution have since been retold by better artists in less culturally outdated settings. It’s also a little obvious that its big brother, <I>2001: A Space Odyssey</I>, influenced more than a few of its goofier segments, which, while I won’t spoil them here, will probably make most laugh out loud. So in the end I suppose it comes down to this question: Do you wanna see Charlton Heston naked? If not, run away. Run away, you maniacs!