Soylent Green is an… interesting movie. Its one of the seventies movies that’s funny to look back on and recognize that people in the seventies thought that people in the year 2020 would still be dressing like… people in the seventies. Soylent Green steps beyond the traditional seventies sci-fi flick and into the boundaries of social activism, however, adding a further layer of irony to the film: as an apocalyptic tale its interesting to see how we haven’t traveled down the frightening route envisioned in Soylent Gre…n, and alarming to see how we still could. Not to suggest that in the next 17 years we’ll breed ourselves into oblivion and poison all of the farmland – but the points that the movie makes about resource use and pollution are valid, no matter how exaggerated. What isn’t particularly valid are the movie’s population – at least not in North America. Soylent Green’s out-of-control population visions might be more valid if the film was set in Mexico City or Calcutta perhaps. A more realistic vision of 2020 New York might be of a smaller and grayer populace than today – in any case, I’m rambling, but the point is Soylent Green is entertaining to watch from historical, social, political, and ecological standpoint.
As for the film itself, there’s some great cinematography and some sketchy acting. Check out the opening sequence photo montage – awesome, very well done. Similarly, the movie works well within the filmmaking technology constraints of the time to create a believable 2020 New York. Directory Fleischman has some interesting comments on this in his commentary. Acting is dominated by Charlton Heston, who personally I find to look wooden and contrived most of the time on screen. He does have one of his famous lines though – “Soylent Green is made of People!! Its people!!” My god, it must be in his contracts that he get one ridiculous line per film. His supporting cast is fine – no standout performances to my eye, but all solid.
Audio is a blandly competent Dolby Digital 1.0 track, available in French and English.
The video is surprisingly good, considering the average audio. A great deal of attention was paid in the restoration of this movie, as evidenced by the lack of particulate damage, the absence of any artifacting or blatantly cheesy cleanup tricks, and the fact that the textures and colors of the film still shine through. Listening to the audio commentary, director Fleischer talks often about the filters and colors used to make NYC look hot, dusty, and dirty – and all of this work is rendered very well on this DVD, lending the movie an authentically gritty and desolate feel.
A Look at the World of Soylent Green: This is a weird half environmental documentary, half “making of” feature. It’s pretty dry, and doesn’t shed a whole lot of light on anything. Better to re-watch the movie with the commentary on – much more valuable content.
Charlton Heston – Science Fiction Legend: This is a few screens of text summarizing Heston’s career. Pretty dry stuff.
MGM’s Tribute to Edward G. Robinson’s 101st Film: This is a gratuitous, fawning short dedicated to Edward G. Robinson, Heston’s old and knowledgeable sidekick in the movie. I don’t know a lot about Robinson, so this piece is lost on me. For those interested, this is a taping of a dinner held in Robinson’s honour, and consists mainly of a long speech by Heston. Weirdly, Heston and Robinson have attended this dinner in costumes from Soylent Green.
Commentary by Leigh Taylor-Young and Richard Fleischer: A good commentary that gets better over time. Leigh Taylor-Young doesn’t start talking until minute nine, and when she does, she adds a great deal to Richard Fleischer’s interesting but fundamentally dry production trivia. Leigh Taylor-Young apparently went from the filming of the movie to working for the United Nations in Environment Affairs – she’s incredibly knowledgeable and extremely well spoken. Given her vapid character in the movie (“Shirl”) and her nine minutes of commentary silence, it comes as a great and welcome surprise. Her environmental knowledge is supplemented by a great deal of information and anecdotal stories about the movie, the people, and film industry, and some easy dialog with Richard Fleischer.
Other stuff: There’s a light selection of trailers and advertisements to round things out. Funny commercials, in the typical quasi documentary style that seemed to dominate trailers of the seventies.
Not my favorite cast, but worth watching for the entertainment value of 1970’s post millennial visions. And, a good DVD release with reasonable audio and video, and a decent selection of extras, including a really good commentary track.
Special Features List
- Commentary by director Richard Fleischer and Leigh Taylor-Young
- “A Look at the World of Soylent Green” – Making-of Documentary
- MGM’s tribute to Edward G. Robinson’s 101st film
- “Charlton Heston: Science Fiction Legend” – Documentary
- Theatrical trailers