A thought-provoking MGM-produced science fiction film, SOYLENT GREEN relies on a particularly bleak vision of the future as its setting, rather than the usual heavy special effects. Based on Harry Harrison's environmentally conscious novel Make Room! Make Room!, the film has become something of a cultural icon (with a very quotable climatic catch phrase), being spoofed on such shows as "Saturday Night Live" and "The Simpsons," and it has been referenced numerously elsewhere. SOYLENT GREEN also marked the finale of a series of sci-fi films (PLANET OF THE APES, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, THE OMEGA MAN) that featured the late, great Charlton Heston as a sort of post-apocalyptic action hero.
Set in New York, 2022 (at the present, only about a decade away!) where the population has exploded to 40 million and the denizens are living on top of each other. The city is always steaming hot, and only a select few rich live in luxury apartments with air conditioning, natural food, and other conveniences once taken for granted by civilization. Most of the population survive on food sources distributed by the government in the form of cracker-size colored chips – Soylent Red, Yellow and Green. But these Soylent products are in short supply, and riot police in football helmets are always on patrol when they are distributed, as the crowds lose control when the supplies run out – and they sometimes have to be scooped up with bulldozers!
Police Detective Thorn (Heston) is investigating the murder of Simonson (Joseph Cotten, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES), who was an official from the Soylent corporation. Thorn becomes romantically involved with Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young, LOOKER), a beautiful girl who is known as "furniture," and came with Simonson's apartment. Thorn believes Simonson's murder was actually an assassination rather than a simple burglary, and as he delves more into his investigation and gets closer to the explanation behind Simonson's extermination, he himself becomes the target of hired assassins as he soon uncovers a shocking cover-up.
Truth of the matter is, SOYLENT GREEN holds up as a very entertaining film. Of course, anything made about the future made in the early 1970s is going to suffer somewhat from being dated today, and it does have its share of flaws. But SOYLENT GREEN is classic science fiction, with an interesting and ever-relevant story emphasizing corruption and a society letting itself go, sharp direction by veteran Fleischer, and an excellent cast of Hollywood character actors (including Chuck Connors, Brock Peters, Paul Kelly, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Mike Henry, Whit Bissel, etc.). Heston is terrific as the basically good cop searching for truth while attempting to indulge in the now scarce better things in life, namely booze, real food and "furniture." The standout performance by far is Edward G. Robinson in his last film role, as elderly investigator Sol, Thorn's roommate and best friend. Robinson brings a real human quality to the part, as an old man raving about how wonderful the world once was, saddened by the thought of the present, but beaming in recollection of the good old days. The scenes he and Heston share are priceless, and their camaraderie is undeniable.
Having already released THE OMEGA MAN on blu-ray a few years back, Warner has now decided to do the same with SOYLENT GREEN, with quite spectacular results. Looking noticeably improved in comparison to the DVD, the blu-ray presents the film in 1080p High Definition and anamorphic widescreen (2.4:1). The blu-ray transfer also appears to be digitally cleaned up, with minor speckling present on the DVD now removed. The overall image is well-detailed, smooth and pristine (even the few sequences shot with a special filtering process to resemble smog now look improved) with very strong colors (especially during the interior studio scenes) and realistically sweaty fleshtones. The DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix is presented mono in Dolby Digital 1.0, and is replicated well for its age, especially during Robinson’s “going home” encounter with loud but "light" classical music. French and Spanish language tracks are included, as well as subtitles playable in three options: English SDH, French and Spanish.
Very worthy of the feature itself is a running commentary with director Richard Fleischer (who passed away in 2006) and star Leigh Taylor-Young. The commentary (originally conducted for the 2003 DVD release) is pretty solid, with Fleischer being sharp as a tack in his memory of making it, describing details of different scenes and how he executed his direction. One of the best stories is the fact that a precious scene where Heston and Robinson feast on a meal of “rare” foods was totally improvised, shot silent, and not even in the script. Robinson was also quite deaf at the time, so Fleischer has an amusing remembrance where the actor just kept walking off the set since he couldn't hear him yell “cut”. Leigh Taylor-Young also has a lot of good things to say about her character and her mutual admiration Fleischer, and her funniest anecdote is about a shower scene she shared with Heston. A great, thorough commentary.
A featurette/documentary called "A Look At The World Of Soylent Green" is also included, and this was produced at the time of the film and has a lot of good behind-the-scenes footage of Fleischer directing a crowd scene and staging a fight. "MGM's Tribute To Edward G. Robinson's 101st Film" contains footage of Heston with Robinson, who is being toasted at a Hollywood party by his peers during the making of SOYLENT GREEN. Watch for George Burns greeting the two stars as they enjoy champagne and cut some white-frosted cake! Lastly, the blu-ray disc contains the original MGM theatrical trailer ("What is the secret of Soylent Green?"). (George R. Reis)
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