Very much in the panic-stricken tradition of SOYLENT GREEN and LOGAN’S RUN (both made years after), Z.P.G. (Zero Population Growth) is another futuristic 1970s movie which played on the fear of famine, pollution and especially overpopulation. This British production (it was actually shot in Denmark) originally released theatrically in the U.S. by Paramount, has mostly been unseen over the years, hardly ever playing on television and receiving a low-key VHS release many years ago, and more recently on DVD from Legend Films. Kino Lorber now unleashes this underseen downbeat dystopian film (from the American director of THE MACK and THE EDUCATION OF SONNY CARSON) on Blu-ray.
In the 21st Century, the Earth is a smog-filled planet where citizens wear gas masks to tolerate the dirty outdoor air. From a spherical craft flying above, the President (Bill Nagy, FIRST MAN INTO SPACE) makes an announcement that due to overpopulation, there will be a thirty year generational moratorium on bearing children, and anyone who attempts pregnancy will be punished by death (in this case, it means being smothered by an airtight dome). In substitution, couples stand in line to receive programmed robotic talking dolls in which they are to take home and care for as if they were their own offspring. Even after seeing a mother and her young child executed in public, one brave woman, Carol (Geraldine Chaplin, THE THREE MUSKETEERS), is determined to become pregnant, and her understanding husband Russ (Oliver Reed, THE DEVILS) consents as long as they proceed with careful planning and caution. Russ hides Carol in the vacant space below their apartment and eventually she has her baby, soon after sneaking off to a friendly aging doctor (David Markham, TALES FROM THE CRYPT) who assures her that the newborn boy is healthy. Carol and Russ’ neighbors George (Don Gordon, THE BEAST WITHIN) and Edna (Diane Cilento, THE WICKER MAN) discover their secret, wanting desperately to be a part of the baby’s life, but soon jealousy rears its ugly head.
When watching the earlier moments of Z.P.G., it seems to embrace a number of sci-fi clichés associated with a future society, including everyone wearing the same dull outfits (in this case, dark blue jumpsuits with a medallion around the neck) and eating artificial food from plastic tubes, but the film goes beyond that, and the screenplay by Frank De Felitta and Max Ehrlich, has some clever ideas. A well-attended museum showcases the luxuries and excesses of 20th Century living (circa 1971), displaying stuffed animals—once common—but now extinct in this setting, and showing films of how "ignorant" people ate too much red meat from un-sterilized utensils, among other exhibits. The lead characters (along with their neighbors) are also part of the museum, working in a live exhibit reenacting swinging couples of the 1970s dining and drinking wine, after which bystanders (played by Danes with apparent 1970s hairstyles) applaud their realistic performance.
But the main plot device of Z.P.G. is having the freedom of bearing children taken away, and having to cope with the rather creepy alternate of a puppet-like replica. This plotline calls for less glitzy action and more human drama, which can be quite engulfing in itself. Geraldine Chaplin is very believable and compassionate as the young mother, so much so that she won Spain’s Sitges award for “Best Actress,” and the late, great Oliver Reed is actually more subdued than usual, but still very good, and as always, absorbing in the role. One of Reed’s best scenes has him researching a forbidden subject on a library computer (pre-dating the internet by some 25 years), with an alarm going off, transporting him into an adjoining room for interrogation. Though not as flashy or high profile as some of the other futuristic fantasies and thrillers of the time, Z.P.G. is definitely recommended for fans of early 1970s science fiction, and it's a shame it didn't get more attention upon release. Look quickly for the great British character actor Aubrey Woods (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) as the doctor who warns Carol against having a baby (via a large-screen monitor).
Kino Lorber presents Z.P.G. on Blu-ray in a solid 1080p HD 1.78:1 transfer. It’s hard to be to critical of a film’s transfer when there's numerous outdoor smog scenes, but for the most part, the color saturation looks quite strong with deep black levels. Grain is well maintained here (heavier in the darker scenes), and sharpness and detail are excellent throughout, though the source materials from Paramount's vaults display some dirt, debris and staining in parts. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix is mostly very good, with only occasional surface noise, with the dialogue and the harmonious (and very 1970s) score by Jonathan Hodge being clear throughout. Optional English subtitles are included.
Film historian Steve Ryfle is on hand for a thorough audio commentary, and he actually interviewed director Campus and star Gordon for Shock Cinema magazine. Ryfle mentions the film’s socially conscious message of overpopulation and the depletion of the Earth’s natural resources, describes how it reflected the time in which it was made (and that its themes are still relevant today) and mentions some of the comparable dystopian science fiction films and fiction from around the same time. The characters, the cast, the film's production history (and troubles) are covered, as is the career of Campus, with Ryfle referencing his interview with the late director (and for those wanting to know, Campus does confirm Reed’s fondness for the bottle). Gordon’s comments (and exact quote) on Reed are also fascinating, but you’ll have to take a listen for yourself to find out more about that! Trailers for other Kino sci-fi Blu-ray releases—THE NEPTUNE FACTOR, CHOSEN SURVIVORS, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING and THE SATAN BUG—round out the extras. (George R. Reis)
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