OK, so most of us are painfully aware of what the Soylent Green in Soylent Green (1973) is. Moreover, anyone watching the movie is apt to figure it out long, long before the famous line has been spoken. But out of deference to anyone who doesn’t know what it is, I’ll refrain from revealing it. The line is a staple pop culture punchline (it most recently was used as a joke in last year’s Cloud Atlas). The film is interesting without being particularly good. While it’s pretty much your dystopian sci-fi basic, it may be the first picture to depict mankind’s woes as the result of global warming — and it’s almost certainly the first to use the term “greenhouse gases.” It is not, of course, the first ecologically-minded sci-fi movie, and if you aren’t listening closely, you can miss the global warming bit.
Most of the film is a kind of futuristic (not very far removed now) police story played out against an overcrowded, underfed city with Charlton Heston (giving his usual block-of-wood performance in all but one scene) as a tough cop trying to solve the murder of one of this society’s privileged few (Joseph Cotten). That’s what will lead to the central conspiracy and big revelation. A lot of it is pretty tough going with its now rather silly looking notions of futuristic clothing and design. It doesn’t help that the extras all feel strangely inauthentic. It’s hard not to think of them as dressed up extras. What sets the film slightly apart is the relationship between Heston and the old man (Edward G. Robinson in his last role) who does research for him. Their scenes together stand out in an otherwise so-so movie — and this happens despite some pretty clichéd writing. The real highlight of the film is Robinson’s trip to a government sanctioned suicide parlor when he’s had enough of this world. Everything about this — even Heston’s acting — is a good bit above the rest of the film. And, of course, there’s additional resonance in the fact that Robinson’s death scene is in a film that wouldn’t be released during his lifetime.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Soylent Green Sunday, April 21 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.