Soylent Green

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Soylent Green

theatrical release poster by John Solie
Directed byRichard Fleischer
Produced byWalter Seltzer
Russell Thacher
Screenplay byStanley R. Greenberg
Based onMake Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
StarringCharlton Heston
Leigh Taylor-Young
Edward G. Robinson
Music byFred Myrow
CinematographyRichard H. Kline
Editing bySamuel E. Beetley
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s)
  • April 19, 1973 (1973-04-19)
Running time97 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
 
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Soylent Green

theatrical release poster by John Solie
Directed byRichard Fleischer
Produced byWalter Seltzer
Russell Thacher
Screenplay byStanley R. Greenberg
Based onMake Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
StarringCharlton Heston
Leigh Taylor-Young
Edward G. Robinson
Music byFred Myrow
CinematographyRichard H. Kline
Editing bySamuel E. Beetley
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s)
  • April 19, 1973 (1973-04-19)
Running time97 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Soylent Green is a 1973 American science fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston and, in his final film, Edward G. Robinson. The film overlays the police procedural and science fiction genres as it depicts the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and a hot climate due to the greenhouse effect. Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including "soylent green".

The film, which is loosely based upon the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room!, by Harry Harrison, won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film in 1973.

Contents

Plot

In 2022, with 40 million people in New York City alone, housing is dilapidated and overcrowded; homeless people fill the streets and food is scarce; and most of the population survives on rations produced by the Soylent Corporation, whereof the newest product is Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain "high-energy plankton", more nutritious and palatable than its predecessors "Red" and "Yellow", but in short supply.

New York City Police Department detective Robert Thorn lives with his aged friend Solomon "Sol" Roth, a former scholar who helps Thorn's investigations. While investigating the murder of William R. Simonson, a director of the Soylent Corporation, Thorn questions Shirl, a concubine (referred to as "furniture"), and Tab Fielding, Simonson's bodyguard, who, when the murder took place, was escorting Shirl to a store selling meat "under the counter" for Simonson. Thorn later gives Roth the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 to 2019 found in Simonson's apartment. At the police station, Thorn tells his lieutenant (Hatcher) that he suspects an assassination, on grounds that nothing was stolen from the apartment; the apartment's sophisticated alarm and security cameras failed to detect the intruder; and Simonson's bodyguard was conveniently absent. Continuing his investigation, Thorn visits Fielding's apartment and questions Fielding's concubine, Martha, helping himself to a teaspoon of strawberry jam, later identified by Roth as too great a luxury for the concubine of a bodyguard. Under questioning, Shirl reveals that Simonson became troubled in the days before his death. Thorn questions a Catholic priest Simonson had visited, but the priest at first fails to remember Simonson and is later unable to describe the confession. Fielding later murders the priest to silence him.

New York Governor Joseph Santini, once Simonson's partner in a high-profile law firm, orders the investigation closed; but Thorn disobeys and the Soylent Corporation dispatches Simonson's murderer to kill Thorn. He tracks Thorn to a ration-distribution whereat police officers are providing security. When the Soylent Green there is exhausted and the crowd riots, the assassin tries to kill Thorn during the confusion, but is crushed by a riot-control vehicle.

Roth takes Soylent's oceanographic reports to a like-minded group of researchers known as the Exchange, who agree that the oceans no longer produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and conclude it is made from human remains. Unable to live with this discovery, Roth seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic. Thorn rushes to stop him, but arrives too late, and is thereafter mesmerized by the euthanasia's visual and auditory display of forests, wild animals, rivers, and ocean life now extinct. Under the influence of a lethal drug, Roth tells Thorn his discovery and begs him to expose the truth. To this end, Thorn stows himself aboard a garbage truck to the disposal-center, where he sees human corpses converted into Soylent Green. Returning to make his report, he is ambushed by Fielding and others; and having failed to summon his colleagues, converses with Shirl before connected to Hatcher. Thorn then retreats into a cathedral filled with homeless people, where he kills Fielding but is seriously injured. When the police arrive, Thorn urges Hatcher to spread the word that "Soylent Green is people!".

Cast

Production

The screenplay was based on Harry Harrison's novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), which is set in the year 1999 with the theme of overpopulation and overuse of resources leading to increasing poverty, food shortages, and social disorder. Harrison was contractually forbidden control over the screenplay and kept from knowing during negotiations that it was MGM buying the film rights.[1] He discussed the adaptation in Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies (1984, ISBN 0-385-19202-9; edited by Danny Peary),[1] noting that the "murder and chase sequences [and] the 'furniture' girls are not what the film is about — and are completely irrelevant" and answered his own rhetorical question "Am I pleased with the film? I would say fifty percent".[1]

While the book refers to "soylent steaks", it makes no reference to "Soylent Green", the processed food rations depicted in the film. The book's title was not used for the movie on grounds that it might have confused audiences into thinking it a big-screen version of Make Room for Daddy.[2]

This was the 101st and last movie in which Edward G. Robinson appeared; he died of cancer twelve days after the filming, on January 26, 1973. Heston was the only member of the crew that Robinson told of his cancer (immediately before filming the scene of Robinson's character's death), knowing that this knowledge would deeply affect Heston, and therefore his playing of the scene.[citation needed] Robinson had previously worked with Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the make-up tests for Planet of the Apes (1968).

The film's opening sequence, depicting America becoming more crowded with a series of archive photographs set to music, was created by filmmaker Charles Braverman.

Critical response

The film was released April 19, 1973.[3] Time called it "intermittently interesting"; they note that "Heston forsak[es] his granite stoicism for once" and assert the film "will be most remembered for the last appearance of Edward G. Robinson.... In a rueful irony, his death scene, in which he is hygienically dispatched with the help of piped-in light classical music and movies of rich fields flashed before him on a towering screen, is the best in the film."[4] New York Times critic A.H. Weiler wrote "Soylent Green projects essentially simple, muscular melodrama a good deal more effectively than it does the potential of man's seemingly witless destruction of the Earth's resources"; Weiler concludes "Richard Fleischer's direction stresses action, not nuances of meaning or characterization. Mr. Robinson is pitiably natural as the realistic, sensitive oldster facing the futility of living in dying surroundings. But Mr. Heston is simply a rough cop chasing standard bad guys. Their 21st-century New York occasionally is frightening but it is rarely convincingly real."[3]

As of December 2011, Soylent Green has a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 34 reviews.[5]

American Film Institute Lists

Home video

Soylent Green was released on laserdisc by MGM/UA in 1992 (ISBN 0792813995, OCLC 31684584).[8] In November 2007, Warner Home Video released the film on DVD concurrent with the DVD releases of two other sci-fi films; Logan's Run (1976) and Outland (1981).[9] A Blu-ray Disc release followed on March 29, 2011.

Cultural references

Soylent Green is referred to in a number of television series and other media, either for dramatic or comedic effect.

In the American crime drama television series Millennium (1996–1999), the main character Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) uses the phrase "Soylent Green is people" as a login to the Millennium Group Database.[10]

A 1993 episode of Saturday Night Live purported that Soylent Green had been made into a franchise, consisting of increasingly unsuccessful cinematic sequels. All clips shown played upon the dramatic final scene of the original film. A clip from the fifth sequel, Soylent Green II, shows Thorn (played by Charlton Heston (Phil Hartman)) crying, "Soylent Green is STILL made out of people! They didn't change the recipe like they said they were going to! It's STILL people!!".[11]

Starting in the summer of 2011, a green wafer containing plankton was released under the name 'Soylent Green'. Created and produced by the Parallax Corporation,[12] and manufactured under official license, its packaging is an imaginary concept of how Soylent Green might have been sold.[13]

The animated television series Futurama makes continued reference to the product Soylent Green, including in season 4, episode 11, when Bender challenges Chef Elzar, and to such variations as Soylent Cola and Soylent Cole Slaw.

See also

Ronnie D. Lipschutz (2006) 'Soylent Green… is… PEOPLE!: Labour, Bodies and Capital in the Global Political Economy' Millennium Journal of International Studies 2006 34: 573.[14]

References

External links