Taking 'Citizen Kane' and Charlton Heston's other sci fi classic 'Planet of the Apes' (1968) into consideration, 'Soylent Green' might be the movie most people have had spoiled for them before they've even seen it. Heston's signature line and emphatic delivery remains a frequent pop-culture reference nearly 40 years later, attesting to the staying power of the film's climactic scene.
The prologue reveals through a montage of photos that pollution is the major cause of the problems of the world we are about to witness. The year is 2022, 49 years after the film's release. It likely seemed a long ways off then, but now is down to just 11 years away for Blu-ray watchers. New York City has a population of 40 million (five times what was recorded last year in real life). The planet is suffering from a greenhouse effect, electricity and food are limited, and homeless people crowd streets and staircases.
William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten) is an executive with the Soylent Corporation, which processes rations. He lives in an apartment building where women come with the room like a piece of furniture. Cheryl (Leigh Taylor-Young) is attached to his apartment. A man comes to kill Simonson and gives him the satisfaction of explaining why, without revealing any details to the audience, and Simonson concedes it's necessary, upping the intrigue.
Heston is Detective Thorn and he is assigned to investigate Simonson's murder. He seems like a bit of a rogue at first, taking items from crime scenes like soap and food, but he needs them to survive in such desperate times, which makes the acts understandable. As Thorn follows the few leads he discovers, the powers that be try to shut down the case, but he keeps on and eventually discovers a conspiracy so great it would shock the world if the information got out.
'Soylent Green' is loosely based upon the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, who isn’t entirely happy with the final results and has stated so publicly . Although I haven’t read the book, the film is as an above average piece of entertainment led by Heston and an all-star cast, featuring the likes of Cotton, Edward G Robinson, and Chuck Connors.
The only issue I had with the plot was Thorn bedding Cheryl. After Simonson's death, Thorn shows up at her place while she's entertaining all the other women of the building. He tells her to get on the bed and she goes along with it inexplicably. They have sex and she seems to be falling for him, but it feels like a scene is missing to make it plausible. Yes, the women in this building are basically prostitutes, but it's not Thorn's place, and yes, she might be trying to use Thorn to get her out of the situation, but there's no reflection on the character's part. Instead, it feels more calculated by producers to make Heston out to be a stud leading man, but that window looks to have been closed for a few years by the time the film was made. Plus, Cheryl is so submissive, combined with the odd bit of flirtation between Thorn and Martha Phillips (Paula Kelly) who gets into a fight with, it makes screenwriter Stanley R Greenberg look like he knows very little about women.
'Soylent Green' is a very enjoyable sci fi film that doesn’t get the respect it deserves because its most famous line has been worn out as a gag line over the years. What makes the film most intriguing is it deals with thought-provoking topics without preaching to the audience. In our politically polarizing times in the United States, it's hard to believe Heston was instrumental in getting the film made considering the story deals with subjects such as pollution, overpopulation, and assisted suicide. Present-day Conservatives on cable and talk radio would likely rail against this film from "liberal Hollywood" if it came out today.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers presents 'Soylent Green ' on a 25GB Region Region Free Blu-ray disc housed in a blue ecocase (naturally). The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 2.40:1 that looks good for its age. The colors are strong hues. The best example is the party where the apartment women wear different colored dresses that all look vivid. Reds pop is particularity vibrant throughout, from the apartment manager's jacket and Martha's furniture and robe to smaller items like a tomato and drops of blood. All catch the viewer's eye.
And of course, there's the green. The Soylent wafers seen on a dark conveyor belt make for a good contrast. Stylistically, cinematographer Richard H. Kline uses a yellowish green tint during exterior scenes to give a sense of the dire air pollution. This artistic choice softens edges, obscures details, and alters colors. In comparison, interior scenes deliver more textures, sharpness, and depth.
Blacks crush at times and shadow delineation is poor, but this appears caused by the limitations of the source rather than an encode problem. The print looks to be free of dirt and debris and the grain is still intact, though the latter stands out in during night and low light scenes, approaching noise levels on occasion like some shots during the scene of Thorn and Cheryl in bed.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, and though the source sounds clean, the high fidelity draws attention to subpar ADR and Foley work. Although the dialogue is clear and understandable, the first scene between Thorn and Simonson’s bodyguard blatantly reveals Heston's flat lines were recorded in a small booth while Connors was on set. The scene between the Police Lieutenant and Donovan from the Governor's office suffers the same disconnect. In terms of the effects, some work well within a scene and others don't, such as footsteps sounding too loud and fast and the chewing of lettuce sounding too loud. The balance of the mix is uneven, but being restricted to Mono is a plus in that regard.
Ambiance comes through most during crowd and riot scenes. The track's dynamics are adequate, though would have hoped for a little for in the big action scenes. A crow bar banging against concrete delivers a nice, high-pitched metal ping, but there's not much of a bottom end, so the LFE has little to work with.
Though the technology is dated, like the videogame from the future "Computer Space," which was designed by Nolan Bushnell, who later founded Atari and designed "Pong", the ideas in 'Soylent Green' and the very good performances are what should keep the audience's interest. The Blu-ray does the best it can with the source material and purists will be happy that modern-day gimmicks were not used to augment the viewer's experience. Recommended