Movie: "Soylent Green"
Year: 1973
Rated: PG
Genre: Action / Adventure
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Writing credits: Stanley Greenberg

Reviewer: Max Burbank
Posted: 4/14/2008

Plot: Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) is a cop in a future Manhattan devastated by a world population explosion. Environmental collapse and over population have made whole foods scarce and wildly expensive. The vast majority of people survive on processed Red and Yellow food wafer made by the Soylent corporation (Soy: soybeans, Lent: Lentils). The new product line, Soylent Green, made from algae, is more nutritious and palatable, but it’s in short supply, leading to riots. Heston is investigating the murder of a Soylent executive (Joseph Cotton). With the help of his researcher Sol (Edward G. Robinson), Thorn uncovers a conspiracy and cover-up. The executive was assassinated because he new the terrible secret behind Soylent Green. Son Thorn is taken off the case and targeted for death himself, but he continues to pursue the truth, which in the film’s final, classic moments he learns and tries to reveal.

Review: Based loosely on Harry Harrison’s novella “Make Room, Make Room” this is the rare sci-fi film that is better than the book it’s based on. It follows the original narratives concerns with overpopulation and environmental degradation and pursues them to a dark, yet logical conclusion. Made in 1973, its prediction of a year round heat wave caused by pollution seems eerily prescient, and the grotesque portrayal of human overcrowding is as unsettling today as when it was filmed. There’s an image late on the film or a food riot, where gigantic riot control vehicles that look like heavy earth moving equipment scoop people up in vast shovels that is particularly haunting.

‘Soylent Green’ is also notable in that it was the great Edward G. Robinson’s last film. He was dying of cancer when he made it, and in fact passed away just nine days after filming was completed. His character in the film allows himself to be euthanized and his compelling death scene had to have been informed by the actors’ own mortality.

Plus, for video game fans, “Computer Space” the very first video arcade game ever made, makes a cameo appearance, so there’s something for everyone.

Science Fiction, when well rendered, is a powerful medium for social commentary. While the special effects, costuming and pacing of ‘Soylent Green’ may seem quaint to today’s jaded audience, it’s very rare these days that a sci-fi film reaches right for the heart and gut the way this one does. I’ve included no spoilers in this review on the off chance that some among you reading it may not know the films ending. If not, by all means, rent it right away. It’s so heavily woven into pop culture at this point it’s only a matter of time before you lose the chance to be surprised by it, but when it came out, it was the ‘Sixth Sense’ of it’s day. Even if you know where it’s going, it’s still a damn fine film.

In most of Heston’s recent eulogies, they justifiably hark back to his epics. Heston was Moses and Ben Hur, and those roles cast a long shadow. But when I was a kid, Heston was the go to guy for disturbing sociological science fiction. His straightforward totally un-ironic acting style was pitch perfect for these movies. He was the ideal man of the old world being forced to confront where the history men like him had forged was taking us. He was an action hero whose performance resonated long after the film was over.

Overall rating: WholeWholeWholeWholeHalf
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

after enough bourbon ...
Apr 14th, 2008, 04:00 PM
One of my all-time favorite Heston movies, I really enjoyed the interplay between him and EGR, who also portrayed Heston's foil in the Ten Commandments. Without going into too much detail, the moment for me comes during Sol's euthanasia, where Thorn is brought to tears saying "I never knew it was this beautiful." Powerful imagery.

Those on this site too young to remember this movie owe it to themselves to find it and watch it.
The stealer of Pies
Apr 14th, 2008, 04:35 PM
It took me awhile to track down a DVD copy of this fantastic film, but when I did but damn it was worth it. The best part, as Col. Flagg has said, was the euthanasia seen when you're shown what the world used to actually be like, with flowers, wildlife, large green fields of forests and waterfalls, and it's such a stark contrast to what the world in the film, or hell the world today, is like. Especially considering that the director had the cameramen shoot all of the scenes in the film in dark or drab colors and the short film at the end is such a huge shock of various bright and cheery colors.
Apr 14th, 2008, 06:16 PM
Heston's over the top acting is what draws me to his films (such as with Shatner). I knew the ending to this way before I saw it, thanks to Phil Hartman's wonderful rendition on SNL.
Apr 14th, 2008, 09:42 PM
The Soylent Green trailer does a great job of giving away the ending.
Smooth Operator
Apr 15th, 2008, 03:44 AM
I was lucky enough to see this film late one friday night, when I was in elementary school. I didn't quite grasp all the concepts, but the end did leave an impression on me. Plus, I was one of very few people I knew that *got* the afforementioned Phil Hartman, SNL skit.
Apr 15th, 2008, 08:32 AM
I loved this product's appearance on Futurama - "now with 30% more girls!"
Forum Virgin
Apr 15th, 2008, 11:12 AM
The scene that always stuck out for me was the when Thorn brings back the real food to Sol. I think it really showcases how much the focus was on acting back in the day as opposed to cued music and camera tricks. Heston has been ridiculed many times for overacting, but I really see it more as passion - especially in this movie.
is hopped up on goofballs
Apr 15th, 2008, 09:23 PM
Edward G. Robinson’s death scene and Heston chewing scenery are the two things that separate this flick from your standard B movie sci fi flicks.
The stealer of Pies
Apr 15th, 2008, 11:37 PM
That's right, I remember the food scene now. Where Thorn doesn't even know how to use proper eating utensils because the entire world has gone for soooo long without actual food. It really gave some weight to the movie.
El Mago Norrea
Apr 16th, 2008, 04:05 PM
Indeed, an amazing movie. It has some really memorable scenes in it, most of them already mentioned. Glad you placed this classic here!!
Crazed Techno-Biologist
Apr 16th, 2008, 08:35 PM
mmmhm, soylent greens secret ingredient technically isnt illegal to produce, as long as the goods were procured properly and considered experiment and werent harvested specifically for production.

but really, after seeing a part of the film [i ran out of time and dint gt to finish] i was always left wondering.. hmm, i wonder if it was tasty?
taco loving zombie
May 26th, 2008, 03:12 AM
so this is where the soylent green from the simpsons and futurma comes from
after enough bourbon ...
May 26th, 2008, 03:37 PM
Originally Posted by Dungeonbrownies View Post
i wonder if it was tasty?