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Soylent Green (1973) — CoverUps.com
Charlton Heston — Detective Thorn
Directed By: Richard Fleischer
Running Time: 1h 37min
New Tenant: How old are you?
Det. Thorn: I know, Sol, you've told me a hundred times before. People were better, the world was better...
Sol: [through the audio system] I've lived too long.
Det. Thorn: Would you believe bodyguards are buying strawberries for 150 D's a jar?
[Shirl tells Thorn that she's getting a new tenant]
CoverUps.com Rating: 3 UFOs
By the CoverUps.com staff
Soylent Green is set in 2022. In its malthusian vision of the future, 40 million people live in New York City alone, and they're starving. Global warming and pollution have combined to destroy not only farmland but most plant life on Earth. The only available food — at least for the poor — is produced by the fantastically powerful Soylent Corporation. There are soylent red and soylent yellow, little wafers apparently made from high energy vegetable concentrate. And there's soylent green, newly introduced, whose better taste and greater nutritional value has made it hugely popular. But all the soylent products are in short supply, and unmet demand often leads to riots, which the authorities respond to using the terrifying scoops — giant vehicles which roll into (and, if necessary, over) the crowds, scooping up people and carrying them away.
In this hellish world, detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) does what he's paid to do and keep his head down. He shares an apartment with the elderly Sol (Edward G Robinson), an intellectual who tries to interest him in stories of the world as it was, but Heston is not receptive to them. Then one day he's asked to look into the murder of a wealthy man who turns out to have been an executive mover and shaker with Soylent, and everything changes. He's on his way to uncovering a secret that will subvert everything he's taken for granted.
Most of the strengths of this film come from the book it's based on, Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room!. Harrison's future world is preserved in every detail and has been faithfully brought to the screen, with some extra screenwriting flourishes that work quite well. With a story as powerful as this and a charismatic lead like Heston leading the way, it's no wonder Soylent Green has aged as well as it has. Add to this a stunning performance by Robinson — his swan song, made all the more poignant by the circumstances in which it is sung. It's Robinson who brings humanity to a story with more than its share of grimness, reminding us of what the best of being human can mean.
Richard Fleischer is not the strongest of directors and tends to take his lead from Harrison rather than displaying much vision of his own, but once you've seen it, his staging of the scoops doing their infernal work will probably be etched in your memory. Too much of what Fleischer depicts relies on our existing expectations of science fiction, but what the film does, it does well, and there's good reason why its final lines have attained such a lasting place in our culture. If you're one of the few people who doesn't know the ending yet, we won't spoil it for you here. Go somewhere else for that. Just don't take a hot dog with you when you sit down to see it.
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