Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green (1973), Directed by Richard Fleischer, written by Stanley R. Greenberg, based on a novel by Harry Harrison, Starring Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young

Some movies age poorly because how well know they are. Or how well known their most famous bits are. Soylent Green is one such a movie, despite it would have aged poorly despite its best-known phrase. I'm sure even those, who haven't seen the movie known it, as the major reveal of the end has been spoofed so many times before.

Soylent Green starts with a montage. It quickly shows how humanity evolved and fell to the point where, in the year 2022 to be exact, it is in the movie: global warming has destroyed most of the Earth. There's a shortage of food, jobs and housing. Most people eat only Soylent corporations soy-based substitute nourishment meals, only the elite can afford real food. A couple of apples and a can of beans can set you back hundreds of dollars, real meat is a luxury one a selected few can afford. But for most, it's Soylent Green that is the king of dinner.

Tens of millions of people are living in cities, as the countryside is off limits to anyone else but farmers. Many don't have apartments, so people sleep on corridors, alleyways and old junk cars. A vast majority of people have nothing, food nor jobs. Even cops are corrupt to a level, that when they get to a crime scene they steal all they can, as the pay is bad, but at least they have a job. And no-one messes with cops.

Thorn (Heston) is a cop, who gets called to a murder scene of a former Soylent corporation big wig. He knows, that there's more to the killing than just a burglary gone wrong, as it all was too convenient: security system malfunctioning, bodyguard (Tab Fielding) and house hooker (who's called "furniture") Shirl (Taylor-Yong) away just the right time.  There's something fishy going on, all right, but that doesn't stop him looting the place and bringing good foodstuff to his loyal book Sol (Robinson), who is his closest friend as well as fact finder.

The case is hot, as it doesn't take long for chief Hatcher (Brock Peters) to tell him to lay off the case because of corporation pressure. But Thorn isn't willing to give up and soon he's digging deeper to a secret that could make the world tremble if left out of the bag. I'm pretty sure you know the secret already. When food is getting scarce there's only one thing left to eat.

It's not like the story of Soylent Green is bad, as it does have its moments. It's clear it's stemming from the fear of global wide food shortage that was flaunted around back in the 70's. That and the nuclear war were some of the terror images people were spoonfed, many were even sure that either one would be a reality come the year 2000. Neither happened.

There are a couple of matters which have made Soylent Green age badly. The first one is how well known the reveal is. "Soylent Green is people" has been parodied so many times, that when the time for the reveal comes, it feels like a joke. But then again, the peculiar atmosphere of Soylent Green doesn't help either, as in many ways it does feel like a parody.  That is mostly because of how dated the worldview of the movie feels like. I know it's meant to portray this dystopic near future that is a dog eat dog world, but the things like how Thorn and other men treat women, the fashion and the technology around just make it look so utterly 1970's kind of a world, that it's hard to take the movie itself seriously.

It doesn't really help either, that Heston constantly looks like he wasn't really taking his role seriously either. Every time I see him on screen, it feels like he's about to crack a joke. And it's not really any better for other actors either, as most of them are hamming it up almost to a level of Leslie Nielsen spoof.

I remember thinking the same when I saw the movie the first time back in the mid-2000's. I couldn't help but to laugh at it, laugh at how aged it was. Laugh at how hammy the acting was and how clumsily it was directed. And none of that has changed.

Soylent Green isn't a well-aged movie, despite its cult status, nor does it work very well if you look at it as a serious movie today. While it does have some merit, especially on the script, it does overall feel like a movie that should be watched as a comedy these days. Not that most of the comedy is intentional, far from it.