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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Thriller > Soylent Green (1973/Warner DVD-Video)

Soylent Green (1973/MGM/Warner DVD)


Picture: C     Sound: C-     Extras: B-     Film: B



PLEASE NOTE: This film is now available on a far superior Blu-ray and you can read more about it at this link:





Thanks to the late Phil Hartman and his great reign on TV’s Saturday Night Live, many people who have not even seen Richard Fleischer’s 1973 Science Fiction classic Soylent Green likely knows its secret, but that is far from what the whole film offers.  The shock notwithstanding, its context to the film is vastly more relevant to an ambitious film that dared to go farther than even its source material.


The film is based on Harry Harrison’s book Make Room! Make Room! and stars Charlton Heston as Thorn, a detective who finds himself lucky to have a job at all in the grossly overpopulated New York City of 2022.  The environment is a wreck, things have been greatly denatured, and 99% of the population has to eat products form the Soylent Corporation.  Their products are slight variants on combining Soy and lentils.  His one roommate is a “book” named Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson, remarkable in his final film performance), with an incredible knowledge and research capacity that helps Thorn solve his immense case backlog.  Many are murders, but one suddenly sticks out.  William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotton) seems to have been killed randomly by an intruder, but Thorn believes it too convenient and an assassination.  When he turns out to be a high ranking official of Soylent, his hunch turns out to be right.


His boss Hatcher (Brock Peters) believes him, but there are others who will want to shut him up permanently about this and other secrets he may uncover.  Simonson’s body guard Tab Fielding (Chuck Connors) was out shopping for him with his live-in “furniture” Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), a woman who comes with the apartment as a de facto hooker in a world with few jobs for women.  We meet an entire group of them in the film.


Of course, Thorn begins to get farther than anyone expects, and he finds himself being a murder target.  In one of the film’s most interesting moments, he fights the bodyguard Tab at his own apartment.  As one of my best friends sums it up, the fight between Heston and Connors comes down to a case of “Moses kicks the Rifleman’s ass!”  There is no denying that the film has its camp and unintentionally funny moments, especially for first time viewers, but the laughs are over, the film has very serious points to make that reduce the secret of the title substance to a MacGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for the thing everyone in the story is going after, but the audience could care less about, applicable just enough here).


This is exceptionally cast, and the star power does not get in the way of the story, though the history, iconography, and reputation of Heston have gained a momentum that makes viewing the film every few years a new experience.  Stanley R. Greenberg’s screenplay adaptation is impressive, entertaining and believable, while slowly weaving its story on several levels that add to the need for multiple screenings.  The cast is obviously up to this script and under Fleischer’s guidance, making one of his best-ever films, this is a genre classic that gets better and becomes more relevant all the time.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 Panavision image is from the same widescreen master that has been around since Turner Entertainment acquired the vintage M-G-M catalog years ago.  This is still serviceable, but not exactly High Definition either.  Often, the MetroColor looks good, but it should also be noted that the green/brown dusty haze in outdoor scenes is not aged or dated film stock.  Fleischer and cinematographer Richard H. Klein, A.S.C., had to capture how bad the air would be dirtied by the massive industrialization that screwed up the environment and they actually used filters and dye-filled water tanks to get the effect.  The sharpness varies throughout, while the print was not bad to start with, despite some artifacts and flaws here and there.  The entire frame is used with exceptional efficiency.  Ironically, Brian Aldiss had once been quoted as saying that he imagined a block-style, black and white film adaptation prior to the book’s optioning, but this film still often feels as confining just the same.  This was also the last film to be shot on the original M-G-M’s famous backlot, which was decaying at the time.  Even in its final days before demolition, it was a great place to make movies.


The Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono is of the usually problematic kind, and cannot compete with the PCM CD Mono on the old MGM/UA LaserDisc.  Chapter Four, ten minutes in, has the harsh and ear-piercing sound of a two piece crowbar busting a foothold into the concrete wall, which has been that harsh since that LaserDisc version.  Sadly, Warner Bros. missed several opportunities with the DVD’s sound.  For one thing, it is totally missing the great isolated music track that was on that 12” Laser.  Another is the missed opportunity to do a 5.1 remix of the film, since the music soundtrack has recently been issued for the first time in a terrific limited edition stereo CD (reviewed elsewhere on this site) form the three-track stereo master.  The fidelity on that CD is impressive, so a 5.1 mix could have been a huge surprise performer.  Fred Myrow (with Gerald Fried and Mark Fleischer) did an exceptional score that may be dated in spots, but is impressive and goes beyond the call of duty when it has to fill in for electronic sounds, whether they are from machinery or a videogame.  Fortunately, the audio commentary by Richard Fleischer and Leigh Taylor-Young is very nicely recorded and the one new addition that was not on the old LaserDisc.


There is another new addition to this DVD, a lame essay with little point, but other extras (except that isolated music track) are repeated here.  You still get the tribute to Robinson on doing his 101st (and final) film, the original featurette A Look at the World of Soylent Green, and the original theatrical trailer with one interesting alteration.  On LaserDisc, this was presented in full 1.33 X 1 framing, though you could see it was designed to be projected at 1.85 X1 or even 1.75 X 1 in England.  Warner decided to take a trailer that was pan & scan to begin with and cut it more, at the top and the bottom, for anamorphic 1.78 X 1 playback.  It is funny to see it this way, especially if you are used to the full screen original, but you are not missing too much.  Too bad Warner did not offer it both ways, as this DVD certainly had the room.


It should be said that this is one of the best DVDs Warner has issued lately, despite being a back catalog title.  The new commentary is a great plus for those who have seen the film many times and own (or owned) the film before.  That is the way it should be when a DVD is made.  Soylent Green deserves more serious reconsideration for the great film it is, and this DVD should finally give it that kind of respect.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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