Soylent Green (1973/MGM/Warner DVD)
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:
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.