SOYLENT GREEN - Blu-ray review

...a movie based on an ending. And if you can't figure out that ending ten minutes into the movie, you aren't paying attention.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"Tuesday is Soylent Green Day."

In terms of choosing movies for Blu-ray high-definition treatment, you might say that 1973's "Soylent Green" gets the honor because of its star, Charlton Heston, and the reputation of the movie's ending. "Soylent Green" seems to me a dubious choice for high-def honors, but I don't make these decisions, and the movie does have probably a legion of fans, so who am I to complain.

By 1973 Heston had forsaken the swords and sandals of "Ben-Hur," "The Ten Commandments," and "El Cid" for the world of sci-fi in films like "Planet of the Apes," "The Omega Man," and "Soylent Green." Unfortunately, he should have stayed in the robes and sandals because viewed today his sci-fi flicks seem dated and square. Frankly, "Soylent Green" seems oddly out of place among the more illustrious sci-fi classics of the Sixties and Seventies, films like "2001," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and "Star Wars."

In MGM's "Soylent Green," directed by Richard Fleischer ("20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Fantastic Voyage") from a novel by Harry Harrison, the year is 2022 and urban blight, air pollution, water pollution, and overpopulation have all but destroyed the world. Well, you can't say the movie wasn't going for topical issues. People are starving, and the government's answer is a police state, where they feed the populace a concoction of high-energy crackers, the most popular of which is Soylent Green, supposedly "garnered from the oceans of the world." No one but the rich eats real food anymore; it's too rare and too expensive.

New York City, where the story takes place, is a genuine mess, the same as all other world cities, so hot, dusty, and dilapidated a person can hardly go outside. The city fathers have petitioned it off, with the rich living in relative luxury behind guarded security walls and the poor living in stairwells and allies. When people die, which is often, the city takes them outside the perimeter for "waste disposal." The thing is, this world still looks like 1973, with early Seventies hats, clothing, furniture, telephones, and typically Seventies garish colors. What's more, the men all wear long sideburns and longish hair. Nothing dates an old movie more than hair styles.

Heston plays a police detective named Thorn who investigates the death of a rich and powerful man named Simonson (Joseph Cotten). It looks like a simple burglary gone wrong, but Thorn suspects it was a deliberate murder, an assassination, perhaps with the involvement of Simonson's suspicious-looking bodyguard, Tab (Chuck Connors). With the help of several other people--his crime-detecting partner and roommate, former professor Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson in his final screen appearance), Chief of Detectives Hatcher (Brock Peters), and Simonson's mistress, Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young)--Thorn delves into the crime, leading him eventually to a shocking government conspiracy.

As Thorn, Heston is his usual stoic, detached, often wooden self. At least he had the good sense to play characters who didn't usually require him to express much emotional range. Here, his character goes about his business in a straightforward, logical, matter-of-fact manner, which suits Heston's acting capabilities. Robinson, on the other hand, is far more accomplished in his role, the longtime actor making his sad, old, sentimental professor into a genuine human being with whom we can sympathize.

Here's the thing: If you're looking for a penetrating, thought-provoking analysis of global problems or an in-depth study of human emotions and interactions, you won't find them in "Soylent Green." The characters are one-dimensional and the spare plot line is mechanical and predictable. Well, it's a dog-eat-dog world.

Warner engineers use a single-layer BD25 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec to transfer the movie to Blu-ray in its theatrical aspect ratio, 2.40:1. The picture quality they obtain probably mimics the original print fairly accurately, with bright, often deep colors and a natural grain that looks quite normal. The definition, however, varies somewhat, with some scenes beautifully detailed and others looking soft or rough. Skin tones also vary, sometimes realistic, sometimes too dark.

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio has the thankless job of reproducing a nondescript monaural soundtrack. There is no question of its being very smooth and very clear, but little else. Dynamic range, frequency response, bass, treble, and impact all sound severely limited by today's best standards. And, of course, there is no front-channel stereo spread or surround activity. This is not the fault of the Blu-ray disc; it's the soundtrack it has to work with.

Warners pretty much carry over the extras from the DVD release to the BD. First, we get an audio commentary by director Richard Fleischer and co-star Leigh Taylor-Young in which the participants take the movie and its save-the-planet theme quite seriously. Next is a well-worn, ten-minute promotional featurette, "A Look at the World of Soylent Green," followed by an equally worn five-minute MGM tribute to Edward G. Robinson on his 101st film.

Then the extras conclude with twenty-nine scene selections; a theatrical trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen; English, French, German, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English and German captions for the hearing impaired. The disc comes housed in a flimsy Eco-case with cutouts in the front and back cover, presumably to save plastic.

Parting Shots:
"Soylent Green" is a movie based on an ending. And if you can't figure out that ending ten minutes into the movie, you aren't paying attention. It seems a tenuous enough reason for fans to turn it into a minor cult classic, but such is the case.


Film Value