Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Soylent Green

Film #332


In an overpopulated futuristic Earth, a New York police detective finds himself marked for murder by government agents when he gets too close to a bizarre state secret involving the origins of a revolutionary and needed new foodstuff.

Year 1, Day 332

BEFORE: What’s this, only one film today? Yep, it’s going to feel weird just watching one a day now but with full work days now I won’t have time for much else. Soylent Green, the oft-spoiled classic science-fiction film is up. Most of what I know about this film has to do with the spoiled ending and I’m interested to see not only what the rest of the film is about, but whether knowing the ending will ruin my experience.

AFTER: Knowledge is power, but here that power is damaging. Luckily, even though I knew the end ahead of time, I was still able to enjoy what turned out to be quite an interesting and well developed film. Soylent Green is a mix of police drama and apocalyptic science fiction that takes place in New York City in the year 2022. And it is such a detailed and wonderfully visionary view of what our future could be like.

When it comes to “what-if” films like this - what if our food supply and other basic need were hard to come by in the future due to pollution and the like - the more detailed a universe is, the better. By universe I’m not talking literally, but along the lines of the rules by which this place and time operates. The appeal isn’t in using your imagination at what could be or how things happen. Imagination is great for other films, fantasy in particular, where imagination is key to believing what you see. But in this case, the imagination is already done before and therefore the bigger and more detailed that imagination, the better you can grasp what was created. What do I mean by this? Well for example, it’s the little things like the guards in each building, the universal knowledge of how valuable certain items (strawberries) are, specific gear and protocol for the riot squad, and the book exchange in the library. All of these examples and more just show how much thought went into making this future Earth seem like it could actually exist, much like period films (à la Secretariat) go through such lengths to accurately portray historical fact of what was years prior. The difference here is the filmmakers must use their imagination and the result is magnificent.

I mentioned how knowing the end did spoil my viewing of the film, but it didn’t spoil it in a way you might expect. It’s not like finding out who Luke’s father is in Star Wars where that ruins just a single moment in the film. In Soylent Green, knowing what the secret is affected the entire film. I became hyper-aware to every mention or display of the Soylent Green product because I knew it plays a big role in the end. Had I not know its significance, there would have been many things throughout the film I would have payed little attention to and passed it off as some minor detail. A comparison would be to knowing what Rosebud is in Citizen Kane. By knowing who/what Rosebud is, your attention to the smallest of references is heightened and you expect something major to happen, because in the end, something does. Now keep this bias in mind as I mention my criticism of the film. Many parts of the film seemed to be too long and drawn out. Scenes involving Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) come to mind as the most obvious. They don’t drive the story forward that much and are really an attempt to force an unnecessary love story between her and Thorn (Charlton Heston). Single scenes like the riot, the dinner, and Sol’s (Edward G. Robinson) ceremony, while pertinent to the story still drag on. Again, this could be due to a desire to see a bigger focus on Soylent Green because of my foreknowledge, but I do feel as if this still applies.

Soylent Green was more entertaining than I thought it would be. Knowing the end spoiled the film in some ways, but in another it might have made it better. I could see how everything fit together on the first viewing. So while I may not have had a shocking realization at the end that would have forced me to go back and watch it a second time, I still had a similar feeling of excitement and intrigue. Parts of the film do seem to pass by slowly, but overall the detail and the gripping story will pull you in to find out what actually is going on.

RATING: 4 out of 5