Saturday, November 21, 2015
The Future is Bleak
In the 70's, the "scare" du jour was the overpopulation of the Earth. Much like the "global warming" scare of today, many scientists jumped on the band wagon and shouted how the planet could not hold together if the current population trend was not curbed. This led to Hollywood, never one to shy away from controversy (at least not since the post-Code days), to jump in the fray with multiple entries to cash in on the fears of the public.
There were two of these dystopias that managed to garner big budgets and make a huge impact on science-fiction buffs for years to come, Logan's Run & Soylent Green. Both managed to express different views of the outcome of this overpopulation trend and make some profoundly memorable impact on the public as well.
Logan's Run (1976)
Logan's Run takes place in what is essentially a liberal's wet dream. Society is "benevolently" governed by an unseen force, and, apparently, no one ever has to work. Food, mostly fruit and nuts, but still food, is readily available, and all one has to do is wander around doing whatever one wants to do.
The only drawback is everyone must go through a ritual called "Carousel" at age 30. You see, at birth everyone has a crystal embedded in the palm of their hand which changes colors at various points in their lives. The crystal goes black on "Last Day" and all those people who have black crystals must go through the ritual, which essentially annihilates them, albeit with the promise of "renewal".
The liberal wet dream continues with the fact that there is no crime except for the crime of trying to avoid having to experience Carousel. These criminals are called "Runners", and a police force exists called "Sandmen" whose sole job is to terminate the Runners. Logan (Michael York) is one of these Sandmen. During one chase of a Runner Logan finds an unusual object, an ankh. This leads to his being questioned by the authorities. (Surprise! The "authorities" in charge is actually a computer! Another fear du jour, but one that really wouldn't come into full fruition until the '80s)
Logan is charged with discovering the secret "Sanctuary" to where Runners who have managed to elude the Sandmen have escaped. In order to convince the underworld that he is a legitimate Runner, Logan's life crystal is changed to black. He is then accompanied by a girl, Jessica (Jenny Agutter), on this trip. His best friend, fellow Sandman Francis (Richard Jordan), now becomes his nemesis. The "Run" of the title now becomes apparent. Logan must convince everyone that even though he is a sandman who has terminated many Runners, is now himself trying to run.
At one point, a robot (of unknown origin) attempts to hold them in his icy domain. It becomes apparent that none of the Runners who managed to escape made it any further, because the robot Box (Roscoe Lee Browne) has them all encased in ice. But Logan and Jessica manage to escape even this obstacle and get "outside".
There they find a lush and overgrown forest (the plants have taken over, without all those annoying humans around to deforest the planet). They also find the only person over the age of 30 that they have ever met, an eccentric old man (Peter Ustinov), who has apparently lived all this time with only a band of cats for company.
Logan's Run was box-office gold, and even inspired a short-lived TV series, thus becoming one of several TV shows that were offshoots of movies, and became part of my personal list of TV shows that I adored, but that never caught on... :-( (see Planet of the Apes, Timecop, et. al.)
The movie was based on a book by the same name written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. There are some significant differences between the book and the movie, most notably the age limit is 21 in the book, not 30 as in the movie. And there is no hope of renewal, everyone is sent to a Sleepshop and euthanized. Also the ending was altered, but I won't spoil that in case you want to read the book.
Soylent Green (1973)
A somewhat bleaker look at the future of over-population, where the government does nothing to curtail it (for reasons that are made clear at the end of this flick), Soylent Green takes place in the year 2022 (not that far away in the future now, kiddies). The movie begins with a montage of the history of the world (or New York, where this movie takes place). It was created by Charles Braverman, and shows the history of population growth, with the scenes changing in ever-increasing rapidity as the opening progresses.
The main film begins, as stated earlier, in the year 2022 in Manhattan. People are wall to wall, crowded in the streets in the daytime, and sleeping wherever possible at night. (Apartments if you are lucky and have a job to pay for it, or in the stairwells and hallways of those apartment complexes if you are unemployed, which a major portion of the populous is. This is the seamy side of the liberal wet dream of the previous movie. Everyone is dependent on the government still, but life is bleaker)
Charlton Heston plays Thorn, a police detective, who lives in an apartment with his friend Sol (played by Edward G. Robinson is his final role.) In the beginning a rich man (Joseph Cotten) is murdered by a man who claims he has been sent to do it by higher-ups because he, Cotten, knows too much. Thorn is sent to investigate the murder. He is met at the apartment by the rich man's mistress, Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) Apparently one of the few jobs left that women can do is to be a house whore, and they are called "furniture" and come with the apartment.
Policemen are less scrupulous in this future than one would expect. After questioning both Shirl and the rich man's bodyguard, Tab (Chuck Connors), Thorn leaves with several trinkets of comfort and some food, as well as some interesting books. He takes the books and food back to his apartment to share with Sol. Sol has a job as a "book" which means he does investigative work in research for the police, Thorn in particular. Thorn sets him on the task of deciphering what information he can glean from the books he brings back.
Meanwhile, Thorn continues his investigation, but as he gets closer to the truth, pressure from those higher-ups force his boss to close the case. But Thorn refuses to give it up. He talks with a priest who was the last person to talk with the rich man to find out what the rich man told him. But the priest can only express shock from what he has heard.
As Thorn gets closer to the truth, several attempts are made on his life, including one by the bodyguard, Tab, trying to put Thorn out of commission before he can discover the truth. Of course, none of these, can be successful or we would not have the denouement at the end. To help him along to that end, Roth discovers the grisly truth and decides to take advantage of a government sponsored suicide program rather than live with the truth. Thorn arrives too late to stop Roth from going through with it, but does arrive in time to hear the truth that Roth discovered.
But Thorn needs proof and so he must make his way to the Soylent factory and see the facts for himself. Surely no one reading this blog could possibly have made it this far in life without having heard the final denouement quote, but if there be that some one, stop reading now...
Thorn is critically wounded, it is not clear whether he will live or die, but he manages to tell his boss
Soylent Green was based on a novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. There is quite a bit of difference in the book than in the movie. For one thing, the whole soylent production is a legitimate food product made from a combination of soybeans and lentils, thus the name "Soylent". The cannibalism theme does not appear at all in the book. Harrison was once quoted as saying he was about "50% pleased" with the production made from his book.
The cultural after-effects of the movie still resonate today. A recent political cartoon by someone who was apparently anti-Obamacare used the familiarity with the movie for its own purposes.
Both movies are well worth your time. Well, that's it from the back seat of the Plymouth Fury this time. Drive home with care, kiddies.