Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Soylent Green is made of ham!

Last night, Adrienne and I watched Soylent Green, which is a sci-fi movie classic. I had watched it, before, when I was ten or something, but remembered very little of it except the "Soylent Green is made of people" part. I'm certainly changed since then.

For those of you who don't know, Soylent Green, the movie, not the product, takes place in 2022, in a dystopian future where overpopulation has gotten entirely out of control with Manhattan, alone, having twenty million people. There are also unspecified soil and water pollution that make feeding this mass next to impossible, save with the use of the soylent products -- including the eponymous solyent green. Despite the constant food shortages, the people seem pretty well fed, including some fat people. I'm not talking the rich people, either, but the poor ones, too.

Well, the story takes the form of a sci-fi noir and might classify as proto-cyberpunk insofar as the protagonist -- played by Charlton Heston -- is a police officer fighting against a giant corporation. A rich man is murdered and when Heston's character, Thorn, tries to solve the case he's told to back down by the establishment but doesn't, man, 'cause that's the kind of guy he is! Eventually, he discovers that soylent green is made of people. It seems that the environmental degradation is getting worse, so they need a new food source to make up for what farms and the oceans are no longer providing, so they're processing the dead into a high-energy food source.

To me, this was a big, "So what?" It wasn't like they had murder squads going around killing people for the specific purpose of feeding other people. They were content to use people who died in ordinary ways. I mean, right now, every time we eat something, we're eating people who have been reprocessed by the earth into food. Make no doubt, some of the molecules in the food you eat are recycled people. That's the goddamn cycle of life! Sure, the movie uses it a little less naturally, but they've got a food crisis on their hands.

I mean, it gets out that soylent green is people, this is what the company is going to do. They're going to say, "We have a choice. Environmental degradation is getting worse. The other products aren't able to keep up with food demand. So, you can either eat soylent green or do without. Those are the only options." I bet a couple meals later, people will go, "Eating people. I can handle that." Starving people will become cannibals, though the kind of cannibals they are is pretty abstract, making it much easier. Add in some billboards about how they're sorry about the deception, and the whole matter would be swept under the carpet in a few weeks. The big reveal isn't that big a deal, if you ask me.

In truth, the movie isn't very good. It's unfocused, with lots of dead end sub-plots, many of them inherently idiotic. For instance, the murdered man is supposed to be partnered with the governor of New York, and the governor gives a vague nod to goons to "do what needs to be done" to protect the secret of soylent green. We never return to the governor or his association with the murdered man. And there's this incredibly long scene where one of the characters, an old comically Jewish man, goes to a euthanasia center where he's executed to what appears to be an Imax theater experience showing clips of nature the way things used to be before the various environmental catastrophes. In includes a weepy Charlton Heston going on about how beautiful it all had been, damn it!

And the title of this little rantfest comes from Heston's acting "style", which is to show a lot of teeth and ham it up as much as humanly possible. Seriously. There are actual pigs out there going, "I'm less ham than that."

The movie is also deeply sexist. Every woman with dialog is "furniture", meaning prostitutes who come with a living space. I know it was meant to show how, in this dystopian future, people are low grade commodities, the massive population combined with massive unemployment turning humans into sexual commodities. But our "hero" treats the women like shit. He's mean to these literal sex slaves and wastes no time intimidating them into having sex with him. One, of course, falls in love with the hero because he's slightly less abusive than the concierge of the building she belongs to. But even that ends up being a dead-end sub-plot.

I know much of this came from the adaptation from the novel (which I haven't read) to the screenplay. I suspect the novel has these things tied up more completely. And I know the screenplay is trying to show the detail of the sci-fi world that is different than our own and trying to demonstrate that the protagonist is a man of his times, a corrupt cop made corrupt by an awful system. None of this matters. It is possible to write non-sexist scripts about sexist times and the job of a screenwriter and director is to make a good movie, which would have meant cutting out all the crap about euthanasia centers and "furniture" and every bit with the governor.

The movie also has that comical seventies style action. It's like punching didn't exist in the seventies, I swear. People will throw these wild haymakers and when they land, the people will throw themselves to the side, their arms flinging up . . . we all make fun of Kirk's action scenes, but Kirk's action scenes were sublime compared to this stuff.

All in all, it wasn't a very good movie. It's a perfect representation of the horrible crap that sci-fi fans had to put up in the dark years between the end of the original series Star Trek and Star Wars.

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