Theatrical release poster by John Solie
|Directed by||Richard Fleischer|
|Produced by||Walter Seltzer
|Screenplay by||Stanley R. Greenberg|
|Based on||Make Room! Make Room!
(novel) by Harry Harrison
Edward G. Robinson
|Music by||Fred Myrow|
|Cinematography||Richard H. Kline|
|Edited by||Samuel E. Beetley|
|Box office||$3,600,000 (rentals)|
Soylent Green is a 1973 American science fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, and, in his final film, Edward G. Robinson. The film combines the police procedural and science fiction genres, depicting the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and all year humidity due to the greenhouse effect. Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including "soylent green".
The film, which is loosely based upon the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film in 1973.
The 20th century's industrialization has left the world permanently overcrowded, polluted and stagnant by the turn of the 21st century. In 2022, with 40 million people in New York City alone, housing is dilapidated and overcrowded; homeless people fill the streets; about half are unemployed, the few "lucky" ones with jobs are only barely scraping by themselves, and food and working technology is scarce. Most of the population survives on rations produced by the Soylent Corporation, whose newest product is Soylent Green, a green wafer advertised to contain "high-energy plankton" from the world's oceans, more nutritious and palatable than its predecessors "Red" and "Yellow", but in short supply.
New York City Police Department detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) lives with his aged friend Solomon "Sol" Roth (Edward G. Robinson). Due to Roth's advanced age, he remembers life before its current miserable state, and he routinely waxes nostalgic for his youth when the air was clean and the weather was not perpetually summer. He was also well educated and has a small library of reference materials which he uses to help Det. Thorn solve crimes (consequently Roth is referred to as a police "book"). While investigating the murder of William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten), obviously a member of the wealthy elite, Thorn questions Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), a concubine (referred to as "furniture"), and Tab Fielding (Chuck Connors), Simonson's bodyguard, who, when the murder took place, was escorting Shirl to a store selling meat "under the counter" for Simonson. Thorn searches Simonson's apartment for clues and enjoys Simonson's luxurious lifestyle like air conditioning and hot running water, and he helps himself to Simonson's real bourbon, fresh vegetables, and a flank steak that Shirl had purchased earlier as a special surprise for Simonson.
Thorn later gives Roth the classified Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 to 2019 found in Simonson's apartment. Roth's research reveals that Simonson and the current state governor of New York, Joseph Santini (Whit Bissell), were partners in a well-known high-powered law firm, and that Simonson was also a member of the Board of Soylent.
At the police station, Thorn tells his lieutenant, Hatcher (Brock Peters), that he suspects an assassination: nothing was stolen from the apartment, its sophisticated alarm was not working for the first time in two years, and Simonson's bodyguard was conveniently absent. Continuing his investigation, Thorn visits Fielding's apartment and questions Fielding's concubine, Martha (Paula Kelly), helping himself to a teaspoon of strawberry jam, later identified by Roth as too great a luxury for the concubine of a bodyguard to afford.
Under questioning, Shirl reveals that Simonson became troubled in the days before his death. Thorn questions a Catholic priest that Simonson had visited, but the priest at first fails to remember Simonson and is later unable to describe the confession. Fielding later murders the priest to silence him.
Meanwhile, Governor Santini orders the investigation closed, but Thorn disobeys and the Soylent Corporation dispatches Simonson's murderer to kill Thorn. He tracks Thorn to a ration distribution center where police officers are providing security. When the Soylent Green there is exhausted, the crowd riots. The assassin tries to kill Thorn in the confusion, but is crushed by a "scoop" crowd-dispersion vehicle. Thorn then threatens both Fielding and Martha to scare Fielding out of following him and returns to Shirl, telling her that all cities are like theirs and the more valuable, unharmed countryside is guarded to protect the wealthier classes' privileges of better food, water and shelter, leaving the majority of people trapped in the cities with no escape.
Roth takes Soylent's oceanographic reports to a like-minded group of researchers known as the Exchange, who agree that the oceans no longer produce the plankton from which Soylent Green is reputedly made, and infer that it must be made from human remains, as this is the only conceivable supply of protein that matches the known production. Unable to live with this discovery, Roth seeks assisted suicide at a government clinic called "Home".
Thorn rushes to stop him, but arrives too late, and is mesmerized by the euthanasia process's visual and musical montage – a display of forests, wild animals, rivers, and ocean life, now extinct. Under the influence of a lethal drug, Roth tells Thorn his discovery and begs him to expose the truth. To this end, Thorn stows himself aboard a garbage truck to the disposal center, where he sees human corpses converted into Soylent Green. Returning to make his report, he is ambushed by Fielding and others.
He phones his precinct for backup but the precinct is engaged on a priority call. Thorn asks to be connected with Shirl, and to be "cut in" when the precinct is free. Thorn tells Shirl to stay with her apartment's new owner, and Shirl tells Thorn she wants to live with him, but the line is "cut in" and Thorn is connected to Hatcher. Thorn retreats into a cathedral filled with homeless people. In the ensuing fight, he kills Fielding but is seriously injured. When the police arrive, Thorn urges Hatcher to spread the word that "Soylent Green is people!"
- Charlton Heston as Detective Frank Thorn
- Leigh Taylor-Young as Shirl
- Chuck Connors as Tab Fielding
- Joseph Cotten as William R. Simonson
- Brock Peters as Chief Hatcher
- Paula Kelly as Martha
- Edward G. Robinson as Sol Roth
- Stephen Young as Gilbert
- Mike Henry as Kulozik
- Lincoln Kilpatrick as the Priest
- Roy Jenson as Donovan
- Leonard Stone as Charles
- Whit Bissell as Gov. Santini
- Celia Lovsky as the Exchange Leader
- Dick Van Patten as Usher #1
The screenplay was based on Harry Harrison's novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), which is set in the year 1999 with the theme of overpopulation and overuse of resources leading to increasing poverty, food shortages, and social disorder. Harrison was contractually forbidden control over the screenplay and kept from knowing during negotiations that it was MGM buying the film rights. He discussed the adaptation in Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies (1984), noting, the "murder and chase sequences [and] the 'furniture' girls are not what the film is about — and are completely irrelevant", and answered his own question, "Am I pleased with the film? I would say fifty percent".
While the book refers to "soylent steaks", it makes no reference to "Soylent Green", the processed food rations depicted in the film. The book's title was not used for the movie on grounds that it might have confused audiences into thinking it a big-screen version of Make Room for Daddy.
This was the 101st and last movie in which Edward G. Robinson appeared; he died of cancer twelve days after the filming, on January 26, 1973. Robinson had previously worked with Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the make-up tests for Planet of the Apes (1968). In his book The Actor's Life: Journal 1956-1976, Heston wrote "He knew while we were shooting, though we did not, that he was terminally ill. He never missed an hour of work, nor was late to a call. He never was less than the consummate professional he had been all his life. I'm still haunted, though, by the knowledge that the very last scene he played in the picture, which he knew was the last day's acting he would ever do, was his death scene. I know why I was so overwhelmingly moved playing it with him."
The film's opening sequence, depicting America becoming more crowded with a series of archive photographs set to music, was created by filmmaker Charles Braverman. The "going home" score in Roth's death scene was conducted by Gerald Fried and consists of the main themes from Symphony No. 6 ("Pathétique") by Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral") by Beethoven, and the Peer Gynt Suite ("Morning Mood" and "Åse's Death") by Edvard Grieg.
The film was released April 19, 1973. TIME called it "intermittently interesting"; they note that "Heston forsak[es] his granite stoicism for once" and assert the film "will be most remembered for the last appearance of Edward G. Robinson.... In a rueful irony, his death scene, in which he is hygienically dispatched with the help of piped-in light classical music and movies of rich fields flashed before him on a towering screen, is the best in the film." New York Times critic A.H. Weiler wrote "Soylent Green projects essentially simple, muscular melodrama a good deal more effectively than it does the potential of man's seemingly witless destruction of the Earth's resources"; Weiler concludes "Richard Fleischer's direction stresses action, not nuances of meaning or characterization. Mr. Robinson is pitiably natural as the realistic, sensitive oldster facing the futility of living in dying surroundings. But Mr. Heston is simply a rough cop chasing standard bad guys. Their 21st-century New York occasionally is frightening but it is rarely convincingly real."
Awards and honors
- Winner Best Science Fiction Film of Year - Saturn Award, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (Richard Fleischer, Walter Seltzer, Russell Thacher)
- Winner Grand Prize - Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival (Richard Fleischer)
- Nominee Best Film of Year (Best Dramatic Presentation) - Hugo Awards (Richard Fleischer, Stanley Greenberg, Harry Harrison)
- Winner Best Film of Year (Best Dramatic Presentation) - Nebula Award, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (Stanley Greenberg, Harry Harrison)
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "Soylent Green is people!" - #77
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Science Fiction Film
Soylent Green was released on laserdisc by MGM/UA in 1992 (ISBN 0792813995, OCLC 31684584). In November 2007, Warner Home Video released the film on DVD concurrent with the DVD releases of two other science fiction films; Logan's Run (1976) and Outland (1981). A Blu-ray Disc release followed on March 29, 2011.
- List of American films of 1973
- Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films
- Alkaline hydrolysis (death custom)
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
- Jeff Stafford. "Soylent Green (1973)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2011-06-12.
- Danny Peary, ed. (1984). Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies. ISBN 0-385-19202-9.
- Harry Harrison (1984). "A Cannibalised Novel Becomes Soylent Green". Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies. Ireland On-Line. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
- Charlton Heston (1978). Hollis Alpert, ed. The Actor's Life: Journal 1956-1976. E.P. Dutton. p. 395. ISBN 0525050302.
- A.H. Weiler (April 20, 1973). "Soylent Green (1973)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-12.
- "Cinema: Quick Cuts". TIME. April 30, 1973. Retrieved 2011-06-12.
- "Soylent Green Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-06-12.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- "Soylent green / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.". Miami University Libraries. Retrieved 2011-06-12.
- "The Future Is Then". New York Sun. November 27, 2007. Retrieved 2011-06-12.
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- Soylent Green at Rotten Tomatoes