What is the secret of Soylent Green?
Warner Brothers releases an MGM film, Soylent Green, based on a novel by Harry Harrison. It was directed by Richard Fleischer, and stars Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Chuck Conners, Joseph Cotten, Brock Peters, Paula Kelly, and Edward G. Robinson in his 101st and last film.
Soylent Green was shot in anamorphic Panavision, and like many films since 1970, was presented in theaters (and here) in 2.4:1, rather than the full-plate 2.35:1 (splices and all.) The film has a run time of about 97 minutes, and the sound is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 1.0 — true mono. The feature is divided into 30 chapters. Also included are French and Castillian Spanish monaural tracks. There are subtitles in French, Spanish (Español), and Castillian Spanish, with Subtitling SDH in both English and German.
[Linguistic Note for those who care: Please be aware that the following is based off of a brief bit of research unsupported by anything but the Internet. For those who don’t understand, it appears that in some quarters, “Castillian” can refer to the form of Spanish spoken in Spain, while Español can refer to the Spanish spoken in the Americas. To me, not fluent in either form, this seems a fairly subtle distinction. For more information on where I got this, refer to http://www.spainexpa...llian_spanish/ .)
On starting the disc in the player, there is a anti-piracy slate, a comment suggesting that for all features to work, players might need firmware updates, followed by the familiar Warner Brothers slate. This follows with the fast-loading and fast-performing menu.
The package is a standard ‘cutout’ Bluray case, with no inserts. The feature is rated PG by the MPAA. This feature was released in North America on March 29, 2011, and has an MSRP of $19.98.
The Feature — •••½
In 2022, the population has ‘boomed,’ and the global systems are collapsing. The population of New York City alone is 40 million people. Global warming has caused a perpetual summer, and farmland is now defended by walls with armed guards. In cities, unemployment is high, and everything that can be is used for housing. Better established housing facilities have armed guards, even if just a big burly dude with an assault rifle. Real food is rare, and water is tightly rationed. Most people eat the products of the global Soylent company, whose primary products include Soylent Red and Yellow, high energy blends of soybean product and other nutrients, and the new and highly desirable Soylent Green, made from (or with) ocean plankton.
Charlton Heston is Detective Thorn. And the police, while attempting to perform their duties, show their own blatant corruption, looting the corpses and crime scenes they investigate, while badgering witnesses, victims, and ‘furniture.’ Furniture. A ‘job’ such as played by Taylor-Young and Kelly, living in apartments as tenants move in or out. Resident mistresses.
Thorn is called to investigate the murder of a very rich and important man (Cotton.) He endures a love-hate relationship with his boss, Lieutenant / Chief Hatcher (Peters,) and both supports and is supported by his ‘book,’ Sol Roth (Robinson,) a retired professor who is Thorn’s research and knowledge ‘arm.’ And in pursuing this murder / assassination, Thorn and Roth start to dig into the question behind the murder: what is the secret of Soylent Green?
Life, death, love, hate, need and desire in an apocalyptic world. But according to Roth, while there may have once been a world, “people were always lousy.” And with this lack of resources; this extreme population density; it is magnified. Intensified.
It is not a pretty future.
On the other hand, this projection of something eleven years from Now, made nearly 40 years ago, is interesting from a historical legacy perspective. A rich man buys a computer game for his apartment, the 1971 Computer Space console. And rather than trying to create a ‘future look,’ the styles, clothing, and art of the early 1970’s are projected into the future; shag rugs, sideburns and all.
The Picture — ••••
To put it mildly, the picture is murky. But this is not the fault of the film’s transfer or the disc’s mastering. Instead, to help disguise the extensive use of matte paintings of the decaying cities, the film’s exteriors were frequently ‘fogged’ with greenish clouds of murk, combined with an often flat color tone, featuring a lot of tans, grays, and browns. Interiors have brighter colors and better contrast. The image is fairly grainy, reflecting the age of the film stocks and the number of process-generations for all of the matte paintings and effects, but is relatively free of dirt, scratches, and digital artifacts. It is not extremely sharp, but it is detailed.
The feature is encoded with the AVC codec, at a data-rate generally between around twenty megabits per second.
The Sound — ••½
The soundtrack delivery itself may be too good. The stellar reproductive qualities of the DTS HD Master Audio track do absolutely nothing to conceal the flaws fundamental to the original soundtrack. The futuristic noises created for things all come with extensive tape-hiss that pulses in and out with the ringing of a phone. Or the push of a button. The Extras
A trailer: 3.5 minutes, about 16x9, but ‘windowboxed’ into the 16x9 frame. Standard definition.
A Look at the World of Soylent Green: a ‘vintage’ featurette, a 10 minute, 4:3 program, in standard definition. A little bit of comparing how the vision Soylent Green compares to a few other futuristic films, as well as some ‘making of’ material.
MGM’s Tribute to Edward G. Robinson’s 101st Film: a nearly 5 minute ‘vintage featurette’ shot during a reception for Edward Robinson’s role in Soylent Green. Standard definition, 4:3. The better parts of this are also in A Look at the World of....
A commentary track by Richard Fleischer (director) and Leigh Taylor-Young (Shirl): in sampling the commentary between the director and the female lead, it is not an exciting commentary. Fleischer tends to comment more on some of the production aspects, while Taylor-Young addresses more social and cultural issues.
In The End — ••••
Soylent Green is one of those films that has become something of a fixture in society. Many who have never seen the film, nor read the book, know the last line of dialog from the film. They may not understand the reference, or even where it came from, but somehow, it seems to have entered into contemporary American (at least) culture. (Or, at least, the part I’m privy to.) And in a great shot of good timing, it somehow ended up being a shield-bearer for the growing environmental / greenhouse effect / conservation movement. While not a positively glowing prediction of the future, it is, perhaps, more realistic in its portrayal.
Warner’s treatment of this feature is more than decent; the disc performs well, is not overburdened with slow menus or long warnings that keep you from watching the program while the popcorn is still hot. More importantly, while this may not have been a ‘great restoration effort,’ with remanufactured soundtracks and fixing some of the matte errors, this is an honest treatment of a nearly forty year old film, with a reasonable suggested retail price.