It was the end of the world as we knew it,
but Charlton Heston didn't mind…
by Daniel C. Smith
one of seventies Hollywood's classic action heroes-- forever endeared
himself to sci-fans forever with his riveting performance as Taylor in
the original Planet of
the Apes. Heston followed up this iconoclastic
role with appearances in two other classic SF films of the seventies, Omega Man and Soylent Green.
Both of these movies are well worth the viewing time, each of them
entertaining and gut-wrenching with fast-paced action and twisting
plots that will keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. In
each film Heston portrays the classic science fiction protagonist, the
anti-hero who refuses to surrender his integrity for the good of 'the
system' and fights to regain control of his own destiny (FYI-- many of the classic films
being reviewed in Retrograde
I re-discovered at the local library-- absolutely free of charge!)
Based on a novel by
Harry Harrison, Soylent
Green is the story of a hard-boiled detective in New York
City of 2022-- population: forty million. In a world that is
both overpopulated and polluted beyond redemption, society is at a
stand still. The vast majority of people are homeless and
unemployed-- with nothing to do but stand in line waiting for food and
water rations benevolently provided for them by a partnership between
the government and the private sector-- specifically the Soylent
Corporation, the epitome of corporate greed and corruption.
The Soylent Corporation is as steeped in mystery and Machiavellian
maneuvering as any government-- and possibly more powerful.
In this now nearly-prophetic vision of the future corporations are
backing their financial muscle with political power-- and their
international reach makes them loyal only unto themselves. It
is across this landscape of poverty and despair Heston's character,
Detective Thorn, chases a truth so horrific that its revelation could
change… well, you get the idea.
quest for this horrible truth he is buoyed, both emotionally and
morally, by Saul Roth, his aging research partner (played by the great
Edward G. Robinson in his last-- and his 101st-- film!) who is old
enough to remember the world the way it was before the environmental
destruction took its final toll-- memories for him so compelling they
serve to make his existence in the world of 2022 almost
unbearable. A very poignant performance by a true master of
the stage and screen, Robinson's appearance in this film alone make it
worth the price of admission.
is that small, still voice crying alone in the wilderness, a voice that
lived to see its words unheeded. From this perspective,
Robinson/Roth adds the voice of an entire generation that was waking up
in the seventies to the threat of a gluttonous, consumer-based society
to the movie's chorus of viewpoints.
Of course, like all
hard-boiled detectives, Thorn steps on a lot of toes (both figuratively
and literally) as he climbs over the human beings, both individual and
en masse, who stand in his way in his quest for the truth.
All the while he walks that tightrope between right and wrong, a
sympathetic yet flawed character who just may be humanities last hope;
whether or not the price he has to pay for his own ultimate sin is
worth it is something you will have to decide for yourself.
Sadly perhaps, Soylent Green
remains as relevant today as it was thirty-plus years ago.
It's portrayal of a world sinking under the weight of the human race,
often drowning in pollution and catastrophes of their own making,
presided over by a government seemingly more obedient to wishes of
industry than the people make a strong argument for science fiction as
the 'literature of prophecy'.
The movie Omega Man, based
upon the classic Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend (and of
course most recently redone with actor Will Smith under the original
title), stars Heston as Colonel Robert Neville, apparently the last
'normal' human being left alive after a biological war between the USSR
and China breaks out; Colonel Neville survived the germ-infested
holocaust by inoculating himself with an experimental vaccine, and now
he lives to battle against the zombie-like creatures of the night, the
remnant denizens of what's left of society, the ones who weren't killed
by the germs but changed.
Anthony Zerbe (from
the original hit TV series Mod
Squad!) stars as Matthias, the leader of this cult of
photophobic zombies that Neville clashes with nightly, and Rosalind
Cash as the leaser of a group of survivors who, for some reason, remain
unaffected by the virus. Omega
Man is another caustic yet classic tale of catastrophe and
of man's inhumanity to man. It is also a gripping and
between the two films I think is that Omega Man leaves room for a
little hope, where Soylent Green pushes the limits of fatalism in its
view of the future.
should be entertaining, but the best of them should also make one
Green and Omega
Man accomplish both feats and offer compelling
performances by some of the seventies best actors.
Check 'em out!
© 2011 Daniel C. Smith
Daniel C. Smith has published over a hundred stories, poems, articles and reviews in venues such as Bare Bone, Tales of the Talisman, The Leading Edge, Star*Line, and Space and Time.
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