It's the year 2022. People are still the same. They'll do anything to get what they need. And they need Soylent Green.
Year of Release: 1973
Genre: Science Fiction
Running Time: 97 minutes (1:37)
Director: Richard Fleischer
Charlton Heston ... Detective Thorn
Leigh Taylor-Young ... Shirl
Edward G. Robinson ... Sol Roth
Chuck Connors ... Tab Fielding
Joseph Cotten ... William R. Simonson
Brock Peters ... Chief Hatcher
The year is 2022. New York City teems with 40 million citizens. Half are out of work and strawberry jam costs $150 a jar. Voluntary death is encouraged by government sponsored clinics. The environmental erosion is so complete that people must rely on a water-like green foodstuff called Soylent.
Charlton Heston plays Thorn, a harried cop who is investigating the murder of a director of the Soylent Company. Edward G. Robinson plays his colleague, in this, his final screen role. He is an aged, wise researcher who remembers what the earth was like with trees, vegetables, and democracy.
As the threads of the killing unravel, they lead Heston through a series of chilling and bizarre encounters until he discovers the hideous truth about the secret ingredient of Soylent Green.
Soylent Green, remindin' us that there're some things you just don't put on the ingredient label no matter what the FDA says.
And speakin' of things that're difficult to swallow, I can't remember who said it, but whoever came up with that commentary about the greatest threat comin' from within was really onto somethin'. It mighta been the maitre d' at The Rural Mural in reference to the Gobbler Cobbler special now that I think about it; either him or John Hurt. That's not really important right now though, and... actually, lemme just start over 'cause I may needa reconsider my tone in light of last night's events.
The cops're callin' it "2nd Degree Criminal Trespassing," but as far's I'm concerned this's the most brazen case of domestic terrorism in Chickawalka County since Aesop Marlin dynamited Lake Gunkamucka back in '86 during the final moments of the annual crappie tournament. And no, I'm not talkin' about Zeke Ewert live-streamin' his unauthorized tour of the Capitol last year 'cause that's old news, and besides that Zeke already received the maximum sentence of 50 hours community service on that deal so it's prolly time we all cut 'im a little slack.
What I'm talkin' 'bout is an act so senseless, heinous, and anti-American that Alan Dershowitz wouldn't take the case. That said, this's America, so I don't wanna go convictin' somebody in the court of public opinion until all the facts've been laid out. I'll just set the stage, give ya the straight skinny, and let you folks decide for yourselves whether or not we oughta fire this chunkhead out of a cannon pointed at the sun.
Now, there's a minor disclaimer I gotta get outta the way here, so lemme just state, for the record, that some portions of this story have been compiled from the accounts of eyewitnesses present at The Gutter Bowl as the events unfolded. Each of these individuals has assured me that they'd consumed fewer than eight beers at the time, and I trust all of 'em implicitly except for Scooter Schatz who borrowed my Demon Attack cartridge in 1982 and swore up and down to Mrs. Grenz that it was his when I tried takin' it back at recess.
I woulda had all the details myself 'cept I hadda start the projector at the Grime Time for the FIVE cars in attendance whose occupants, I assume, were either gay men or new to the area and unaware of the local New Year's Eve custom of gatherin' at The Gutter Bowl to watch Fannie Ogglesby get crocked on Irish Car Bombs till she rips 'er blouse off and bounces 'er bonobos in perfect unison to the keyboard solo from Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough."
That's actually where all the trouble started from what I understand, 'cause by the time I got to the alley Fannie was sittin' on the floor of the arcade between the Yars' Revenge and Gauntlet cabinets with 'er head between 'er knees creatin' a water hazard while Otis Turlinger tried talkin' 'er outta there.
"This gonna take long, Otis? I gotta feelin' tonight's the night I claim the high score on Gauntlet and I gotta be back at the Grime Time by 9:30 to start the second feature," I asked supportively.
"If I got to keep the quarters from all the nights you've spent tryin' to beat Arvin's record I could retire in Sarasota and leave the distressed damsels in the hands of some other schmoe," Otis scoffed as he tried comfortin' Fannie.
"What's wrong with her? Somebody chop the head off 'er snowman again?" I inquired.
"He... he said I... (sobbing) can't..." Fannie whimpered.
"Can't what? Tie your shoes? Make change for a nickel? Remember to put on underwear? Out with it, girl," I prodded.
"Drink!" she clarified after blowin' 'er nose on Otis' sleeve. "He said I'd em... em... barrass him in front (cough) of his friends," she moaned.
"Skidman? That's a buncha crapola, Fannie. Mark ain't got no friends and you know it," I assured 'er.
"He... took muh-muh... my purse!" she wailed.
"Come on now, be fair Fannie. It goes much better with his outfit than yours anyway," I explained, pointin' towards the bar where Mark was havin' a well-accessorized conversation with the bartender.
"He really did take her purse, made quite a scene of it. I'da thrown him out on his ear, but--" Otis started.
"But he'da beat the tar outta ya if you'd tried," I surmised.
"Mostly that," Otis nodded.
Now, Fannie and I have had our differences in the past, but the idea of takin' away a person's booze and venue from which to humiliate themselves once properly tanked is behavior best suited to guys named Yuri who wear furry hats with earflaps and dance six inches off the floor, and that don't fly with me.
"Ya know, Fannie, there're a lotta nice guys out there who'd be happy to buy you a drink," I suggested.
"You're just... (sniffling) trying to be nice," she sobbed.
"You ever known me to be nice? Seriously, once you go wring the mascara outta your socks and buff out the dent Yars' Revenge left in your hair they'll be trippin' over each other to help ya out. C'mere, I'll show ya," I offered, extending a hand. She eventually took it and I walked 'er outta the arcade and into the alley proper.
"'Scuze me! This lady's a little depressed - anybody wanna cheer 'er up?" I hollered.
Thankfully Otis pulled me outta the way before the stampede overtook me or there'da been P.O.'d housewives all over town vacuumin' chunks of me outta the carpet for weeks.
Fannie made lotsa new friends, but about the time the bar filled beyond capacity and violated the fire code, I noticed Mark headin' my way and decided to go watch the Women's League Semi-Finals between The Pinultimates and The Bowldozers with Billy Hilliard and Cleave Furguson before things turned redneck.
Tell ya the truth, between the tight game and tight frame of Chastity Dollarhide (captain of the Bowldozers) I pretty well forgot about Mark until Otis came over and tugged on my sleeve.
"He's up to something," Otis muttered quietly.
"It's fine. The karma will be swift and hysterical," I replied, assumin' Otis was referring to Rusty Dockweiler tryin' to look casual with his pants down around his knees and Peggy Pogue's bowlin' bag positioned suspiciously on his lap.
"Not that - Skidman. He just ducked into the storage room," Otis explained.
"Otis, I was not put on this Earth to bounce shitkickers," I asserted.
"Just thought you might wanna know since the breaker box is back there," Otis shrugged.
"Wuh 'vah mah'ow..." Billy started sayin' till we had simultaneous epiphanies.
"The arcade scores!" I squealed.
"I'LL KILL 'IM!" Billy roared.
The three of us got there just as Mark removed the lock with a set of bolt cutters, but he had the door open before we could get our hands on 'im.
"You're trespassing," Otis managed.
"You gonna do something about it?" Mark challenged.
"Don't see how we could get there before you flipped the main breaker," I conceded as Billy picked a pin off a shelf and squeezed it till it splintered into dust.
"But my associate, Mr. Hilliard, would strongly urge you to reconsider," I told 'im.
Mark didn't seem to care what happened to him as long as he was able to kill the power before Fannie got sauced enough to commit a double dribble without the aid of a basketball, or if he did he never flinched, but about that time a shriek filled the alley and echoed throughout the buildin' as Rusty received his inevitable comeuppance, and the noise distracted Mark just enough that he never saw the closet door swing open till the knob was planted firmly in his gondola region.
I don't mind tellin' ya - it was just a teensy bit awkward when Chuck Maxwell (the owner) stepped outta that broom closet with Velma Voss after Mark spread out on the floor like a bowl of upturned chili, and after about 30 seconds of just starin' at each other in complete silence I finally mustered, "We didn't see nothin' if you didn't see nothin."
"Deal," Chuck agreed not wantin' any part of explainin' his relationship with Velma to his wife.
Mark Skidman was arraigned in Inferior Court, County of Chickawalka under charges of 2nd Degree Trespassing and Criminal Mischief.
Fannie Ogglesby was given a warning and a stern private lecture by Sheriff Wilford "Hardassian" Arbuckle after inadvertently knocking Marv Chintzley unconscious with a 48-DD uppercut to the chin. Mr. Chintzley later went on record as stating, "Totally worth it."
Your narrator was docked 20 minutes pay for failing to return to the Grime Time in time to start the second feature on schedule. Fortunately, the first feature was Eyes Behind the Stars which caused everyone to pass out before the one-hour mark, and thus, said tardiness went unnoticed.
I made it back to The Gutter Bowl after the second feature in time to see Fannie come out of 'er shell but after that I decided to pack it in early to witness the future unfold in real-time as the clock struck midnight. It was a little disappointin' to come home and find the house devoid of foxy, live-in prostitutes who know how to properly tenderize an elk roast, but at the same time it was nice not havin' a living obstacle course sprawled out on the front lawn, so I guess the future as dictated by Soylent Green has turned out to be a mixed bag. I'm plannin' to head into town tomorrow to see what all came true and what didn't, but these're three of the things I'm most interested in investigatin' due to the impacts each one's likely to have on my personal life. First, in the future, furniture will dry clean itself after use. Second, public transportation will be free for anyone willing to forgo creature comforts. And third, we may long for the days when theater seating only cost you an arm and a leg.
The movie begins in... um, now, with Chuck Heston sittin' around his highrise toilet tryna convince Edward G. Robinson to go downtown for a makeover before somebody confuses 'im for Ayatollah Khomeini and whales the tar out of 'im, but Ed just ignores 'im and offers up his daily briefing on the suspected whereabouts of all the undesirables Chuck needs to arrest so Telly Savalas doesn't take his job. Then Chuck hasta go to work and we find out the world's turned into the dystopian future prophecized in every political attack ad since 1968 as he carefully negotiates the 72 homeless people occupyin' the stairwell of his apartment buildin'. Meanwhile, Chuck Connors is livin' it up at the Hotel Can'taffordya workin' as a bodyguard for a junk food tycoon (Simonson) and his hired bombshell (Shirl), only while Connors and Shirl're down at the farmer's market negotiating the purchase of $300 Caesar salad fixins through a culinary fence, this condo-minion hitman sneaks into Chump Tower and pounds Simonson's skull into magnate mush with a crowbar. Next thing we got a meetin' of the Chucks when Heston shows up at the house that snack built to investigate the murder, 'cept all he really does is take a written statement from Connors, loot the place like a $16 a day room at the Best Western, and get more'n more resentful of the income gap when he notices the place has an honest-to-God toilet instead of a sash window. Once Heston logs all the edible evidence he can find into a pillowcase he calls in some ninjas wearin' kung fu hazmat suits to collect the body and catches a ride home in the back of their corpse compactor, and when he presents Ed with the round steak he ripped off Ed's so overwhelmed that he starts blubberin' like an unauthorized White House tourist on sentencin' day.
Then the two of 'em dine like kings on food that's indistinguishable from the stuff that gets swept off the floor of the vegetable aisle durin' the evenin' shift at Safeway, and Ed tells Heston that through the miracle of hobo networking he's learned that the deceased was a big wheel at the Soylent company until Chuck starts grinnin' like a jackal on a zebra carcass when he realizes he's onto somethin' big and that there's a pretty good chance he's gonna get to use his gun. But first Heston hasta go see Shirl at the high-class happy hooker hookah house to pump 'er for information and some other stuff I'd rather not go into, only before he can make 'er sing like a canary Violet's dad from Willy Wonka comes in and starts punchin' prostitutes and slappin' slatterns even though that usually costs extra. Chuck is P.O.'d, but he plays it cool and just strokes his gun a little until the runt slithers away to look for a suitable location from which to hate his mother and play Liberace albums on loop. Then Chuck and Shirl play touchie-feelie in the shower and smoosh obscene shapes into the condensation on the frosted slidin' glass doors with their private parts until he hasta get back on the clock and go untether a little girl from the body of 'er dead mother and dump 'er off at a church and try talkin' to the priest about Simonson's last confession even though doin' so could get the guy into deep Deuteronomy with His Godness. The guy looks like he hasn't slept in about nine years so Chuck decides to come back after the Soylent communion wafer shipment arrives and the spiritual tension deescalates a little, only when he shows up for work the chief wants 'im to close the Simonson case and conclude that the guy just fell on a meat hook 17 times 'cause the golden paratroopers in the Nabisco suite're gettin' twitchy. Chuck may rip off evidence from a crime scene and he may beat up the girlfriends of persons of interest but he won't do anything that violates his personal code of conduct, so he tells the chief to go stuff it.
Unfortunately, the governor's not gonna wait around for Heston to crack the case, so he calls up Connors and tells 'im to haul his chin over to the tabernacle and give the priest the last rites even though he's the only church official on duty and the confessional line stretches all the way to the Nova Scotia. Then the chief sends Heston out on riot duty 'cause it's Soylent Green ration day and things get a little outta hand when the cops hafta explain to the rabble that somebody got high on Arkansas Polio Weed and the resulting munchie rampage resulted in total bogartation of their Soylent stash. Six seconds later the place looks like 10 cent beer night at Cleveland Stadium, and after a while things get so bad that the cops hafta call in the Caterpillar party pooper scoopers to clear the streets, 'cept while that's goin' on some punk from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy kills three or four people tryna take out Heston until the guy ends up gettin' hydraulicized under an excavator bucket. Heston doesn't much care for bein' on that end of the crosshairs, so he goes to Connors' place and uses his face to install chin divots in every inch of the kitchen until he's sure Conners'll be receptive to advice, at which point he explains that if one more mangy prole points a gun at 'im he's comin' back to open up a meat market with pierced Chuck as the special. Elsewhere, Ed finally finishes browsin' the two tomes of Capitalist manifesto Heston brought home from the murder scene and presents his findins to the learned counsel of cranky librarians, but while they'd like to help 'im out, their jurisdiction only extends to nogoodniks with outrageous late fees.
Ed's had it. A man doesn't read two 65lb volumes of corporate jargon printed in 8-point font and uncover the most heinous secret in the history of the snack industry to be brushed off by a committee of fossilized judiciaries. So Ed decides to pack it in and walks over a shuttered Greyhound terminal where Dick Van Patton and a coupla weirdos in cultist robes give 'im a glass of wine spiked with Pine-Sol and leave 'im alone in a single-seat IMAX theater and screen a compilation of stock nature footage from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom accompanied by classical overtures to watch while he runs out the clock. By the time Heston finds the Dear John letter Ed left at the house and books it over to Assisted Suicide Square Ed's already succumbed to the influence of Orchestral Wild America, but with his dyin' breath, he tells Chuck the big secret of the Soylent corporation and instructs 'im to get proof and to tell the people about the rather egregious FDA violation bein' concealed by the sleazeball venture capitalists and their shareholders. We're not quite on the Planet of the Apes twist level with this one, but it's right up there, so I'ma shut my face right now before I spoil the endin' for all the Zoomers and Mennonites out there who may not know the score.
Alrighty, can't hardly beat a Charlton Heston post-apocalypse flick to usher in the New Year - 'specially when the new year happens to be the same year in which the movie's set. Soylent Green was the last, and probably the weakest of Chuck's three dystopian outings, but even so that's like sayin' it was the ugliest Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. The reason Soylent Green comes up short against Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man, for me, is that it functions primarily as a mystery with the setting being almost incidental, and once you know the solution to the mystery it loses a bit of its rewatch value. You could argue that it's a better movie than The Omega Man, but because the latter relies more upon action sequences and albino mutants, it retains nearly all of its appeal after repeat viewings. Planet of the Apes actually has the best of both worlds, as it features an overarching mystery, action, and non-human antagonists, as well as an enormous budget by the standards of 1968. All three were based on excellent novels, but Soylent Green probably has the most ham-fisted social commentary of the bunch and features a few plot points that're beginning to come to pass, including the decline of plankton in the world's oceans and the rise in global temperatures due to the greenhouse effect.
That's one of the reasons these "Apocalypse Then" flicks and futuristic science fiction, in general, are so interesting to watch decades later, 'cause it's fun to look at old predictions of what the future would look like to see what the writers got right and what they got wrong. The near-universal constant seems to be that the future is bleak, and although that's not necessarily set in stone, nobody wants to see a picture about how perfectly everything has worked out for the human race because it'd be incredibly dull. It's been suggested that the reason people are drawn to this kinda movie is that it makes our own lives seem better by comparison, although if that's true, you've got to wonder if seeing horrific visions of the future might also make us more accepting of the gradual deterioration of our quality of life. The film becomes even more depressing when you learn that not only was Edward G. Robinson was dying of cancer during filming, but that his own death scene in the movie was the last thing he ever filmed. He passed away 10 days after photography had wrapped, and although he didn't make his condition public, Heston knew, and knowing that Heston knew gives us, as viewers, a brutally enlightened perspective as we watch Heston watch Robinson die in the suicide clinic mere days before he succumbed to the cancer he'd been battling. So yeah, happy new year.
Anyhow, let's all grab a box of Meat Thins, pour ourselves a refreshing glass of bathroom tap water, and honor the memory of the folks who helped make the dystopian future so gritty and bleak as to make the year 2021 seem quaint. The plot unfolds at a balanced pace that gives the audience suitable time to absorb the irreversible damage incurred by the Earth, while still moving at a steady clip as Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson work to uncover the insidious plot undertaken by the Soylent company. The story would actually work just as well without the backdrop of a crumbling society given that the world facing a dire crisis is hardly a prerequisite for a large corporation with questionable ethics to swoop in and take advantage of the situation for their own gain. That said, the dystopian vision of the future does add a unique flavor to what is, at its core, the story of two men fighting against all odds to expose a conspiracy. The thing that sets it apart from the average crime caper/mystery flick is the fact that, even if Heston and Robinson succeed in their quest, the world is still well and truly screwed - so the ending is bittersweet at best. Nonetheless, the running time allows for fleshing out of the film's characters, a brief recount of the societal missteps that led us to this point, as well as a few moments to simply soak in the hopelessness of humanity's plight, and because the author of the novel was on site for some of the filming offering backstory and advice to certain castmembers, everything comes together perfectly.
The acting is excellent despite the fact that Robinson was almost completely deaf by this time and unable to hear anything below a shout. Regardless, he was eventually able to get the timing of his costars' delivery down and gave the last of many great performances as the wise, haggard relic of a bygone era trying vainly to carry on in a world he no longer recognizes. Heston has great chemistry with both Robinson and Leigh Taylor-Young as the anti-hero cop struggling to hold onto what little he has in a society whose inhabitants have become largely disposable, and both Chuck Connors and Brock Peters do a nice job rounding out the supporting cast with minor, yet memorable characters. You won't find a weak link here, and it warrants mentioning what a fine job the costuming/makeup departments did in making so many people (particularly in the riot scenes) look filthy, sweaty, and hopelessly destitute, because those folks as a collective are critical to the atmosphere and world-building that goes into making the post-apocalyptic Earth feel simultaneously familiar and alien. Top-notch stuff here.
Here's who matters and why (I'm gonna include Edward G. Robinson and Joseph Cotten just because so many of their films are older and non-genre fare, but I think everyone's pretty familiar with Charlton Heston): Leigh Taylor-Young (Ritual, Hellraiser 5), Chuck Connors (Tourist Trap, High Desert Kill, Maniac Killer, Werewolf the series, The Horror at 37,000 Feet, Captain Nemo and the Underwater City), Joseph Cotten (The Survivor, Latitude Zero, Delusion, The Hearse, Guyana: Cult of the Damned, The Island of the Fishmen, A Whisper in the Dark, Baron Blood, The Screaming Woman, Lady Frankenstein, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, City Beneath the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, Touch of Evil), Brock Peters (Star Trek IV & VI, Alligator II), Paula Kelly (The Andromeda Strain), Stephen Young (The Clown Murders), Lincoln Kilpatrick (The Omega Man, Fortress 1992, Piranha 1995, Prison 1987), Roy Jenson (Solar Crisis, Demonoid, The Car, Nightmare Honeymoon, Atlantis: The Lost Continent, 13 Ghosts 1960), Whit Bissell (The Time Machine 1960 & 1978, Psychic Killer, Creature from the Black Lagoon, City Beneath the Sea, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Target Earth, Lost Continent), Dick Van Patten (Westworld, Groom Lake, Beware! The Blob, Violent Midnight), Morgan Farley (Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Killer Boris Karloff), John Barclay (The Brotherhood of Stan, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1941), Belle Mitchell (Slipping into Darkness, The Return of Dracula, Phantom of the Rue Morgue 1954, The Beast with Five Fingers, House of Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera 1943, The Leopard Man), Cyril Delevani (I Bury the Living, The Invisible Man's Revenge, Son of Dracula, Phantom of the Opera 1943, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Night Monster), Forrest Wood (The Omega Man), Tim Herbert (Duel), John Dennis (Young Frankenstein, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, End of the World, Psychic Killer, Blackenstein, Garden of the Dead, Visit to a Small Planet, Frankenstein 1970, Conquest of Space), Joyce Williams (The Keeper), Beverly Gill (Scream Blacula Scream), Cheri Howell (Sisters of Death), Al Beaudine (The Swarm, The Night Strangler), Molly Dodd (What's the Matter with Helen?), Jeannie Epper (Quarantine, Evilution, Warning Sign 1985), Stephanie Epper (Teen Wolf Too), Tony Epper (The Hitcher 1986, Suburban Commando, Alien from L.A. The Beastmaster, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Bern Hoffman (Willard 1971, Ben), Robert Ito (The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension, The Vineyard, Helter Skelter 1976, Rollerball 1975, The Terminal Man, Women of the Prehistoric Planet), Nora Marlowe (Westworld), Jeff Winkless (Spaced Invaders, Saturday the 14th Strikes Back, The Nest).
Mainstream credits, comin' up: Leigh Taylor-Young (Katherine Barrett Crane on Passions, Elaine Stevens on Sunset Beach, Rachel Welles on Payton Place), Chuck Connors (The Sarge in Airplane II, Jason McCord on Branded, Lucas McCain on The Rifleman, and Burn Sanderson in Old Yeller), Joseph Cotten (Leland in Citizen Kane, Holly Martins in The Third Man, Brian Cameron in Gaslight, Henry Stinson in Tora! Tora! Tora!, Drew in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Charlie Oakley in Shadow of a Doubt, Eugene Morgan in The Magnificent Ambersons), Brock Peters (Tim Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird), Edward G. Robinson (Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity, Johnny Rocco in Key Largo, Mr. Wilson in The Stranger, Lancey Howard in The Cincinnati Kid), Stephen Young (Captain Chester Hansen in Patton, Ben Caldwell on Judd for the Defense, Nick King on Seaway), Mike Henry (Sheriff Tom Hendricks in Rio Lobo, Junior in Smokey and the Bandit 1 - 3, Rasmeussen in The Longest Yard 1974), Lincoln Kilpatrick (Lt. Michael Hoyt on Matt Houston), Leonard Stone (Mr. Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), Dick Van Patten (Nels on Mama, Tom Bradford on Eight is Enough), Cyril Delevani (Nonno in Night of the Iguana), Robert Ito (Sam Fujiyama on Quincy M.E.), Nora Marlowe (Flossie Brimmer on The Waltons).
The special effects are minimal and consist entirely of that vibrant, paint-like blood we've all become accustomed to in '70s flicks. It's not a movie that rates highly on the Joe Bob Briggs Vomit-meter, but it does have several decent stunts, including the iconic sequence where the bulldozers are deployed to scoop and deposit the rebellious masses into holding containers in order to clear the streets. Not only are these dangerous stunts that proved unique enough to grace the movie poster, but they also represent symbolism so obvious it needn't be explained, and the result is a sequence that entertains while continuing to flesh out the essence of the world in which these unfortunate people live. Pure science fiction often lacks the gore we're used to seeing in hybrid titles like Alien, and for that reason, it doesn't feel as though anything's really missing here - though you could make the case that more blood and gore may have given the film an even bleaker atmosphere than it already had if one were inclined to shoot it that way.
The sets are spectacular and utterly appropriate, as Soylent Green was the final film ever shot on legendary MGM Studios backlot in Culver City, California, which had been in operation since the silent era. Outside the retro space-age production design of the upper-class, every inch of this world is filthy, run-down, and like the populace it struggles to sustain - on the brink of structural collapse. One could assume that after its many decades of use the sets themselves were likely beginning to deteriorate, so it's fitting that the last film to which it played host was one depicting the planet on its last leg, and it is these sets more than any other element of the film that bring home the message that humanity is not long for this world. From the decaying buildings, to the trash stretching as far as the eye can see, and the ominous matte painting cityscapes that line the night sky - the production design oozes with a sinister atmosphere that feels organic and plausible, rather than over-the-top nightmarish, and that's something most movies rarely strive for, let alone pull off.
The soundtrack makes no attempt to convey a futuristic tone in the way that the matte paintings do, and like the plot, the music is largely presented with the understanding that the dystopian time and setting are incidental to the story. It does get excitable when the action on screen warrants, but the composition as a whole is strangely casual and even light-hearted in a way that says, "Yeah, the planet's screwed, life sucks, but that's no reason to get upset." The composer, Fred Myrow, would later go on to create the best soundtrack in genre history when he did Phantasm, but the musical highlight of Soylent Green comes during the scene in which Edward G. Robinson submits himself for voluntary euthanasia, during which he is treated to archived nature documentaries and classical music by the likes of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Greig. This is the music everyone likely remembers from the soundtrack and it's a bit of a shame in the sense that Myrow's score is a good one, but there's just no competing with Robinson getting a taste of the good life one last time on his way out with musical accompaniment by some of the world's greatest classical composers.
Overall, Soylent Green is one of the best science fiction flicks ever made despite the fact that its science fiction elements only occasionally enter the forefront of the story. Planet of the Apes is unquestionably the best of Heston's post-apocalyptic outings, and although I prefer The Omega Man to Soylent Green, on a technical level, Soylent Green is the better of the two. Not a perfect glimpse into the future (because how could it be?), but very smart and very entertaining nonetheless. Still holding strong 49 years after its original release - check it out anytime it seems like life can't possibly get any worse.