Bob Cook of Flak Magazine has a humorous look at TCM’s recent triple play of 1970s paranoia movies: Rollerball, Soylent Green, and Silent Running.
Having just recently dusted off my laser disc, letterboxed copy of THX-1138, I’d say Cook’s commentary is dead-on. What a gloomy period the early ’70s was for Hollywood, especially its science fiction films. Cook says “These movies were made when the hippie dream was just about dead, large conglomerates like ITT were all the business rage, and the environment was a wreck,” but he leaves out the real reason why these films were made: after Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey every science fiction film that Hollywood cranked out had the same tone: heavy, ponderous, lugubrious, and dull. 2001 wasn’t dull, but then there was only one Stanley Kubrick.
So until Star Wars came along, with its swashbuckling, Republic Serial tone, we were stuck watching films like those in the Flak article, and their equally paranoid cousins: Colossus: The Forbin Project, Logan’s Run and the Planet of the Apes films.
Looking back at George Lucas’s THX-1138, with its impressive Kubrickian/Orwellian production design (made for about $1.98), it’s amazing how differently the world turned out since then: we don’t all look like, dress alike, work in the same jobs, and worship the same God. I’ll take a Tofflerian world over an Orwellian one any day. Fortunately, as one of the few directors to make a second science fiction film in the 1970s, Lucas was able to make a much more enjoyable sci-fi universe.
The Flak article ends on a note as scary as any of those films:
Even amid talk of remaking Westworld, The Omega Man, Logan’s Run and the like, it’s doubtful; as the Planet of the Apes and Rollerball remakes proved, today’s pessimism doesn’t come close to the misanthropy, dashed dreams and nuclear fears of the ’70s.
Or maybe it was the cocaine.