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I rented this from Netflix chiefly because it starred Oliver Reed, for whom I retain an abiding fondness, and because it was a dystopian future story. Unfortunately its an English sci-fi movie, and worse, from the early 70s, when dystopian future stories were all the rage (like now, sorta), but also when the Brits were even cheaper with their special effects than they are currently. Reed plays Russ, an ordinary enough man whose wife Carol (Geraldine Chaplin) is profoundly unhappy. In whatever year this is set, the world suffers from over-population (as it does already) and intense pollution (ditto), so that everyone venturing into the smoggy outdoors has to don a breathing mask (though its never explained why they all wear blue velour bodysuits when they venture out). To curb the population growth, the world council has decided that no one can have kids for thirty years, an unenforceable decree if ever there were one. People are offered creepy talking doll substitutes, which due to the technology arent all that realistic, but I liked the hook that couples, especially women, its inferred, would transfer their parental/maternal instincts to a semi-inanimate object. Carol cant abide the fake child, however, and she and Russ make a real one. She mostly hides underground when shes pregnant but oddly enough returns to her home once shes had the child, and their best friends (and, its implied, swinging love partners) find out about the kid, and the wife (Diane Cilento) goes crazy because now she wants one of her own. Having a child is the highest crime in this society, and now that the babys out of the bag, Russ and Carol are in a lot of trouble. The film drags; its kind of dull, and were never told what it was that killed off all the animals (we see domestic animals stuffed in a zoo, with an almost frightening close up of the most ghoulish cat ever taxidermed), what made it smoggy, why theres so little food, or why everyone dresses the same. The effects, as before, are pretty bad, to be expected from Brit budgetless sci-fi. Little is explained at all, and then once the baby comes we focus on the tension he creates, raising the pulse of the film a little, but only just. Reed is so restrained hes almost asleep; the whole point of this guy was that he was vibrantly, drunkenly alive, and forcing him to switch all that off dilutes his usual screen presence. Chaplin is ok, spending most of the movie depressed. I got a kick out of the film presaging internet shopping by a quarter century (they did it through their TV, but the effect is exactly the same), though as usual for this time period, computers are huge and shockingly well lit. I think what impressed me most about the film was that the much (and incorrectly) lauded Children of Men stole its core concept from this thoroughly mediocre film. Still, Z.P.G. (for Zero Population Growth) is more enjoyable for all its flaws than its moronic descendant, though I wouldnt recommend this to anyone save diehard fans of Brit sci-fi. Even Reed fans like me will come away disappointed.

August 8, 2013

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