We all know by now that we’ve reached the future…the year Marty and Doc travel to in Back to the Future Part II. Sure Robert Zemeckis got a lot of things wrong about the future in that one, but I still love that his vision is a happy future. There are flying cars, no lawyers, the Cubs win the World Series…all good things! Too many cinematic visions of the future are bleak, like our film today. It’s a vision of a future where the earth’s resources have run out and zero population growth is the law of the land…1972’s Z.P.G.
In this future, a dense fog covers the planet and people must wear gas masks when they go outside. With the world’s resources running out, the world government has instituted a law banning any new births for a period of 30 years. Those who defy this law are tracked down and sealed in an execution dome where both parents and child are put to death. To satisfy the maternal needs of some, robot children have become a popular item. However, the heroes of our story, Carol (Geraldine Chaplin) and Russ (Oliver Reed), just can’t bring themselves to care for a droid. Carol wants a real baby.
One night, after the couple has made love, Carol decides not to use the instant abortion machine that every couple has. The couple then sets out to hide the pregnancy. They find a hidden room where Carol can stay and Russ concocts a story that she has left him. Once the baby is born, however, new problems arise. One day, their neighbors, George (Don Gordon) and Edna (Diane Cilento), find out about the baby. Rather than turning Carol and Russ in, they work out a deal to share the child since Edna is also longing to be a mother. Soon, the neighbors become a bit too attached to the child and try to keep him for themselves. Now Russ and Carol must find away to escape the city and avoid the deadly domes.
There are certainly some intriguing concepts in Z.P.G. Most interesting are the ways that the citizens try to keep some connection to the lives people once lived. Russ and Carol work in a museum as actors who perform scenes of life as it was in the early 70’s (when this movie was made). Pretty much all animals are extinct so the museum patrons gaze at stuffed dogs the way we look at dinosaur bones. The line to get in to the museum is a mile long, so it’s clear that these people are desperate to return to a more pleasant time. Also very effective is the portrayal of the smoggy outside world. We really never see any of the actual features of this futuristic world, aside from the tops of a few buildings emerging from the clouds. Everything is covered in fog which gives these scenes a nice creepy claustrophobic feel.
Though I found the film interesting, it moves very slowly and is, dramatically speaking, a bit flat. I’ve never really been that impressed with Geraldine Chaplin as an actress. Even in Nashville, which is filled with great characters, she just doesn’t stand out. I can’t say that she really grabbed my attention in this film, either. Of course, you’ve got to figure that pretty much all the actors were instructed to act a bit like zombies. I mean consider the fact that here we have Oliver Reed turning in what may be one of his most bland performances. Most of the time, Reed is either crazy, drunk, or both. Here he almost sleepwalks his way through the film. Only a scene where he is interrogated after doing some research on infants gives us something close to the Reed we’re used to. I actually think that this film would’ve benefited from a little bit of Reed’s signature insanity. It may have upped the tension and made the story a bit more engaging.
Somewhere in all that fog, there is an interesting story to tell. But with a lack of dramatic tension, Z.P.G. comes up a bit short of being a truly entertaining piece of 70’s sci-fi.