Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Olde Review: Colossus: The Forbin Project

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series produced for broadcast back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a little charity. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

The theme for Friday's ASUW films in 130 Kane is "Science Fiction" and the films--"Colossus: The Forbin Project" and "2001: A Space Odyssey"--show two variations of a theme: of man controlled by a greater force; in "Colossus," man places himself in a stacked-deck situation, while in "2001," man is placed there from the beginning. But they both share a common thread; they both look on their futures as challenges.*

"Colossus, The Forbin Project" (Joseph Sargent, 1970) "Colossus" is a nicely put-together movie, well-written, well-directed and well-acted. In fact, it's so nicely put toegther it's a little hard to imagine that it was made by Universal Studios during their "throw-away movie" period.** And it's so nicely put together that Universal hardly promoted it and it didn't make much money (except for Seattle, where it had a long run at, of all places, "The Harvard Exit." ***

The script is by James Bridges, who now has turned into a fine writer-director with 1973's "The Paper Chase," and "Colossus," as written, sets up the situation quickly, almost immediately starting the plot going and never ceasing to keep one guessing as to what will happen next.

The director is Joseph Sargent--one of the few directors who have come from TV to retain some style, and his fast-cutting in such TV-movies as the 2-hour pilot for the old "Ironside" program, not to mention a wry sense of humor and feel for the bizarre make him, at least, an interesting director to watch.

The actors are Eric Braeden and Susan Clark. Ms. Clark is one of the most neglected character actresses around, usually playing the wife of a more central character, but she always played them competently, at least making herself noticed, and here she plays, with a certain amount of raised-eyebrow intrigue, the #2 scientist in charge of the Colossus Defense System. #1 is the Dr. Forbin of the title, and he is played by Eric Braeden, who, you may remember, as Hans Gudegast, played the Nazi commandant in "The Rat Patrol," and then went on to guest-star as a villain in what seems like every television show ever made since.**** But here he gives a splendid performance, and to watch Braeden, Sargent and Bridges together creating a scene as good as the very private talk that Dr. Forbin must have with his creation-turned-captor is an absolutely frightening delight. All around, it's a neat little movie. Nothing to get excited about, but still a neat little movie.

Oh, I'm excited about it. I think "Colossus" is a fine science-fiction film, as well as an excellent cautionary tale about willingly giving away too much personal power to authority. The story, about the development of a computer-controlled missile deterence system that develops its own agenda is a nuclear-age version of Absolute Power corrupting. And the film leaves you hanging with no easy answers...and thinking about the future, not only the one represented in the film, but ours, as well. It's highly recommended example of good science-fiction before the "Star Wars" phenomenon turned this kind of film and its subject matter into action movies like "I, Robot."

Tomorrow: "2001: a Space Odyssey" (again)

* In this pre-"Star Wars" era, science fiction films were usually relegated to adventure variations of classic stories--"Forbidden Planet" was a sci-fi version of "The Tempest," and "The Day the Earth Stood still" was a Christ allegory. For the reasons why, see the next asterisk.

** Glad you could make it. Science Fiction was a traditional under-performer for studio's, "2001" being the main exception, and as they were usually a bit more costly due to demands on special effects departments, they were never greeted enthusiastically at board meetings, before "Star Wars" made them potential (and sure-fire) blockbusters. They just didn't "pencil." And most of the movie-financiers didn't "get" science-fiction, at all. Kids went to see "Buck Rogers," and that wasn't enough of a demographic to make the money-men happy.

*** The Harvard Exit was a smallish theater that catered to foreign and small-release films. Actually, because of its small capacity, it's not that surprising that "Colossus" would be held-over (that was the term for a movie that played more than a week at a theater) for a number of weeks as long as there was audience demand to see it. The Harvard Exit is still there, still in its original location, although split in two now, with an upper and lower theater.

****Ms. Clark's most productive decades were the 70's and 80's where she graduated from playing "the wife/girlfriend" to starring roles in television-movies, the most famous of which was "Babe" the story of Babe Deitrickson Zaharias. It's where she met her future husband, Alex Karras of the Chicago Bears, and their story-book romance between disparate types was one of those genuinely sweet romances that is a joy to behold. Mr. Braeden, if he never made it as a film super-star, did so in the world of soap-operas, where he's had an amazing 30 year run playing heart-throb Victor Newman on "The Young and the Restless." Director Joseph Sargent is still going strong, by the way, as actor and director. Jim Bridges died in 1993, his biggest directed hit being "Urban Cowboy."

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