Saturday, March 28, 2015

Olde Reviews: 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 (when my instinct is to re-write...from scratch). 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 don't know.  45 years after it premiered, I'm still excited about it. Despite modern audiences' dis-belief at the ancient monitors and general chauvinism for the tech of by-gone years, 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 (something that seems to be seeping into the consciousness again with the serious discussions of artificial intelligence. 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 a highly recommended example of the good science-fiction Hollywood was capable of before the Star Wars phenomenon commingled fantasy into the mix and turned this type of film and its subject matter into action movies like I, Robot (ironically, they're talking about Will Smith starring in a remake of Colossus—sure thing, as long as there's a motorcycle chase or two).  And maybe if he could punch Colossus in the face a couple times ("What, Colossus doesn't have a face?  The art department can fix that").
"If only I had a watch that was a computer..."
* 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.  Also, the other thing the films had in common: "bad" computers.  Very bad.
** Glad you could make it this far. 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. Sadly, the Harvard Exit closed for regular movie-showing in January of this year (although it will be opened again for showings as part of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival).  

Following SIFF, it will be turned into "office space and shops."  Because we need more of those.
****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 was 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 35 year run playing heart-throb Victor Newman on "The Young and the Restless." Director Joseph Sargent died in December of 2014, after a career of 49 years in television and film. Jim Bridges died in 1993, his biggest directed hit being Urban Cowboy.

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