ZPG Review

There’s nothing so dated as yesterday’s future…

ZPG stands for Zero Population Growth, a policy adopted by a future government depicted in this depressing and painfully slow moving 1971 film. At some point in the future (which by now may well be the past), over-population and lack of food has led to a decision that childbirth should be banned for a period of thirty years. Couples eager to rear children are offered a replacement “child” in the shape of a deeply disturbing robot doll which responds to commands and is able to interact with its “parents”. Needless to say, there is much discontent and couples attempting to defy the ban on joining the pudding club are subject to public execution in a big dome where they are suffocated over the course of a few hours.

If this idea sounds familiar, that’s probably because we’ve seen it so many times since. Soylent Green and Logan’s Run have vaguely similar plotlines, although both films are a lot more entertaining than this one. Part of the problem with ZPG is that the narrative hangs on tenuous threads. We don’t know when it is meant to be taking place or even where. The setting is a drab, grey city encased by permanent smog; the latter detail particularly useful as a money-saving device, meaning that we never have to see the exteriors in too much detail. We have a vague idea of how the overcrowding has happened – there’s a suggestive picture of the Pope, which seems a direct steal from Harry Harrison – but not how famine has overwhelmed us or why people are forced to live in this one city. Is it the only city left and, if so, what happened to all the others? Ellipsis is all well and good but this seems like less of a logical historical development – as the future world of Blade Runner does for example – than a hysterical response to some modish concerns. The overcrowding thing was done much better in Soylent Green anyway, partly because time and place are so carefully specified. An interesting question arises from all this. Why do virtually all futuristic SF movies from the 1970s posit that we will drift into a dystopian future with a totalitarian government? Presumably it’s a response to the prevailing cynicism which was abroad at the time but the overwhelming negativity of the films is striking.

Within this setting is a plot involving a childless couple, played by Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin, who end up having a baby after Chaplin has been hidden in a fall-out shelter for months on end. This is predictable stuff – not to say insultingly daft when Chaplin starts carrying the baby around in public – and ends with one of the most idiotic conclusions in genre history. The actors look bored out of their minds although Chaplin does quite well with her traditional on-the-verge-of-weeping performance. Oliver Reed seems to be trying to nullify himself as if pretending that he isn’t in the film – like many actors who specialise in outrageousness, he runs out of variations when asked to tone it down.

There are some good moments, mostly in the incidental details. The animatronic dolls are brilliantly conceived and executed, being genuinely creepy forebears of Chucky. Their use is quite clever, especially in a scene with Diane Cilento where she is persuaded by a psychiatrist that the doll really is her child and is crying out for her. I also rather liked the museum of the past where everything, presumably for budgetary reasons, seems to date from 1971. There’s also some unintentional humour to be had from the appalling costumes and hairstyles, both of which clearly date from the era of H’ai Karate and prove the old adage that there’s nothing more dated than yesterday’s future. But on the whole, Michael Campus’ plodding direction and an obvious script from Frank De Felitta and Max Erich manage to sink whatever dubious potential was present in the first place.

The Disc

Recently, Legend Films have licensed a number of films from Paramount and ZPG is part of the first wave – the second is due in July. Like many of their recent releases, the DVD is not region coded.

The film is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. It’s not a bad transfer, particularly compared to the interlaced monstrosity of Villa Rides from the same batch of releases, but is seriously marred by the condition of the print it has been sourced from. There are myriad examples of print damage throughout with scratching and popping commonplace. Otherwise, the colours come across well enough – it’s a film shot in a muted palate – and there is a reasonable level of detail. The mono soundtrack is entirely acceptable throughout without being particularly distinguished.

There are no extras or subtitles on this release.

Mike Sutton

Updated: Jun 25, 2008

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