by Sherif M. Awad
Charlton Heston starred in three sci-fi films that predicted some of the biggest threats to humanity: overpopulation, environmental collapse, and pandemics. Learn how these films are still relevant and what they can teach us today.
Charlton Heston is best known for his epic roles in historical and biblical films, such as Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and El Cid. But he also had a remarkable career in science fiction, starring in three films that foresaw some of the major challenges and crises that humanity faces today: Soylent Green (1973), Planet of the Apes (1968), and The Omega Man (1971).
These films are not only entertaining and thrilling, but also visionary and prophetic. They depict a dystopian future where human civilization is on the verge of collapse due to overpopulation, environmental degradation, and biological warfare. They explore the ethical and moral dilemmas that arise from these scenarios and question the role and responsibility of humanity in shaping its own destiny.
In this article, we will analyze each film in detail and show how they reflect or anticipate the current state of the world. We will also discuss how Heston’s performance and character convey the message and emotion of each film. Finally, we will explain why these films are still important and relevant for today’s audience and what they can teach us about the future.
Soylent Green: The Perils of Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse
Soylent Green is set in 2022, in a world where the population has reached 40 million in New York City alone. The natural resources have been exhausted, the air is polluted, the water is scarce, and the food is synthetic. The only source of nourishment for the masses is Soylent Industries, a corporation that produces wafers made from plankton: Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and the latest product, Soylent Green.
Heston plays Robert Thorn, a detective who investigates the murder of William R. Simonson, a board member of Soylent Industries. He discovers that Simonson was killed by an assassin hired by his own company because he knew a shocking secret: Soylent Green is made from human corpses. The film ends with Thorn being wounded by another assassin and shouting “Soylent Green is people!” as he is taken away by an ambulance.
The film is based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, but it adds the twist of cannibalism to make it more dramatic and horrifying. The film exposes the consequences of overpopulation and environmental destruction on human society and dignity. It shows how people live in overcrowded apartments, sleep on staircases, fight for food rations, and suffer from diseases and violence. It also shows how the elite enjoy spacious mansions, clean water, natural food, and concubines (called “furniture”).
The film also depicts a voluntary euthanasia service called “Home”, where people can choose to end their lives peacefully while watching beautiful images of nature on a giant screen. This is where Thorn’s friend Sol Roth (played by Edward G. Robinson in his final film role) decides to go after he learns the truth about Soylent Green. He tells Thorn that he remembers how the world used to be before it was ruined by human greed and ignorance.
Soylent Green is a powerful warning about the dangers of overpopulation and environmental collapse. It shows how these problems can lead to social inequality, human exploitation, loss of freedom, and loss of humanity. It also shows how people can become desensitized to their own suffering and to the suffering of others. It urges us to take action before it is too late to save our planet and ourselves.
Planet of the Apes: The Consequences of Nuclear War and Human Hubris
Planet of the Apes is based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, but it changes some aspects of the story to make it more allegorical and ironic. It tells the story of George Taylor (Heston), an astronaut who crash-lands on a strange planet where intelligent apes rule over primitive humans. He is captured by the apes and treated as an animal until he reveals his ability to speak. He then becomes a curiosity for some ape scientists who want to study him and a threat for some ape leaders who want to kill him.
Taylor escapes with the help of two sympathetic apes: Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall). They take him to the Forbidden Zone, where they find evidence of a past human civilization that was destroyed by a nuclear war. Taylor then discovers that the planet he is on is actually Earth in the distant future, and that he has witnessed the aftermath of humanity’s self-destruction. The film ends with one of the most iconic and shocking images in cinema history: Taylor kneeling in front of the half-buried Statue of Liberty and cursing humanity for its folly.
The film is a brilliant satire and critique of human society and culture. It uses the role reversal of apes and humans to expose the flaws and contradictions of human nature, such as racism, sexism, violence, religion, politics, and science. It also challenges the human assumption of superiority and dominance over other species and the planet. It shows how human arrogance and hubris can lead to war and annihilation.
Planet of the Apes is a cautionary tale for humanity. It shows how we can lose our civilization and our humanity if we do not respect and protect our environment and our fellow creatures. It also shows how we can learn from our mistakes and from other perspectives. It encourages us to question our beliefs and values and to seek the truth.
The Omega Man: The Risks of Biological Warfare and Social Isolation
The Omega Man is based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, but it deviates from the original story in several ways. It follows Robert Neville (Heston), a scientist who is the last human survivor of a global plague that has turned most people into nocturnal mutants called “The Family”. The Family is led by Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), a former TV news anchor who blames Neville and his scientific colleagues for creating the plague as a weapon of mass destruction.
Neville lives in a fortified apartment in Los Angeles, where he spends his days hunting down and killing The Family members, and his nights watching movies and listening to music. He also tries to find a cure for the plague using his own blood, which is immune to the virus. He eventually meets Lisa (Rosalind Cash) and Dutch (Paul Koslo), two other survivors who are part of a group of young people who are infected but not yet fully transformed. They join forces with Neville to fight The Family and to find a way to save humanity.
The film is a dark and bleak portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world where human civilization has collapsed and where human life is threatened by disease and violence. It explores the themes of survival, loneliness, madness, and hope. It also examines the conflict between science and religion, as The Family views Neville as a symbol of the old world that they want to destroy, while Neville views them as a symbol of the new world that he wants to cure.
The film is a warning about the dangers of biological warfare and social isolation. It shows how these factors can endanger human existence and human sanity. It also shows how these factors can be overcome by human courage, compassion, and cooperation. It inspires us to fight for our lives and our future.
Charlton Heston’s sci-fi films are more than just entertainment. They are visionary and prophetic works that predicted some of the biggest threats to humanity: overpopulation, environmental collapse, nuclear war, biological warfare, and pandemics. They also explored the ethical and moral dilemmas that arise from these scenarios and questioned the role and responsibility of humanity in shaping its own destiny.
Heston’s performance and character in these films conveyed the message and emotion of each film. He played strong-willed, intelligent, and heroic protagonists who faced adversity with courage, determination, and hope. He also played flawed, complex, and tragic characters who suffered from loneliness, guilt, anger, and despair. He made us empathize with his characters and their situations.
These films are still important and relevant for today’s audience because they reflect or anticipate some of the current state of the world. They show us how we can learn from our past mistakes and from other perspectives. They also show us how we can take action before it is too late to save our planet and ourselves.