Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)

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Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)

Post  BoG on Sat Mar 27, 2010 1:24 pm

"You will regard me with awe - I am Colossus."

This is a film which is even better than I remembered and I've always thought it was quite good. It almost seems like I've grown into the mindset of fully appreciating the concepts & presentation as I became older. I have the Laserdisc release, acquired over a dozen years ago; it's a double feature set, the other film being Silent Running (1972). The laserdisc jacket interior has some interesting facts on the Colossus film: it's based on DF Jones' futuristic novel 'Colossus'-1966 and planned initially as a 3-hour TV movie, then steered towards the big screen.
The Laserdisc version is in widescreen and a pretty good picture; it may well be the best available currently, as I hear that a recent cheap DVD release is full screen and not very good. Eric Braeden does very well as Dr. Forbin, the charismatic, confident computer scientist who finds himself under siege by his own creation, a mechanized Frankenstein's Monster seeking world control. The actor, as Hans Gudegast, flew in for a screen test while working on another film. His agent told him he won the role, but only if he changed his name. His gut reaction was to refuse but he thought about it and accepted the condition (mirroring some plot points in the film), painful as it was.

Susan Clark's character begins as one of Forbin's assistants and evolves into his fake mistress, then his real lover. All these scenes strayed from the intense tone of the overall film a bit. They were kind of goofy, with Colossus placed in the position of a mechanical peeping tom (Demon Seed-1977 carried on that theme). I also liked Gordon Pinsent as the JFK-like President. He brought some genuine intelligence to the role, not the usual political caricature in movies. I forgot that old stand-by William Schallert was in this one, as a CIA chief, a rather big role. Also, Marion Ross, the mom in Happy Days, as another of Forbin's assistants and George Stanford Brown (The Rookies).
The film was shot as "Colossus" but the studio feared it would get mixed up as one of those Steve Reeves mythical action pics and released it as "The Forbin Project." The later title change to Colossus:The Forbin Project was an attempt to boost the box office.
Colossus itself was mostly played by a $4.8 million electronics system donated by Control Data Corporation(CDC). Colossus is the real star of the film. Even before it begins to speak with its newly manufactured artificial voice, it takes charge of the movie. Later, when it does speak in that robotic voice and detonates those two nuclear payloads near the end, a ruthless reprisal against humanity's attempts to de-power it, it's a chilling depiction of absolute dictatorship, rarely so clearly interpreted on film. I now believe this to be the best of that small group of sci-fi pictures, the sub-genre of machines ruling over humans. Skynet of The Terminator films merely copied the premise here; I know Jim Cameron is a fan. When he was filming Titanic, in which Braeden had a small role, Cameron repeated Braeden's last word in this film to him at one point, smiling knowingly. He knew a good, memorable ending when he heard it.
A reviewer on IMDb wrote that this is "A thought provoking film that stubbornly refuses to be dated." It's true. This snagged the idea of that omnipotent godlike machine, created by the inferior human, and went with it all the way. It's still the best in that regard and could happen. In fact, at one point, before Colossus announces itself to the world-at-large, it's even suggested that such rule-by-machine may continue without the knowledge of the general populace. How do we know, in our real world, that it hasn't happened already?  When Forbin says "Never" in the end, it's a defiance of logic - the logic which says mankind can live without fear of nuclear war. But, at that same moment, it speaks to the quixotic spirit of mankind, that of free will & choice. With that choice taken away from us, even such absolute safety becomes meaningless. We may as well be drifting atoms in such a scenario, free floating and empty of thought. BoG's Score: 8 out of 10

I'm again struck by how superior many films from around 40 years ago are in comparison to the product released in the past decade. The films of the long ago past dealt with ideas, with provocative 'what if' scenarios and actual extrapolation to present the story. These days, it all has to do with computer visuals - ironic, no? Computers do indeed dominate, in a most mundane fashion. I recently heard about a remake of this film, directed by Ron Howard. If true, I don't hold out much hope. Howard's films are regarded better than most these days but they still tailor everything towards a mass appeal and consumerism. Such a remake will probably gear everything around some simplistic messages (The Day the Earth Stood Still, anyone?)
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