Directed by: Michael Campus
Actors: Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin, Don Gordon
Also known as: É Proibido Procriar,Afxisi plithysmou miden,Akachan yo Eien ni,Anaptyxis plithysmou miden, Dead Kids, Edict, Edicto siglo XXI – Prohibido tener hijos, Geburten verboten, O Direito de Viver, Population zéro , The First of January, ZPG – Die Erde stirbt, ZPG, un mondo maledetto fatto di bambole, Zero Population Growth
Description: Back in the late sixties and early seventies, when people still sweated stuff like the end of the world, all kinds of kooks and whiners popped up with all sorts of crazy ideas. One of those ideas was that the earth was overpopulated and that we needed to slow down or stop the number of humanoids that make this planet the crappy filth-pit it is. Some of these cry-babies formed their own little group in 1968 and called it Zero Population Growth or the really catchy Z.P.G. for short. In case you think these long-hairs have grown up and gotten adult jobs, think again. They are still alive and well and even have their own web site. Now, as you might have guessed somebody in the film biz got hold of this ZPG fad and decided that it would make a pretty dull science-fiction opus for Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin.
Reed and Chaplin play Russ and Carol McNeil, a husband and wife living in a society not too far in the future. This society is pretty much like ours, except that everybody has to wear gas masks because of pollution, everyone is on a strict caloric intake because of rationing and no one is allowed to have a baby because of overpopulation. Instead of real babies everybody is entitled to go the Babyshop and get themselves their very own Cabbage Patch Doll. If this is a bit far-fetched, then you probably will understand Oliver Reed’s dour attitude throughout the film. As the husband, he kind of glowers most of the movie, obviously waiting for the scene to be done so that he can run out and call his bank to make sure the check from the movie company has cleared. I always wonder what attracts actors to roles that will have them running around in futuristic tunics holding two foot high dolls, but I guess it’s a calling.
Z.P.G. is one of those 70s sci-fi dystopian flicks that’s from the same mold as Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, and to a lesser extent Silent Running. Z.P.G. though, doesn’t come off as well as even the weakest of those flicks (probably Logan’s Run). I think it actually suffers from the same problems as Logan’s Run in that both ideas involve population control in completely unrealistic ways. I mean, in Logan’s Run everyone is killed at the age of thirty. That wouldn’t ever really work in a society, because you need older people with experience to do things. How many of us knew how to do anything productive by the age of thirty? In Z.P.G. they’re forbidding all births for something like twenty years, effectively eliminating an entire generation of people. How is that going to work? Once that time period is up, how many people are going to be left to bear children? Who is going to take care of the old people that never had children? And how would you ever convince any person to sign up for a cruddy little doll to take care of instead of a baby? The human instinct is to procreate; you’d never get far enough into your stupid policy to get to that point. There’d be an armed uprising if you tried to ban people from having kids. Where do they think we are? China?
In the movie, Carol is having problems at home because she wants to have a baby, but the Society forbids it. This causes her to be quiet and withdrawn and generally not someone you would want to invite to your kegger. No kidding? You mean prohibiting a woman to have a baby causes emotional and mental problems and causes difficulties in the bedroom? But come on, she can always buy a Barbie doll! Her husband, Russ is of no help and doesn’t seem to mind not having a baby, at least until she gets pregnant and then he vacillates from anger to helping depending on what kind of day at the office he had. Oh yes, the office. You might wonder where an eco-conscious picture that wants to bang us over the head with it’s agenda artlessly, would have the main characters employed. At a museum, of course! But this is no ordinary museum. It’s the Have A Nice Day Museum devoted to the Me Decade of the 1970s! What’s really stupid is that they portray all these people wanting to wait in line to go the museum. Now, that’s what I call a “sci-fi what if!”
This museum is dedicated to showing life in the 70s and how awful it was. Carol and Russ participate in these living exhibits with another couple (stop it! It’s rated PG!) where they show them eating a regular dinner and just hanging out as anyone would back in 1971. They also show movies about how we ate back in the day, making fun of us for our gluttony and eating all this meat, and having picnics. Okay, now I’ll pretty much go along with anything the jackbooted thugs in Washington force us to do because they get their marching orders from the United Nations and I understand that there hasn’t been an America since the first George Bush let our armed forces be subverted by those UN wieners with their little prissy blue helmets, but I think I speak for most of my neighbors in the trailer park when I tell you that I if you outlaw picnics then only outlaws will have picnics! It is every American’s god-given right to lay out a ratty sheet on the gravel parking lot of some roadside park, bring out the day-old potato salad from Hy-Vee and knock back a thirty pack. If you want my Keystone, you can pry it out of my ice-cold-brewed hand!
Anyway, one night Russ and Carol do the hokey-pokey and afterwards she goes into the bathroom to use the home abortion machine that every apartment must come equipped with. I’m assuming that’s done just for drama, because I’m sure that if you really wanted to control births you could just add something to the food or the water like the government did with fluoride. If you ever want the FBI to come and question you, just follow your congressman around everywhere shouting questions about the fluoride in the water.
Carol pretends to run the machine, but she’s made up her mind, she’s keeping her baby so Papa Don’t Preach! About four months down the line, Russ tells her to lay off the Pabst because she’s getting a beer gut and she says, “oh no, it’s just a little Oliver Reed I’m carrying down here.” Then he does what most men just dream about. He hides her down in the fall out shelter, tells her he’ll see her when he can, then goes and hangs out with the swinging neighbors and gets hit on by the his neighbor’s fugly wife. So Carol spends five months in the hole and Russ just tells anyone who asks that his wife left him. They have the baby and so Carol is released from solitary and Russ just tells anyone who asks that his wife came back. They go and get a doll and then they play their version of The Sting. Instead of pushing the doll around in a baby carriage they put the real baby in there and push it around! Ingenious, old chap! The swinging neighbors get wise to all this because the wife sees Carol walking around with the baby in her arms. Pretty slick, Carol! Except that they’re swinging neighbors catch on and create some rather far-fetched drama.
This movie never really quite works out. It doesn’t really have a well-thought out worldview to start with. Is this the only city left? Why are people forced to live in it? What’s going to happen once the twenty years are up? Is everything going to magically revert to the way it was? Maybe it’s unfair to nitpick the practicalities of these futuristic worlds. But I don’t think it’s unfair to complain about the characters, or lack thereof. Oliver Reed delivers a one-note performance, projecting nothing approaching an emotion. Geraldine Chaplin’s character had the most potential to be of interest. It would have been fascinating to see what sort of effect such a policy would have on a regular woman. Watching her go from blind acceptance of it in her early years to her hatred of it when she was older and desired children before she went beyond her childbearing years could have been compelling. The movie didn’t do anything that would move the viewer. There was a scene in the museum where Carol is walking around and looking at the flora and fauna that’s extinct and you can tell that she’s determined to take back a little bit of what’s be lost by having a baby. That’s as close as you get in this flick to anything approaching something beyond the dull, dreary, turgidness of the rest of the film.If you’re a fan of 70s dystopia, then you owe it to yourself to check it out, but I think you’ll find yourself wondering about the good movie that could have been made but wasn’t.