It’s an underrated and, these days, little-viewed classic is Joseph Sargent‘s Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), which is probably why Hollywood, as we speak, is planning the customary big-budget remake starring, surprise surprise, Will Smith. I’ll make no comment as to what a mess Smith’s last sci-fi epic I Am Legend (2007) was, or how the notion of remaking this is probably as good an idea as the 2008 Keanu Reeves-starring version of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) turned out to be, because that would be petty. No, I will simply concentrate on just how good Sargent’s film is, and let Picturenose readers make up their own minds as to how much we really need Colossus 2.0, fair enough?
We’re still in the heart of the Cold War as the film opens – Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) is putting the finishing touches to his super-computer Colossus, which is located inside the Rocky mountains range and, with a final press of his remote control, is now fully self-operative and powered – thanks to a deadly gamma radiation shield, the complex can never again be entered by humans. Did I mention that it also controls all of the US’s nuclear arsenal, thereby removing human irrationality and emotions from any defence decisions? Well it does, and the US President (Gordon Pinsent) is delighted, believing that the computer’s existence will mean an end to the deteriorating detente between America and Russia, and will allow mankind to concentrate on its real problems, such as poverty and famine. But he’s just finished announcing its existence to the world, with Forbin on hand to explain the finer details, when Colossus makes its first communication – Warn: There is another system.
And indeed there is – the Russians, thanks to a leak from Forbin’s team, have constructed their own super-PC, which we learn is called Guardian. Colossus demands to be linked to its (his?) peer…and then the fun really starts.
As with other great Cold War thrillers, such as Sidney Lumet’s Fail-Safe (1964) and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), this ultimately works so well because it really isn’t afraid to show us how bad things might get if the ‘human factor’ were to be removed from potentially apocalyptic decision-making. However, where Sargent’s film differs is that there is no computer failure – rather, the computers, once they hook up, work far too well together, and come to perceive humanity as inferior and very much in need of control.
Braeden is very well cast as Forbin, who also comes to represent Everyman when it becomes apparent just how far Colossus is prepared to go to achieve its ‘aims’ for mankind – made a virtual slave of the machine, which still needs him for representation to the planet, Forbin is wracked with guilt as to what he has wrought on humanity and is attempting, with the assistance of his attractive colleague Dr. Cleo Markham (Susan Clark), with whom Colossus allows him some ‘privacy’, to undermine the computers’ grip on the whole world.
But, being that this is a cold, dark fairy tale, his chances of success appear increasingly limited.
Sargent, who was to go and prove himself more than adept in the thriller genre, paticularly with the highly influential The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) (which had a reasonable remake delivered in 2009), is helped enormously by James Bridges’ tight, literate adaptation of D.F Jones’s original novel (which was actually part of a trilogy, but the other two installments have not yet been filmed), and straight-faced performances from the entire cast, which ratchet up the tension very well.
I still find the film genuinely scary – know this, if the talent behind the upcoming Will Smith remake even think about shoehorning a ‘happy ending’ in, I will be extremely disappointed. Check out the film for yourself here.
100 mins. In English and Russian.