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Z.P.G.
(1972)

Director: Michael Campus  
Cast:
Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin, Don Gordon


I've said it before on this web site, and I will say it again: my feelings about the future are not very positive. Oh sure, we are coming up with new inventions all the time that improve our lives, but at the same time we are slowly losing some things that are important to our lives. And the list of things that we are running out of is growing every year. For example, did you know that we are running out of chocolate? In West Africa, where most of the world's chocolate comes from, the practice of cocoa farming is becoming less desirable to these farmers with every subsequent year. It takes five years of back-breaking work just to grow a new crop, and these farmers make very little money in the process. It's taken less than ten years for the price of chocolate to double, and its expense is still growing. But there's something more important than chocolate that is disappearing, and that's tequila. Tequila is made from the blue agave cactus, and that is disappearing because Mexican farmers have destroyed their crops of the cactus in order to plant the more lucrative crop of corn. And the blue agave cactus is a special kind of plant, one that can only grow in a certain part of Mexico that has the right climate and soil, so it's not like farmers elsewhere in the world could raise it. Okay, maybe we could live with chocolate and tequila not in our lives. But there are more things that we are running out of that will make a big impact once we run out of them. For example, there's helium. It's not just for blimps and children's balloons; its properties have made it an essential part of making so much of the high tech gadgets that are used in our homes and businesses. Other essential things we are running out of include oil, copper, and technetium.

We are certainly losing more and more of many things with each passing year. However, although we are losing many things, there are some things on this planet that are increasing with every passing year. Some people might claim pollution is one of those things, though I'm not sure if this is true - there are certainly a lot more environmental laws now than there were just a few decades ago. Other people might claim this planet is gaining heat, thanks to global warming. However, I've come across just as many arguments saying global warming exists as arguments saying it doesn't exist. One thing that is increasing on this earth every year I think we can all agree on is the population of humans. As of this writing, there are about seven billion people on this planet, and it's increasing every year. In fact, I once read that the world's population doubles about every thirty-seven years or so. If that is true, then we would have well over twenty-eight billion people on Earth at the end of this century. I also read from a second source that if we look further into the future, the prospects look grim - in about eight hundred and fifty years from now, the world's population will consist of 60,000,000,000,000,000 people - so many people, that there won't be room for everyone. I read that even if we managed to build countless skyscrapers, there still wouldn't be enough room for everyone on the planet by that time. However, I also read from a third source that it's unlikely that scenario would happen. I read that the world's birth rate has been slowly decreasing, so that by the time we reach ten billion people, things would stabilize and our population wouldn't increase beyond that point.

What do I think will happen about the world's population in the future? Well, I seriously doubt that that the world's population would get anywhere near sixty quadrillion people. As education and the standard of living seems to be going up in most parts of the world, people are having fewer Z.P.G.children as a result. Still, I do think the world's population will increase by several billion people in our generation alone, and that there is the possibility of it increasing more in subsequent generations. All these extra people will probably cause some problems. India has more than a billion people packed in their tiny country, and China has over a billion people as well. China has for several decades had a strict "one child" policy, and India might very well do the same in the future. Just how far will an increasing population push governments? What was proposed in the movie Z.P.G. is one theory, a theory that intrigued me enough to purchase it after finding it in a thrift store. Z.P.G. takes place in some unspecified time in the future, long past the twentieth century. Although technology has advanced significantly, the world is suffering from problems ranging from pollution to many species of animals being extinct. At the beginning of the movie, the "World Federation Council" has decided to tackle one of the big problems - overpopulation - with a drastic measure. They decide the world must embrace Z.P.G. - Zero Population Growth - and declare a law that there are to be no birth of babies for the next thirty years. Eight years later, Carol McNeil (Chaplin, The Age Of Innocence) desperately wants a baby, and the robotic babies being sold at stores will not do for her. She convinces her husband Russ (Reed, The Hunting Party) to have them conceive and give birth to a baby in secret. With a lot of careful planning, the McNeils manage to do so, and are overjoyed to have a real life baby in their lives. However, not long after their baby's birth, two friends of theirs (played by Don Gordon and Diane Cilento) discover the McNeil's secret. Their friends promise to keep the secret as long as they can be a part of the baby's life... but soon things get very tense between the two couples.

When I sit down to watch a movie that concerns itself with mankind in a future setting, I naturally have some expectations. Among other expectations, I ask that the future setting of the movie be one that I can find plausible, with plenty of explanation along the way as to why things are the way they are in the movie. Also at the same time, I want to be able to relate to what I see onscreen. Unfortunately, I didn't find the futuristic world depicted in Z.P.G. very compelling for several reasons. For one thing, how this world works is very poorly sketched out. At the beginning of the movie, we learn there is the aforementioned "World Federation Council" running things, but it's never mentioned again. Nor is its code of law illustrated well - all we learn is that it punishes those who break the law of no new births with the death penalty, and absolutely nothing else. Another thing that is missing is some kind of explanation as to why certain things are as they are in this society, such as why there is a constant state of smog in the air, and many species of animals now being extinct. Surely someone in the past saw this coming, but why wasn't this awfulness stopped before it was too late? We never know what happened in the years between when this movie was made and when the movie is set. And when it comes to looking at where technology has advanced to in this futuristic setting, the movie is also underwhelming. Probably because this British production didn't have a lavish budget, we don't get to see much futuristic technology at work. When Reed goes to a library to do research, or when Chaplin orders a Christmas tree from home, both characters are using technology that's not far removed from the current version of the Internet we use. While this is interesting to a degree - a 1972 movie correctly predicting technology we are using more than forty years later - at the same time we are seeing people in the future doing what we are doing now. And this may strike audiences today as kind of unremarkable, with the movie feeling less futuristic now than it did back in 1972. Apart from this, the only other futuristic technology on display is flying vehicles, though I'm pretty sure the movie just built one model and used it over and over. This futuristic society doesn't look that much advanced from the present day.

I realize that Z.P.G. was designed to be more of a focus on specific characters in a futuristic society rather than the focus being on the futuristic society itself. However, when it comes to depicting the various citizens in this quasi-fascist (I think) society, the movie also fails to satisfy. It's one of those future worlds where everybody out in public wears the same kind of bland-looking clothes (though oddly, people are seen wearing suits and ties and various other '70s fashions when they are in the comfort of their own home.) Except for the four central characters I mentioned in the plot description, there is no real exploration of any member of this society. And the exploration that is done with those four characters is far from satisfying. Despite being a central character involved in an illegal activity, Oliver Reed's character is extremely hard to get a hold on. He has almost no dialogue for the first third of the movie, and when he does eventually start to talk some more he still doesn't give the audience much of a clue as to what's going on in his head. You might think he might have some emotion-charged conversations with his wife before and after his baby's birth, but it never happens. As a result, Reed can't do anything to make his character come alive, and comes across as kind of a sulking thug. Geraldine Chaplin comes across somewhat better, mainly because her character is given a bit more to do. There's one impressive scene where she doesn't say a word, but one look in her eyes tells the audience that her character desperately wants a child. She has a couple of other scenes that illustrate her character's mothering needs and protecting instincts fairly well, but other than moments like those she falls in the same trap as Reed does because she is not given enough dialogue that makes her character multi-dimensional.

Clearly, the script of Z.P.G. should have gone back to screenwriters Frank De Felitta and Max Ehrlich for a few more rewrites before shooting began. Besides those script problems that I mentioned before, there are a number of plot flaws that needed attention, like how for instance the McNeils expect to keep their baby a secret when the robotic babies couples around them use look as fake as a child's doll. (And what do they plan to do once their child gets older?) Had the screenplay fleshed out the characters and made them smarter, as well as explained this futuristic society somewhat more, it is possible that I might have recommended this movie - though there would still be some problems preventing it from rising to greatness. One big problem that would still remain would be the movie's production design. As I said before, there's not much in Z.P.G. that would be considered futuristic, though there are additional problems with the look of the movie that I will now mention. The movie for the most part looks hideous. I know they were trying to depict a crumbling society, but the movie takes things so far that the look of the movie is laughable. When the characters are outside, the fog machine has been working overtime so that we only (barely) see the characters and not their surroundings. It's obvious the actors are on an undressed soundstage, which just adds to the cheap feeling the movie generates. And when the characters are inside, nobody in this society thinks of turning on enough lights to give rooms the illumination their ancestors were accustomed to. This is probably to hide the cheap look of the sets that were built. To sum up, Z.P.G. is unsatisfying in just about every area you can think of. Whatever your views of birth control might be, I think you'd agree with me that this is one movie that shouldn't have been conceived.

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See also: Cherry 2000, Neon City, Warlords 3000

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