ZPG: Zero Population Growth (1972)
By: Mr Intolerance on December 10, 2008  | 
Paramount (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 96 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Michael Campus
Starring: Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin, Don Gordon, Diane Cilento
Country: UK
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Ahhh, dystopian fiction – love it. Whether it's a no-brainer post-apocalyptic, or something with a bit more oomph like Soylent Green, RoboCop or Logan's Run, I dearly love these films.

Our basic premise here, in this seldom-seen film, is that the human race has reached critical mass. We simply can't afford to have new kids for the next thirty years, because we can't afford to feed them – fuck, we don't even have enough room to store them; overpopulation has reached such a terrible stage. New children are strictly verboten – on pain of death. You can well imagine that the citizens of the world aren't too happy with this. Mind you, they're all having to wear gas masks in the streets, pollution has reached such an appalling level, and your caloric intake per day is enforced via incredibly strict rationing so that everyone gets something to eat, so life has other nasty issues pounding at the door.

The option to spawning your own sprog? Get an artificial one, which is creepier than that fucking clown doll from Poltergeist – I'd sooner live up close and personal with a lamprey. These things are seriously uncool – yeah the special effects are bad, but I think that's part of the creepiness; they are so artificial looking it'd be like raising a Cabbage Patch Kid as your own, and I would think that only the totally deranged or the terminally maternally-minded would even consider it. It's like a Stepford Baby. I wouldn't have one in the house any more than I'd leap headfirst into a pool full of tarantulas. And if you think we live in a nanny state today, you just wait until you experience the soporific government media that brainwashes the people of the day. This makes the world of The Prisoner or Blake's 7 sound like a free-thinker's paradise.

The worst part of this consumerist baby-hell, is that you get what you're given, and that's that. You want an infant? Sorry, don't have them. Take an eight year old. Try to have your own baby? Your neighbours are trained to report you to the government – the penalty is death. The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades… Russ (Oliver Reed) and Carol (Geraldine Chaplin) feel about the same way and abort (sorry) their attempt to get a mechanical child; the idea being that they represent our disgust at such a horror.

I looove 60s and 70s versions of the future – we all get to wear one-piece jumpsuits and all food comes out of squeeze packs! Now where are those flying cars and conveyor-belt sidewalks? Honestly, this does conform to the stereotype of early 70s sci-fi, but you need to look past the visuals and get into the ideas – that's what hard sci-fi's (and I don't mean extreme, I mean the kind of science fiction that is based on science and the human reaction to it, not little green men and ray-guns – it's the difference between Bladerunner and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe – and yes I've seen and enjoyed both, but you need to tune your antennae accordingly, depending on context) all about anyway. Russ and Carol head to the local eatery, but Carol astutely points out that no matter what they eat everything will taste the same as everything else – like Henry Ford's old dictum about the Model T Ford, "You can have any colour you want, as long as it's black." Some choice.

And the flora and fauna of today – THEY'RE DEAD!!! Nothing like a bit of alarmist eco-horror to spice up a story! Mind you, it's certainly contemporary for the times – this was the age of those worthless hippy scumbags, remember. I'm shaking at my fist at Greenpeace right now, wanting to eat MacDonalds out of the old Styrofoam containers, drink a steel can of beer (like back in the good old days) and hurl the empty at a homeless man, and empty my ashtray of cigarette butts out of the window of my Eldorado into a rainforest even as I write this, hopefully choking a small woodland creature… Russ and Carol are workers at the local museum which has a 1971 (the year of this film's production) exhibit – how topical; shall we take a look?

Apparently swinging was all the rage in the 70s. Invite your friends around, have a dinner party, and fuck your buddy's wife while he fucks yours. It's actually hard to say if the government are trying to get across the line of breaking up the family unit, or the complete annihilation of sex. I have to say, it's kind of an odd way to keep the population down, if you're actively encouraging promiscuity. I understand the second part – like in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, you drive apart the family unit so that the government becomes the only thing you can trust and rely on, but still… This struck me as a little ambiguous (the government have their own state-sanctioned pornography, yet take a prudish view of the morality of the 70s), but I'm veering towards thinking, through Russ's character's actions that sex of any kind is seen to be bad, bad, bad. Stop it! Don't touch that – you'll go blind!

Of course that theory's blown out of the water by Carol's doctor (who she communicates via her wall screen – 1984, anyone?), who advises her to rely on the state sanctioned porn to make love to her husband on a frequent basis, which she's having difficulty with (what, in spite of Oliver used to refer to as his "mighty mallet?") – while reminding her via hypnotic suggestion that it is impossible to have a baby. What's a poor girl to do?

We see a right cunt dob in some folks for having a baby (the reward? Extra rations – if this isn't reminding anyone of the Jew-hunting in the occupied territories during World War Two, you'd have to have rocks in your head the size of Gibraltar) – and the couple and their illicit child are killed right there and then in some kind of portable extermination chamber (further echoes of the Holocaust?). And yet, Carol still wants a child of her own – although given Chaplin's wooden performance for the duration of this film, you think she'd be giving birth to a log. Mind you, it'd be hard to guess what she'd be like as a mother – maybe she'd dull her children into submission?

In between the creepiness of the dolls and their seemingly unconditional affection, and the hypnotism used by the doctors, the regular folks don't stand all that much of a chance in bucking the system. This is total government control.

In the next few scenes we learn that promiscuity is indeed tolerated, jealousy is a thing of the past (although not to that mighty champion of feminism Oliver Reed!), Christmas is held on to for vague reasons – to keep the lower classes happy perhaps, although Christmas trees are an extravagance for the privileged few – and that Carol might be carrying something secret aboard her uterus.

Oh yeah! She's up the duff! Uncle Ollie slipped one past the keeper! Now they've only got to hide the child for somewhere in the region of twenty plus years, and all will be well. Now seeing as every child born is bar-coded with the letters "BE" (Before Edict) as soon as they're hatched, that could prove a slight problem. And how exactly do you conceal that caterwauling banshee-like wailing at 3 in the morning to the baby police? "Sorry guv'nor, I stubbed me toe and it really hurt…" Women can be so fucking stupid and selfish when it comes to the old maternal instinct – and that's before anything has come to pass. Wah-wah – I want a baby. Wah-wah – I want this, I want that. Wah-wah, pay me attention because I feel so self-important today and you haven't told me how wonderful I am for the four millionth time this minute. Don't worry that the moment someone notices the baby bump it's the extermination chamber for all three of us, as long as you're happy, dear. The equivalent would be a Jew knocking at the doors of Auschwitz demanding to be let in, singing "Hava Nagilah". Life expectancy = zero.

Russ stupidly makes himself complicit in this capital crime, by offering to hide them both. But then, you see, he still possesses rather outmoded ideas of monogamy, so it's going to be a bit of a slippery slope for our heroes to follow from here. To keep their little secret a secret, Russ hides Carol in their basement (why does the phrase, "It rubs the lotion on its skin" keep echoing through my mind?), and comes up with an ever-increasing and ever-implausible pack of lies to explain her absence from civilised society.

Russ does something even more stupid, you see, given the wholly computerised world he lives in. Carol's not having an easy pregnancy, and he decides to research premature births in his world's version of Wikipedia – bad move; they have library police. The effect is something akin to what would happen if you got sprung looking at hardcore porn at work. Unpleasant, to say the least. I mean, maybe if you were a stock-broker, politician or Q.C, you could get away with it, but here, as a lowly museum worker…nup. He gets three months detention – although it appears to be home detention, which probably suits his and Carol's purposes, despite the fact that neither of them has the slightest fucking idea of how delivering a baby actually occurs.

Carol makes the maternal but stupid move to take the baby to the shops – you'd think she wouldn't want to attract attention to herself, particularly as there are quite a few baby narcs around, including former friend Edna (Diane Cilento – Mrs Sean Connery at the time). Let's face it, you can't trust anybody these days. The feds know where she is and Carol's plight is not a good one. She then does something stupid I thought I'd never say – she goes to the movies. I know no-one likes a baby in a cinema, but reactions here might be judged as a little unfriendly. She then even more stupidly takes the baby to see her blind doctor friend, who is being observed (as are, I think we're meant to believe, everybody else in this cockamamie world) via the old video screen – I believe I mentioned 1984 before…

She is practically asking to be caught. I said she was a dumb broad beforehand, and I stand by that. She lets Edna see the baby, albeit by accident, then George, Edna's husband sees him, and you just know this is going to not go well. It's going to be like a childhood game, or an orgy, "Let me have a turn! Let me have a turn!" Same thing, different age bracket – you'd hope. George and Edna's desperation at this point you can feel. Carol is of course being a stupid bitch about the whole thing. The desperation I mentioned before is indicative not only of those who simply for medical reasons can't have babies, but an obviously much wider population here in this particular universe who can't. Babies represent a future – hope – and without that hope, as the government seemingly don't want the people to have, there's only routine and despair. I'm not a baby person myself, but even I can see that. It's the furtherance of the human race, for crying out loud! George and Edna's jealousy is easy to understand – all they have is a plastic doll, not a living, sentient being – something to teach, to make into a decent person, just a pre-programmed block of plastic.

I think the crunch comes when George and Edna want to…umm…"borrow" the baby for a week. That's kind of overstepping the mark of friendship, a bit. But, what can Russ and Carol do? They're being blackmailed and they know it – they have no legal recourse. Well, they can always retain what's there's by force, and frankly, given his reputation as a scrapper, I would NOT want to get into a fight with Oliver Reed, simple as that. You'd wake up with your arsehole pulled up over your head, with your sphincter pulled as tight as the fucking drawstring on a sleeping bag in the middle of winter, or something as equally dire. He's a burly guy, and if he was adequately determined, you'd have about as much a chance of getting past him as you would the Himalayas, without the team of Sherpas.

But no, and the ending is not what you'd think, but it's in line with the kind of fiction you're watching. And that can go one of each ways, depending on the things you've seen or read – and there's a fair bit of that story to go.

And where the fuck are people getting baby clothes in a baby-free world, pray tell? They can't all be hand-knitted, after all you can't tell grandma about it, can you?

Reed puts in a solid performance, but I'd never say it was one of his best – it's certainly not up there with The Devils, for example, or even The Brood or The Three Musketeers (the good version) – he delivers his lines well and moves on to the next scene. The rest of the actors are little better than wallpaper, but part of me thinks that's what they were meant to be: automatons – in which case the big O was in some scenes on the mark completely – the human race dehumanised. The role did not allow him to really stretch himself as he could when the challenge arose. No, the strength of this film, despite some irritating moments, was in the actual story itself and the ideas that were behind it. It was pretty bloody prescient for 1971, that's for sure, even if the pollution thing was a little overdone. It's the usual thing you get with these dystopian visions of the future – repressive governments stifling natural human urges, and the reaction to it. If you dig sci-fi with a brain, it's worth a look. The low-budget, early Doctor Who, almost Thunderbirds special effects might be a bit much for some, but I still love early Brit sci-fi, so I could deal with it – even the credits reminded me of UFO.
The 16:9 enhanced 1.78:1 presentation is pretty awful. A lot of grain, speckle, and shimmer. It doesn't aid this film at all. A very soft image all round.
Flat and lifeless 2.0 track. Very dull indeed.
Extra Features
Fuck all y'all. Nada, zip, zilch, zero.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
ZPG moves at a pace that would put many modern audiences to sleep. I thought it was pretty good, but y'see, I'm an Oliver Reed fan, and there are many and varied things I've watched, simply because he was in them – some of them very bad indeed. If you don't like like sci-fi unless it's The Matrix-style, I'd avoid, but for those of you with a brain, this film is definitely powered by its ideas. I won't vouch for the acting (aside from Oliver Reed's, of course), script or direction, but I liked it. Deal with it.

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