It's one of the most iconic names in classic science fiction, as celebrated for its cult status as it is for its massive parody potential, or at least that's what we think now. The reality is, if you heard the title Soylent Green without knowing anything about the movie, you'd probably think it's a pretty crappy name. So why's it called that?
The true story of how this film came to have its name comes courtesy of the late Harry Harrison, the master sci-fi author who wrote the novel, Make Room! Make Room!, the film is based on. When his book was optioned by MGM, Harrison had very little hands-on involvement, which created problems with the script.
"This is when I came onto the scene, to be instantly impressed by two inescapable facts: the truly professional ability of everyone connected with the making of the film and the truly appalling quality of the script, which transmogrified, denigrated, and degutted the novel from which it had been taken," Harrison later wrote. "That a successful film was made despite what might be considered a major obstacle can be credited to the art and set designers, the director Richard Fleischer, and to the fine actors (as well as to, I submit with suitable humility, the strength of the novel)."
To revise in whatever ways he could, Harrison spent a lot of time on the film's set, making small suggestions when he saw something that could be fixed (like the use of plastic bags in a future where petroleum is scarce) and handing out copies of his novel in the hope that it would make its way into the heads of the cast and crew as they worked. When he handed a copy to co-star Chuck Connors, the actor turned to director Richard Fleischer and wondered why a title change had been made.
"I propagandised everyone in sight, from grips to actors, by giving them copies of the original book," Harrison said. "When Chuck Connors got his, he called across the set to the director, 'Hey, Dick, why aren't you using this title instead of the crappy Soylent Green?' The answer, which Fleischer perhaps did not know, was the decision made in high places that my title might be associated with a long-dead TV series named Make Room for Daddy. Moral: when you throw away a good title you always get a bad one."
So there you have it. An obscure sitcom makes way for a cult classic title.
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