Who’s heard of the movie, Z.P.G. (1972)? I never had until I gazed upon the groovy cover art on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray release, read a quick synopsis on IMDb, and then promptly purchased it. Having finally watched it (I needed a “Z” for the Countdown to Halloween, you know), I can report what a strange, yet wonderful, movie it turns out to be.
The titular acronym stands for “Zero Population Growth” and represents an edict established in a dystopian future that, in order to solve the “devastating problem of overpopulation,” childbearing is forbidden. As the last baby is born in a hospital, a doctor says, “We won’t be seeing any of these for 30 years.” If a child is detected, angry mobs call it out and a dome descends from the sky to suffocate it and its mother.
It’s pretty grim stuff; however, capitalism survives forever and someone invents supposedly realistic replacements for children in the form of robotic toddlers. (I say “toddlers” because the infant models are so popular, they can’t make enough of them.) One woman, Carol (Geraldine Chaplin), can’t bring herself “to accept all this” and, against her husband’s wishes (at first), becomes pregnant.
Oliver Reed plays Russ in a somewhat restrained performance. He’s low key the whole time, except when he researches “premature birth” on a library computer and is immediately pulled into an interrogation room. Under what appears to be physical pain and duress, he claims that he pushed the wrong button and couldn’t exit the screen before it was ripped from his fingers.
Let’s pause for a moment to remember the wonderful decade that was the 1970s. Z.P.G. reminds me how overpopulation was a real concern during the era, fueled by best-selling books like The Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich, which may have inspired the movie. I group the specific concern with the end of the world/occult/self-help mass-market paperback craze…
…not that overpopulation wasn’t a legitimate concern. (Is it still, I wonder?) Extending the thought process, I liken Z.P.G. to other, better known 70s movies like Soylent Green (1973) and Logan’s Run (1976.) This one never found a following, I guess. Perhaps it hit the nail too squarely on the head, stuck closer to potential reality, and didn’t have a hook like eating people or starring Farrah Fawcett-Majors.
Is it a good movie, though? Technically, yes; I mean, it’s competently made by first time director Michael Campus (who directed only four other films.) It's even better written by Max Ehrlich, who also wrote one of my all-time 70’s favorites, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, and Frank De Felitta, who also wrote Audrey Rose, not one of my all-time 70s favorites, but a high profile pic nonetheless.
Z.P.G. doesn’t shy away from big, scary ideas. However, just as all its exteriors are shot through a dense fog of pollution that doesn’t reveal too much about its location, the details and explanations of plot points are sometimes fuzzy. Scratch your head a couple times, though, and focus on the bigger picture of what’s happening and I think you’ll be enthralled. It's a little less certain if you'll be entertained.
Written by Max Ehrlich & Frank De Felitta
Directed by Michael Campus
Starring Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin, Don Gordon, Diane Cliento
RT 97 min.
Home Video Kino Lorber (Blu-ray)
Part of the Countdown to Halloween. Click here for a list of all the blogs participating. Each offers its own distinctive month long celebration of the chilling holiday we all love.