Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) 3/5 (4)
3/54

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.9
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 100 mins
Director: Joseph Sargent 
Stars: Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent

Back in the early days of the computer revolution, when computers seemed all powerful and full of potential malevolence, the notion of a sinister AI systematically removing our human liberties was one that made for some unsettling films. Given how overrated we now know those dangers to be, most films premised on this topic don’t maintain that same sense of menace when watched nowadays but a few (the most obvious being 2001: A Space Odyssey) do. Despite its shoestring budget, and modest place in the history of cinema, Colossus: The Forbin Project is one such film. Eric Braeden plays Dr. Charles Forbin, the world’s leading computer scientist, who has just completed work on a massive computer system designed to maintain full autonomous control over the US military’s defence capabilities. However, as soon as this system (named “Colossus”) is placed on line, it detects a similar computer controlling the Soviet network and despite the best effort of both countries, the two supercomputers begin working together to take control of the world.

There’s a lovely build up to this film as it begins by picking up at the end of what appears to have been an exhausting project. As the scientists celebrate and the politicians preen, there’s a real sense of one’s guard been let down. James Bridge’s script gives the various characters a believable overconfidence by rooting it not in arrogance but, ironically, in their intelligence. Thus, when Colossus begins misbehaving, a wonderfully drawn out recognition of peril occurs. As he would later demonstrate in The Taking of Pelham 123, director Joseph Sargent has a refined touch when it comes to handling tense drama and his framing and use of space parallels and therefore accentuates the heightening sense of claustrophobia which the apparent omnipresence of Colossus gives rise to. The shots of Colossus’ physical manifestations (close circuit cameras, mainframes, etc), while very dated, still play wonderfully on the Kuleshov effect (which Kubrick tapped so brilliantly in 2001) so that much of the malevolence it takes on begins within the minds of the audience. Of course, no such subtlety is aimed for with its voice but the grizzled electronic sound is a welcomed turn of pace for a film which primarily dealt with the subtle.

There are nice touches of comedy layered throughout the picture which are picked up on and channeled well through the cast. Braeden is superb as the stern but thoughtful Dr. Forbin in a performance reminiscent of Gregory Peck in his pomp while Susan Clark’s turn as his chief accomplice in his plans against the computer is a positive addition to vibe of the movie. Colossus: The Forbin Project isn’t an explicitly terrifying film but as we see the machine devise ever more clever ways at keeping the humans under its control, it does become implicitly unsettling which is what these type of science fiction films have always been about.

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