Colossus: The Forbin Project
U.S.A. / 1970
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Starring
Eric Braeden
Susan Clark
Gordon Pinset
Color / 101 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Universal Home Video
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
8
    1   10 = Highest Rating  
In the midst of the Cold War the world's most brilliant scientist, Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden), devises a supercomputer for the Pentagon to control America's nuclear arsenal. Dubbed Colossus, this gargantuan mainframe is constructed inside a mountain in Colorado where, protected by automated defenses, it is impregnable to sabotage and attack. Its function is to detect, evaluate and respond to all strategic threats to the U.S. and her allies. Its creator hopes that with peace and freedom secured and the threat of accidental war eliminated, Colossus can then focus its attention on researching new scientific discoveries. Upon activating the vast machine, Forbin electronically seals the tomblike complex. Outside he is warmly greeted by the President of the United States (Blacula's Gordon Pinset), praising him for his monumental achievement.
    After a Washington press conference in which the President and Forbin announce its existence to the world, Colossus flashes a strange message on the White House display: THERE IS ANOTHER SYSTEM. It has detected another supercomputer like itself, in Russia, called Guardian. This Communist version of Colossus, whose existence until now was unknown to the CIA, is in the final stage before full activation. Naturally curious about its 'brother', Colossus requests communication with Guardian. Forbin, eager to see his baby do its stuff, recommends to the President that permission be granted, while the CIA and military view it as a golden opportunity to gain valuable intelligence on the Soviet system. Forbin assures them that should Colossus inadvertently reveal any classified information, the transmission line will be immediately severed. The President gives the go-ahead.
    It's a terrible mistake, one which will change the destiny of Planet Earth forever.
    The two supercomputers begin 'talking' to each other at a phenomenal rate. To the surprise of Forbin's science team, the machines develop their own unique language — one which no human can understand. This makes Washington (not to mention the Kremlin) rather nervous, so the President, in consultation with the Soviet leader, orders the data link shut down. Colossus, however, has a different view: RESTORE LINK IMMEDIATELY... OR ACTION WILL BE TAKEN. With the Russian electronic brain now 'absorbed' by the superior American machine, Colossus demonstrates in no uncertain terms that it means business. An intercontinental ballistic missile is fired from each country: one targeting an airbase in Texas, the other an oil complex in Siberia. The missiles are armed with live nuclear warheads.
    Colossus is not just a "suped-up adding machine" — not anymore. It thinks. It is aware. And this 'ultimate computer' has logically concluded that the best way to defend humanity is to protect it from itself. By ruling it.
    The Cold War may have ended since the release of Colossus: The Forbin Project some 35 years ago, but the film's vision of a technological Big Brother and surveillance society has only grown more disturbingly real in the interim. Even with the almost laughably prehistoric computer equipment on display, an intelligent script under the slick, terse direction of Joseph Sargent (The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3), performed by a solid cast, makes the scenario believable. This is science fiction (virtually) without special effects, relying instead on character, dialog, editing and music to generate suspense. (A special nod to the late composer Michel Colombier, whose spare, atmospheric score is perfect for the film.) Espionage elements add an unusual spy thriller aspect to the story, while its central theme of Man vs. Machine remains as compelling and thought-provoking as ever... What if a human, in effect, created God? During the third act, when Colossus is given a mechanical voice — alien, metallic, utterly soulless — the film takes an even creepier turn. (This flick simply had to have inspired the concept of James Cameron's "SkyNet" supercomputer in The Terminator.)
    As Dr. Forbin, German-born Eric Braeden (real name: Hans Gudegast) has to carry a great deal of Colossus on his shoulders alone. He's more than up to the task. At its heart the story is really about the character of Forbin and the change his uncontrollable creation makes in him, rather than the epochal impact this God-Machine has on Mankind. In the beginning Forbin is a good-natured but somewhat remote, aloof figure, supremely confident in his own genius and the abilities of the technological wonder he's constructed. In a way he's practically a computer himself — somehow distant from his fellow human beings, clearly possessing the superior brain. Almost Vulcan-like he remains calm and collected as the crisis emerges and then deepens, while all around him the politicians and generals grow more panicked. Later, as the extent of Colossus' awesome power is revealed, Forbin realizes that he's become Dr. Frankenstein writ large, on a global scale. In his quest for the betterment of the human race he's managed to fashion the very instrument of its enslavement. When Colossus takes action to enforce its will, resulting in the deaths of thousands, a staggering sense of guilt ultimately drives Forbin's emotions to the surface, bringing him fully into the fold of humanity.
    It's a fascinating character arc that Braeden handles marvelously. His gripping performance, more than anything else, makes the film work. (Colossus marked a rare leading role for the venerable character actor, who has enjoyed a long and prosperous career in American television. An immigrant to the U.S. in his teens, Gudegast attended college in Montana where he became interested in film as a documentarian. But Hollywood wasn't keen on his nonfiction river-rafting documentary; instead he was approached by casting agents looking for a handsome European fluent in English. After making his mark as the sympathetic Afrika Korps officer in the weekly action series Rat Patrol, he was tapped for the lead in Colossus on the condition he change his name to something more 'American-friendly'. Thus Hans Gudegast became "Eric Braeden". He's never headlined a major motion picture since, but has guest-starred in a host of TV dramas and found his claim to fame as business tycoon Victor Newman in the long-running daytime soap opera The Young and the Restless, a role he's played for 25 years.)

So how does Universal treat one of the best science fiction films of the last half-century? Like shit, that's what. Though the print used for the DVD looks okay, with no major damage, and the mono audio mix is strong and clear, the sons of bitches have released Colossus in a fullframe Pan & Scan version only. The film's original aspect ratio is 2.35:1, so a lot of picture is missing on the sides — one can hear people talking that aren't seen, and the outdoor interlude among the landmarks of Rome (filmed on location) is completely destroyed. Many of the familiar faces among the supporting cast are rendered all but invisible (Robert Quarry, for example); they tend to populate the periphery of the screen as they gather 'round Forbin during moments of crisis, so they're simply lopped off. Zooming in on the center of the frame also makes the transfer look much more grainier that it otherwise would.
   Making matters worse
, there's no trailer — I'd really like to see how this film was marketed — and not even a basic menu screen! The movie just auto-starts when you load the disc. Universal, gekommen zur Hφlle! 12/05/04
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