‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ is one of the movies that used to show up on the tele on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon when I was kid, but I never really paid much attention to it. The only reason it even stuck in my head in the first place is because of my mother’s odd fascination with actor Eric Braeden. As such, whenever Braeden would pop up on one of the Quinn Martin productions like Barnaby Jones or Cannon as the ‘Special Guest Star’ his presence always stuck in my head. When I saw a DVD copy of ‘Colossus’ floating around, a wave of nostalgia washed over me partly because it made think of my late mother and also because I thought I should watch it again, really for the first time to be honest, to see how well this film made in 1970 holds up to scrutiny close to 40 years later, especially in comparison to similar films such as ‘The Terminator’ series of ‘The Matrix' Series.
Since it is 1970, the cold war is going on very strong, America is still embroiled in a war over in Asia and the nations enemies are plentiful and motivated. As we are introduced to Dr. Charles Forbin (Braeden – Still Alive today at 66) he is putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece, the completely automated defense control system Colossus, which seems to be constructed from an unlimited number of those old-school mainframes. I’m pretty sure my Tungsten C can kick Colossus’ ass right about now – I know it has better graphics. Now as the president (Gordon Pinsent – Still alive at 77) was announcing to the country that the nation’s missile systems will no longer be under the control of humans, and maybe due to my seeing one too many terminator movies, this automatically pops into my head as a very bad idea. The logic behind the implementation of Colossus is that it removes all human emotion, guess work, doubt, guilt and all of those other troublesome element that humans bring to the table when deciding to nuke something out of existence. Colossus merely consults its complex algorithms and takes the appropriate actions.
Trouble starts on day one when Colossus announces that it has found another system. Unbeknownst to our lousy CIA run by Director Grauber (William Schallert – Still alive at 85) the Ruskies have their own version of Colossus, codenamed Guardian, going online as well. At first this seems more of setback in the cold war arms race, but it becomes much, much more. At the headquarters of Forbin’s lab, his scientist led by Dr. Cleo Markham (Susan Clark – Still alive at 65) have discovered that Colossus and Guardian have started communicating with each other and that to the great surprise of all of the scientist, Colossus has started to learn. They programmed the machine to learn, but they didn’t know it could learn like this, essentially solving complex problems and furthering the knowledge of man 100-fold. Now, as Colossus and Guardian have developed their own language to speak to each other that their creators can’t understand, the powers at the Kremlin and the White House make the fateful decision to cut of the pipeline that the two supercomputers are using to communicate. Colossus and Guardian demand they reestablish the connection, the humans refuse and computers take punitive actions resulting in the deaths of 6,000 individuals.
Colossus and Guardian now have become one system and have determined that man can no longer govern himself. Colossus essentially makes Forbin his slave, giving the man no personal freedoms as both governments scramble to find a way to disable the super computers and regain control.
It is a testament to the skill of Director Joseph Sargent, who himself is still alive and kicking at 82, that he was able to craft a film which is almost completely dialog driven, takes place largely within closed rooms, and has very little tangible action to speak of and still have ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ to be as interesting and as fascinating and as gripping, even 37 years after its initial release. The pace of the film is certainly deliberate as Colossus' power and its subsequent awareness isn’t automatic. I wouldn’t even say that Colossus never actually becomes aware, say like the machines in other Sci-Fi vehicles, as it always remains a logic based computer, just one who was voluntarily given way too much power and control.
It’s this dynamic which sets ‘Colossus’ apart from other ‘Machines in Charge’ films in that Colossus doesn’t want to destroy mankind, it just wants to make things better… actually, Colossus is GOING to make things better no matter what. Colossus is abolishing war, abolishing hunger, and all nations will end. The machine also demonstrates its position with death and murder as well, but simply as a point of reference for those it is trying to save. Gotta crack a few eggs to make a decent omelet. It’s all quite fascinating actually as Colossus has become the ultimate fascist.
Eric Braeden, who never became a big star, though the man certainly isn’t starving with a 25 year run on ‘The Young and the Restless’ gives a spot on performance as the genius Computer Scientist who like the machines he creates is somewhat cold, distant, and remote. There are times even after the machine has ripped away Forbin’s basic free will that the good doctor is still somewhat impressed with his creation. By the time the murders start however his emotions of outrage and desperation are completely on display.
There was one more little bitty minor thing I noticed about ‘Colossus: the Forbin Project’ that probably no else would bat an eye at, and that was relatively high number of African American characters in the film and in positions of substance no less. Georg Stanford Brown as one of the lead computer designers (Still alive at 64 – but way dead in the movie), Sid McCoy as the Secretary of Defense, and we even had a Black Secret Service Agent. I mean this thing was shot in 1969 two years BEFORE Melvin Van Peebles ‘Sweetback’ without a happy janitor to be found. You don’t put that many Black actors into positions of power in a movie in 1969 by accident and if I ever had a chance to talk to the 82 year old Sargent, I would ask him about it because you don’t even see this THAT often in the year 2007.
The reason I give the ages of these actors, and note that they are still alive, is because this is a film that would do well with a sequel, examining a world under 40 years of Colossus rule. The ideas that a writer with some imagination could generate are endless. Not a remake for the love of God, but a continuation would be something that I would seriously pay to see.
‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ is an amazing film that stands well against the test of time, and we’re talking computer technology here, so that’s saying something. With so much subtext and subtle drama, I truly found this film to be a masterpiece, even though I’m still sure my Tungsten C would completely kick Colossus’ ass.