Offering an imaginative sci-fi spin on Fail Safe (1964)—the chilling drama about the risks of nuclear brinksmanship between the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War—this brisk but overly talky thriller imagines what might happen if the U.S. relinquished control over its nuclear arsenal to a supercomputer. Setting aside the kitsch factor of a now-dated movie in which the supercomputer is depicted as a gigantic structure requiring the entirety of a hollowed-out mountain for storage space, Colossus has, well, colossal logic problems. The movie assumes that none of the geniuses who built the computer anticipated its likely evolution; that nobody bothered to check if other systems were being built by other countries; and that the entire U.S. government okayed a system lacking an “off” switch.
As with most “speculative” fiction, however, the point here is not so much the nitty-gritty logic but the underlying concepts, and in this case the central theme is that nuclear weapons are too inherently dangerous for any person or thing to control. As for the more superficial machines-take-over-the-world stuff, that was already old hat by the time Colossus was made, because TV shows like The Outer Limits and Star Trek explored the idea repeatedly in the ’60s.
When viewed as nothing more than a paranoid thriller about the nuclear threat, Colossus is pleasant enough. Under the reliable directorial hand of journeyman Joseph Sargent, Colossus zips along with a fair amount of momentum, and the movie boasts a handful of genuinely clever narrative touches like the scheme that scientist Charles A. Forbin (Eric Braeden) comes up with for slipping information out of the Colossus facility without the pesky computer noticing. The movie also benefits greatly from an exciting music score by Michael Colombier, which ratchets up the tension in key scenes and lends grandeur throughout. Even better, the dialogue is consistently smart. This was the first picture scripted by James Bridges, who later wrote and directed the more believable cautionary tale The China Syndrome (1979).
Unfortunately, the linchpin performance in Colossus, by the actor playing the titular Dr. Forbin, is a dud. While supporting players including Georg Sanford Brown, Susan Clark, James Hong, and William Schallert are strong, leading man Braeden is so wooden that whenever he tries to depict anything more than mild derision or suave charm, he’s woefully out of his depth. Braeden’s stiff acting doesn’t doom the picture any more than the logic problems, but these flaws keep Colossus from earning much more than also-ran status in the ’70s sci-fi pantheon.
Colossus: The Forbin Project: FUNKY