Great Films You Need To See – Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally recognised magazine and website that shows film in a wider context and is this month running a series of features and reviews with the theme of ‘technology’. This piece about 1970 sci-fi oddity Colossus: The Forbin Project was written as part of The Big Picture’s Lost Classics strand, although I am including it within my list of Great Films You Need To See.

It may have been released back when computers were still the size of refrigerators, but the dire warnings this cautionary slice of Nixon-era paranoia expounds have only become louder.

Colossus: The Forbin Project - a one-off that has been allowed to slip through the cracks

Colossus: The Forbin Project – a one-off that has been allowed to slip through the cracks

Professor Stephen Hawking’s apocalyptic exhortation that artificial intelligence could possibly spell the end of mankind if allowed to evolve unchecked will come as little surprise to anyone versed in science fiction’s fixation on our own destruction.

The poster bot for machine-led world domination is, of course, Skynet from the Terminator series, but James Cameron surely borrowed a thing or two from the supercomputer at the heart of the curious, fascinating 1970 flick Colossus: The Forbin Project.

Colossus makes its intentions clear in Colossus: The Forbin Project

Colossus makes its intentions clear in Colossus: The Forbin Project

Based on the novel of the same name published four years earlier, Colossus centres on the growing nightmare that unfolds following the activation of the titular machine; designed by egghead Dr Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) to monitor worldwide missile systems and control America’s nuclear arsenal.

No sooner has the “perfect” mainframe been switched on, than Colossus dramatically announces via its ominous electronic ticker tape system that another, near identical system has been launched by the Soviet Union called Guardian – which it starts to communicate with. While Forbin and the other smartest guys in the room try to work out what to do next, Colossus coldly and logically begins to make the President (Gordon Pinsent) wish he hadn’t handed over his country’s entire defence system to an A.I system with a penchant for megalomania.

Dr Forbin (Eric Braeden) and Dr Cleo Markham (Susan Clark) embark on their 'affair' in Colossus: The Forbin Project

Dr Forbin (Eric Braeden) and Dr Cleo Markham (Susan Clark) embark on their ‘affair’ in Colossus: The Forbin Project

One can only imagine the special effects-laden actionfest that would undoubtedly constitute the long-mooted remake of Colossus: The Forbin Project should it ever see the light of day. Without a particularly generous budget to play with, director Joseph Sargent instead strips back the razzmatazz and focusses on the escalating human drama by largely setting the film in the crucible of the Colossus Control Centre (with exterior shots filmed at the coldly futuristic looking Lawrence Hall of Science).

The film isn’t afraid to take a few eyebrow-raising turns, notably an extended sequence in which the surveilled Forbin and fellow team member Dr Cleo Markham (Susan Clark) attempt to fool Colossus into believing they are lovers in order for clandestine information to be shared.

Saucy! Machine love in Colossus: The Forbin Project

Saucy! Machine love in Colossus: The Forbin Project

This is preceded by an amusingly deadpan exchange between Forbin and Colossus wherein the supercomputer, unable to understand the concept of love, negotiates with the increasingly tetchy scientist on what private time he is allowed to engage in carnal pleasure with Markham.

To say the film’s ending is abrupt, meanwhile, is putting it mildly as it reaches its conclusion with an admirable adherence to its internal narrative logic.

Colossus: The Forbin Project is a genuine oddity in the overladen sci-fi genre; a one-off that has been allowed to slip through the cracks, but nevertheless has something important to say about the inherent dangers of playing Dr Frankenstein and taking for granted our precarious presumption as the dominant force on this planet. Lest we forget, the machines are coming…


  1. le0pard13 · November 11, 2015

    One of my favorites from this era’s sci-fi crop. Good one to single out, Mark. 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · November 11, 2015

      Thanks buddy. It was a recent discovery for me and I had a blast with it.

  2. Tom · November 11, 2015

    Very nice, I’m fascinated about the films that go on to inspire more contemporary classics or blockbusters, especially if those names are things like Terminator or the Matrix etc etc. Can’t say I’ve heard of Colossus but i would like to get my hands on this now. Sounds great!

    • Three Rows Back · November 11, 2015

      It’s an oddity that’s for sure. I can’t say for sure that Cameron was influenced, but it seems likely. Cheers as always for the feedback mate!

  3. saintronald2010 · November 12, 2015

    Except for the fact that the two “stars” of the film are computers and are as big as a warehouse, this film is way ahead of it’s time. I saw it at the flicks way back at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney and walked out stunned! A cross between 1984 and Fail Safe, made on a shoestring budget, with a bunch of nobodies, this is an unheralded classic!
    Susan Clark was in a few films, but mostly guest-starred on TV shows of the seventies. Eric Braeden (real name Hans Gudegast) starred in the TV series The Rat Patrol and then a long-termer (30 plus years) on the TV soap The Young and the Restless…..married to the same woman for nearly 50 years!
    The film was on a double bill and I immediately forgot what the other film was! A remake?………….God, I hope not!

    • Three Rows Back · November 13, 2015

      That’s a fantastic tidbit of information; love reading stories like this. I’ll be honest, it was a relatively recent discovery for me but one I’m glad I stumbled across. Thanks very much for the feedback.


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