If you go back and watch a lot of older films, what you will find is that storytelling techniques have changed considerably decade by decade:
● The 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s were still the age of theater. Stories were told with characters walking to center stage and exchanging dialog in melodramatic manner. The stories themselves were told chronologically in short bursts, much like serials where mini-climaxes happened every few minutes. Villains were identified from early on in the film and the entire villainous plot was shared with the audience. The music was always classical and generally meant only for dramatic emphasis... it was always UP!So what is the modern era? Well, the modern era is probably the most creative because it allows something that prior eras did not: ambiguity. In modern films, it’s not always clear which character is the good guy or the bad guy or what their motives are. Endings don’t need to wrap everything up. A lot remains implied that in the past would have been spelled out completely. This allows for stronger stories because you can gloss over lengthy exposition and minor subplots to create a streamlined story.
● The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the introduction of ironic storytelling. Everyone was an anti-hero who was weary of the world and endings were ironic, with the good guy losing the prize he had sought. Scenes were longer and often shot at long distances, interspersed with intense close-ups. Dialog consisted of silence interspersed with soliloquies about the character’s motivation. Sets and costumes reveled in “dirty.” The soundtracks often “mocked” the film or at least ran contrary to the feel of the action. Climaxes still occurred at the end of each group of related scenes and films tended to have multiple climaxes at the end.
● The 1970s, when Soylent Green takes place, was a world in which everything was running down. Sets were dumps. Actors barely moved. Everyone looked depressed and talked about how hopeless the world was today. The pacing of stories was very slow. Directors favored much longer scenes with long, contemplative looks from the characters... staring was the order of the day for acting. Story climaxes tended to be few and far between, often involving a brief moment of action at the opening of the film and then nothing really exciting again until the reveal at the end of the film. These films typically stopped right at the end of the climax. Musically, these films had huge, creative scores that fit with the action much better than scores of prior eras.
● 1980s films were processed. They were characterized by a total lack of creativity in how stories were told: everything was chronological and straightforward, nothing was left to the audience’s interpretation. In fact, things were so controlled that the audience was even shown each character’s reaction to emotional moments so they knew exactly how to understand what was going on – look at a film like Major League to see how a virtual montage is shown of each major character’s reaction to each event. Camera work was simplistic with scenes taking place in fixed sets with the characters roughly gathered around the most relevant character in the scene. In a way, these were a throwback to the 1950s, only the sets were more realistic. Musically, this era was similar to the 1970s when it came to scores, but often inter-worked pop songs into montages as a way to show the passing of time as the hero prepares their scheme or trains or goes through their self-improvement phase.
● The 1990s were really the beginning of the modern era.
The modern era also has embraced non-chronological storytelling. This allows more complex plots and stronger reveals of information the director wants to keep hidden. A great example is how you don’t find out until the middle of Reservoir Dogs that one of the accomplices is actually an undercover cop.
The modern era also allows both long and short story arcs within the same film or show, which allows the director to tell multiple stories that can wrap up without all needing to be solved at the same moment in the film. That again, helps pacing and helps focus the story. The dialog is more punchy too and is more focused on how people really talk rather than how literature is written. That makes these films feel more natural.
The modern era also has embraced rawness or realness at times, which gives films a visceral feel that is missing from prior eras. It is essentially what the 1960s were trying to achieve, but didn’t. The modern era also is better at using the camera to put the audience into the action (even the shaky cam can be useful at key moments). The modern era is better at using music more opportunistically too to highlight character actions or build moods.
All in all, the modern era has taken the best of non-linearism and grittiness from the 1960, the thoughtfulness of the 1970s, and the consistency of the 1980s and has improved each. The result is some really solid, well-told and very compelling films. Obviously, none of this applies to the tent pole films, which are computer-generated mush, but these are techniques that you see in better films today which were rare or nonexistent in the past. And it is these techniques that could be used to turn a “flat” story like Soylent Green, which is very chronological and plodding, into a much stronger, more visceral feeling, personal film... which would justify remaking that film.