The day has arrived. The supercomputer Colossus has been activated by its genius designer Dr Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) at its location deep within the Rockies and now America should feel that bit more safe. Forbin walks out, leaving the impenetrable protection of the complex to guard it, and heads for a press conference the President (Gordon Pinsent) is holding. There it is explained to the public that Colossus will now take care of all America's defence worries, will never act in anger, will always take the rational path. But just as the conference is drawing to a close, a message appears from the machine: there is another supercomputer...
A parable about the dangers of not including an "off" button on your electronic creations, Colossus: The Forbin Project, sometimes known simply as The Forbin Project, was based on a novel by the British writer D.F. Jones, intelligently adapted by future director James Bridges. Although a talky script, it was presented to its best advantage by stylish direction from Joseph Sargent who brought out not only the futuristic angle but the suspense as well. There may be a wealth of scenes where characters are reading off screens and talking to screens, but it is tense.
Essentially, and this is acknowledged in the dialogue, this is a Frankenstein tale for the Cold War where mankind's pushing of the boundaries of science places them in peril. The idea that by putting our fate in the hands of all-powerful technology is a potent one, and one already examined in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this is a far less clinical work. Colossus moves fast, finding his top secret Soviet counterpart - Guardian - in a matter of minutes and they are soon communicating with each other, exchanging information and finding common ground, even inventing a new language so the humans won't know what they're up to.
All through this Forbin and his team are concerned, but somewhat bemused and fascinated at how this is utterly running away from them. In fact, they're a pretty smug lot, taking their brainchild's branching out on its own with a curious sense of pride although when Colossus destroys a Soviet oil refinery and nearby town it becomes clear it means business. Now blackmail is the order of the day as the supercomputers take the upper hand and see their demands are met - or else more people will die. Still Forbin feels confident that he will prevail, or he does until his contact in Rome is shot dead in front of him.
The first half of the film is genuinely excellent, a gripping thriller as Colossus tightens his hold over humanity. But as the story moves into its second half, it starts to get a little too cute, with Forbin - now under surveillance 24 hours a day - persuading the supercomputer that he needs private sex and pretending that his assistant Cleo Markham (Susan Clark) is his mistress. By doing this he fools it into allowing him to pass on information to Cleo and vice versa, but he underestimates his opponent. It's the old science fiction cliché about reinforcing humanity in the face of an emotionless foe, though actually Colossus has the similar imperiousness to its creators - being the offspring it understandable that some of their character should rub off. Only at the very end does Forbin lose his cool, defiant in despair, but by then his anger may be too late. Music by Michel Colombier.