Wed 7 Sep 2016
SILENT RUNNING. Universal Pictures, 1972. Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint. Drones: Mark Persons, Steven Brown, Cheryl Sparks, Larry Whisenhunt. Screenplay: Deric Washburn, Mike Cimino and Steve Bochco. Director: Douglas Trumbull.
Silent Running is both a simplistic and spectacular view of a semi-utopian future in which the Earth is a “paradise” with a uniform temperature and only manufactured food to eat; there are no trees or animals left on the planet, only the ones temporary stored on gigantic spaceships left in orbit around
Jupiter Saturn, manned only by a minimal number of bored and uncaring crew members.
Except for Freeman Lowell, played by Bruce Dern, for a large part of the film the only character on the screen at any one time. Often wearing a robe and in semi-Messianic fashion, Lowell may be the only person alive who really cares about nature. When the order comes down from above to not only jettison but blow up the entire project, he rebels and takes it upon himself to save his own personal forest biosphere .
Other than two surviving droids for companionship, Lowell is the only person on the screen for most of the movie. When systems begin to fail, he manages to jury rig partial fixes, but no more. It is here that the movie seems to drift a bit, with no destination for the film in sight. But wait! The ending is one well worth waiting for.
This is definitely a movie with a message and striking visual effects, but basically a simple one that may have been premature in 1972. I suspect that the greatest success this movie may have had has been on SF films taking place in space that have followed.