Silent Running (1972) Poster

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You Can't Blow Up My Forest
Etherdave4 May 2006
Universal Studios funded several low-budget productions in the early seventies. By far the best to come out of this program was 'Silent Running', an ecologically-minded 'message film' that stands out today as one of the truly great films of the science-fiction genre.

Bruce Dern stars as Freeman Lowell, a futuristic Park Ranger minding Earth's last forests, sealed in gigantic domes aboard an equally gigantic freighter in space. When ordered to destroy the domes and return home, Lowell is forced to choose between his crewmates and his beloved forests.

The motif of a polluted, or simply, homogenized Earth, the ultimate triumph of human progress over nature and wilderness, is a standard theme of science fiction in the 20th century, and the film is not too different from many other films and episodic television programs seen since the postwar period. Rarely, however, has the theme been explored from the point of view of ecological ethics. The storyline is kept deliberately simple, and asks not the question 'How Would You Act In Such A Position', it merely shows how one particular man might. The characters are given seminal, yet subtle opportunities to flesh themselves out (comments made during meals and card games are particularly noteworthy), and even if the character of Lowell is ultimately dislikeable, he remains oddly sympathetic. Dern produces a remarkable performance here, as a tortured, perhaps even mentally-ill, loner. His work here is still fresh and understated and certainly not of the over-the-top calibre, despite the insistances of some.

The film possesses truly amazing visual images, from the spacecraft itself (the decommissioned and soon-to-be-scrapped aircraft carrier Valley Forge) to the domes (an aircraft hanger at Van Nuys Airport) to the unforgettable Drones, uncanny little robots designed around the amputee-actors that give them life. Visual effects are excellent, the direct prototypes of even more fantastical films to come. The music, composed for the film by Peter Schickele (known internationally as P.D.Q. Bach), is by turns boldly triumphant, softly mournful, and is quite effective; some viewers may hate the vocal work of Joan Baez, but she is a logical choice for this production and time period.

While many films have suffered since the release of 'Star Wars'(which is NOT, strictly speaking, science-fiction) due to dated visuals and obsolete effects technology, 'Silent Running' is still startlingly clean and visionary. A worthy film for all science-fiction fans to see.
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In a category by itself
mercuryix7 December 2001
This film doesn't hit you over the head with million-dollar special effects. It doesn't contain action scenes every two seconds for the easily distracted. It just rips your heart out, and makes you think long after the movie is over. It is about isolation, alienation, lost causes, and the inevitable future. In short, it is a genuine science fiction film, not a gunfight covered with techno-glitz and special effects calling itself science fiction. Star Wars is great science fantasy, but the essence of science fiction is about what could happen, and is happening, and by the end of the film we have the disturbing feeling that it is a prediction of the future that will happen without intervention.

The feelings of sadness and hope this film evokes are inextricably linked in this film, right up until the end. If you rent this movie, you will be haunted by its images long after you have forgotten other films.

Ten out of ten stars; from the writing, directing and acting, right down to the three robot drones (Huey, Dewey and Louie), there is nothing to fault with in this film.
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The memory cheats, but it's still an important movie
The_Movie_Cat21 July 1999
Warning: Spoilers
Watching Silent Running for the second time, many years later, I was amazed how different it was from my recollection. I remembered a story with a slight environmental message, cute robots that talked and a totally sympathetic lead character played slightly woodenly by Bruce Dern.

Seen again, the green message ISN'T subtle, the robots DON'T talk, and far from wholly sympathetic, Dern plays a man suffering a complete nervous breakdown. Not only that, but it has an incongruous, jarring soundtrack by Joan Baez.

So, it was a different film to how I'd remembered, but perhaps someway the better. Dern is far from wooden, and gives the performance of a lifetime. Even though this performance was overlooked for an Oscar nomination, it is still remarkable that the film was made at all. Can you imagine pitching this film to a Hollywood exec of the 90's?

"There's this guy who's in his late thirties who looks after a forest in space. There's no love interest, instead the guy is lonely, a little nerdy, socially inept, and kills all his friends in cold blood. The remainder of the film hangs not on tension but on whether or not his plants whither. Oh, and some robots help him out, but they might be psychotic, too".

As a result, Silent Running is utterly unique, and even if not judged as the best sf film ever made, it is certainly one of the most important.
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An amazing, wonderful film
NotSureifthisis77347 April 2003
I remember first seeing this film on television I think in 1973 and being mesmerized by it. Even though I found the the premise to be absurd (more on that below), the story and movie triumphs regardless. This is flim making at its most brilliant. With the exception of Terrence Malick's "Badlands," I cannot think of a finer directorial debut. It is one of the tragedies of contemporary cinema, that Douglas Trumbull could not find any work as a director for years afterwards. What a loss! The studio completely blew it.

The movie. Yes, the premise is incoherent and it has to be dealt with. Sometime in the early years of the next century what is left of America's forests are gathered up and put on space freighters and shipped to . . . Saturn. Why is most unclear. Putting the forest domes in orbit around earth would have made perfect sense. Moreover, the film goes to great lengths to show that the robots are fully capable of tending to them alone so the whole bit about the unhappy human crew is unnecessary. But off to Saturn we go (where the light for the plants -- surprise -- is really bad).

I understand that Trumbull was thinking of an alien contact story initially -- I am certain to be going out on a limb on this one -- which seemed to bear some resemblence to the Poul Anderson novella "Southern Cross." The aliens were soon dumped, however. What remained turned out to be an utterly compelling psychological drama of a man alone in space that is unlike any SF movie I have seen (it does bear some similarity to a few Twilight Zone episodes, however).

This is an astonishing technical achievement in movie making. Everything about this film works: music, effects, photography, sets, acting, editing, direction, you name it. Folks, this was done for all of one million dollars and is a hundred times more compelling than films that cost a hundred times as much. This is art. This is literature. Get the DVD. Just sit down an watch it. This is a lovely, timeless, piece of work.

Then weep because they don't make 'em like this anymore. .
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Unique and memorable science-fiction classic
Splatterdome-AMH8 February 2002
Sometime in the future all the forests on Earth have been destroyed. The last forests are transported in giant greenhouses aboard space ships near the planet Saturn. Freeman Lowell, crew member of the space vessel Valley Forge, is an outsider and the only one who cares about what is left of our planet's nature. When orders reach their vessel to destroy the forests, he goes mad. He kills off the other crew members and starts a lonely odyssey...

There's something to be learnt in this movie. More than 30 years old now, it stands the test of time with its message, as mankind is still working on what possibly could end in a scenario like this. Bruce Dern may be overacting in some scenes, but his character is still much more likeable than his crew comrades. Scenery and music are beautiful, fitting well to the dark, moving and unique story. And this is the movie that made "Star Wars" possible. Director Douglas Trumbull and other SFX masters like John Dykstra and Richard Yuricich were chosen to work on "Star Wars" because of the state-of-the-arts special effects they did for "Silent Running". In 1971, they were ahead of their time. In fact, they are easily as good as today's CGI effects, but much more memorable for their time. Even the droids that help Lowell are predecessors of the ones in "Star Wars"... A must-see movie for SF fans and everybody interested in Hollywood classics.
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Not just special effects, but a poignant question: what would YOU do?
Eve Sander7 February 1999
Recently someone asked me what was the best sci-fi movie I'd ever seen. "Best"? On what basis -- story, acting, special effects? Generally one would usually choose one of the high-tech, high-priced, superstar biggies.

But I had to say "Silent Running." Oh, it has special effects all right, and I think they're good enough for the purpose; I certainly felt the cramped dimness of the station against the vast implacability of space. Maybe you'd say it doesn't have enough action, surprises, or gore. But maybe this story doesn't need them.

Then why is it my nomination? Because when it was over, I had to turn off the TV -- couldn't let its mood and memory be violated by a late-nite commercial -- and just quietly weep for its poignancy. Anything less (or more) would have denied it the respect it deserved.

If you must, watch it as just more fodder for your entertainment urge. But if your soul is deeper than that... if you can, as Bruce Dern does, put yourself in the place of a character who so cares about the earth and its place in the cosmos ... you'll appreciate the eloquent statement of this film and the way it's presented.

A man, not a god. But if it were you, if you were there... would you, COULD YOU do what he did?
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So good - please watch.
info-213314 November 2004
Maybe one of the most moving things about this film is the fact that the drones (small droids) give such powerful performances without ever being able to utter a word. Maybe a "nod" in some ways to the days of the silent movie. The environmental message is as powerful today as it was in 1972.

An extremely good yet brief film that I felt I had to comment upon it. Enjoyed the hippy theme tune as well just because it fitted right in. These types of film are rare but precious. I remember watching this as a child and it had an impact on me then so I thought I should revisit the piece 20 years later. Absolutely not disappointed.
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screenab26 April 2008
I was 15 years old when I saw this movie. Tears ran down my cheeks as I walked home. It was the saddest and happiest I have ever been, and at the same time. I'm 51 years old now. This movie has been in my sub conscience for 36 years. It's like a prophesy, to what we are facing now. We have made such a mess of this beautiful blue planet. This movie taps into your inner fears, and mortality and for me it has never let go. Looking back I think I quit breathing at times during this movie, as it draws into your heart, and mind. It's about love, and loss, and a feeling of forlorn. Now more than ever before with global warming, food riots, peak oil. Anarchy and chaos is in our future. We will so regret what we have done to this planet, but it is to late. We should have been jarred into action after this movie was made in 1972. Stupid is what stupid does.
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daynal_10 November 2004
This film is by no means flawless. Its various problems have been well documented, but I have to say this is a film that stays with you over the years.

The ambiance is unique, there is nothing else like it - although everyone else pinched bits of it! The film has a charm way beyond that which it is technically entitled to.

If the environmentalism seems laid on with a trowel, remember this film would have been one of the first, if not *the* first, to put such things on the big screen. Subtlety would only work I think, when the audience is already familiar with the basic premise - that concreting over the entire planet is not such a good idea.

It has a message beyond the fairly obvious environmental one though - the sheer contentment earned by those who do what is necessary, regardless of the thanks they won't get for it! The hero is not especially smart, but hes still smarter than everyone else. We are used to our heroes being mostly perfect, but where is that written in stone? This is just one bad tempered hippy, who for his crimes, gets followed around the place by a screaming Joan Baez.

Notable also for one of the saddest scenes in the history of film - the two droids staring with complete incomprehension at the remains of their friend.
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" An environmentalist and animal lover meets hunters in space!!"
Graham Watson27 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not sure if SILENT RUNNING is up there with other sci-fi classics such as FORBIDDEN PLANET, 2001, PLANET OF THE APES or ALIEN but I think that it deserves a mention. It's a typical 70's sci-fi where the earth has experienced some form of Armageddon either through war, a biological disaster, overpopulation, pollution or massive environmental catastrophe. Often with these type of movies you are left scratching your head trying to figure out what happened to the earth and how did they manage to into that mess? The plots can become convoluted and the premises pretty far fetched. Although it is true in this film it never the less is absorbing viewing not least because of Bruce Derns performance and his portrayal of the character Lowell. Again we are years in the future and the earth is void of forests with it's natural habitat. It now only exists in an artificial environment in outer space housed in domes.

Bruce Dern as Lowell was well cast in this and is very believable as the odd man out in the crew of the 'Valley Forge' space freighter. The other members of the crew come across as the equivalent of company roughnecks that can't wait to return to the earth whatever it resembles. They are the face of the "ugly American" that you would run into in any bar in the USA swigging beer and stuffing their face with hot buffalo wings who would be more interested in NASCAR, college hoops or a pre-season Mets game than anything of real substance or importance. Lowell comes across as eccentric by comparison because he has a soul and is troubled by the companies decision to destroy the last remaining forests, presumably because of cost, what else?

Bruce Dern steals the show with his performance. At the beginning he is overbearing as he preaches to his crew mates, yet this is tempered by the viewers irritation towards them with their attitude, ignorance and stupidity . As they mock and make fun of him, Lowell becomes more likable despite his obsessive personality. The viewer begins to despise the rest of the crew and their crass attitude towards their responsibilities, you have little sympathy for them when Lowell decides to sacrifice them for the greater good as he see's it. However, because he has a conscience he is riddled with guilt over their deaths but never the less sees it as the only way to save what is left of the earths natural beauty. In the end you like Lowell, he is kind, is compassionate and is prepared to sacrifice himself to make sure that what is left will survive.

Although the special effects are very Gerry Anderson i.e. UFO, THUNDERBIRDS etc and it is all made in a studio it's still an interesting and entertaining watch, it's very colourful with great definition and has been digitally restored. Perhaps a remake should be done, maybe George Clooney as Lowell?
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