As this science fiction classic opens, botanist Freeman Lowell has spent eight years aboard the space freighter "Valley Forge," preserving the only botanical spceimens left from Earth under huge geodesic domes. When he rec... more »eives orders to destroy the project and return home, Lowell rebels and hijacks the freighter, killing his fellow crewmen, injuring himself and plunging the craft into the gaseous rings of Saturn.« less
Environmentally-themed sci-fi set in the near future, when the Earth's foliage has gone extinct and new forests are being grown in massive greenhouses in outer space. When the crew of one ship receives orders to destroy the greenhouses and return home, one of the astronauts goes "rogue" and does whatever he can to protect the precious plant and animal specimens.
The flick is pretty dated looking now, but features a great performance by Bruce Dern (in what amounts to a one-man show) charming old-school special effects and even a couple of cute robots.
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Ecological sci-fi that even this conservative can embrace
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 10/27/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Hailed by some as one of the best science-fiction movies of the 1970s, Silent Running is a quirky, unique movie that conveys a serious ecological message in an unforgettable manner. To be honest, I had never heard of this movie before, but the premise of the film intrigued me, as did the knowledge that a prominent special effects man for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Douglas Trumbull, directed it. Almost despite itself, the movie moved me in places, and I ended up quite enjoying it, even though there are many things about it I didn't particularly like. Many would consider this a boring movie, I am sure, as there are no fierce battles fought or alien beings threatening to destroy mankind. Silent Running is a thinking man's science-fiction film that succeeds or fails on its compelling storyline alone. The story takes place some time in earth's near future, at a time when all plant life has been destroyed on the planet in some unexplained way; America's last forest land still exists, however - millions of miles out in space on board the Valley Forge. The ship carries along several huge geodesic domes filled with trees, flowers, garden plants, etc., along with much of the animal life that goes with them. A crew of four mans the ship, with the help of a number of mechanical drones, but only one, Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) really cares about the forests in his care. We first meet the other three crew members racing willy-nilly around the ship in jeep like go-carts, thinking nothing of trampling a bunch of flowers or taking shortcuts through the grass. In person, they are even less likeable, making fun of Lowell's idealism and basically harrumphing on their own belief that the forests have no importance whatsoever. Lowell himself starts off on the wrong foot, in my opinion, in terms of the audience's reaction to him. The man is a wide-eyed zealot seemingly about two steps away from madness of a dangerous kind; I agreed with everything he said about the importance of the forests, but his words are somewhat lost on the listener (and the crew) because he is simply annoying in his fanaticism. His mood doesn't improve when the crew gets word that they are to destroy the forests and return home to commercial service. Freeman can't handle such a decision, so he does what he feels he must in order to save the last vestige of earth's forests still in existence. The second half of the film revolves solely around Freeman, as he is basically stranded in space with his forest. His only companions are (originally) three drones, and in my opinion these little robotic guys steal the show. This is a 1971 film, so the drones are by no means technologically exotic, yet these things do have their own personalities; there are a couple of especially poignant moments with the drones that I would like to have seen explored on their own terms, but this would have wandered a little too far afield from the premise of the film. The ending is actually quite touching and, perhaps more importantly, it feels right to this viewer. There is certainly a strong undercurrent of allegory working in this storyline. Freeman's fellow crew members represent society at large; their lack of concern for the forests and dismissal of any ecological cares at all are meant to be a condemnation of contemporary society's uncaring and unthinking attitude toward ecology on the planet. Freeman is an evangelical fanatic on the subject, a voice crying in a wilderness that may not survive much longer if things continue as they are; up until the very end, he does not give up hope, though, and that is the inspirational message that stays with the viewer after the movie ends. It's a rather somber and depressing movie for the most part, yet I, who would not call myself an environmentalist of any kind, was touched both emotionally and intellectually by the film. Freeman and his crewmates represent the extreme weights on both sides of the environmentalism/commercialism scale, and it is up to us, the viewers, to find a way to balance those opposing weights on our home planet."
Save the Forest
M. A. Ramos | Florida USA | 11/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Set in the far future aboard the spaceship "Valley Forge", Bruce Dern and three fellow astronauts maintain the huge vessel and the forests that it contains with the help of three ingeniously rendered robots. The robots are so convincing that they steal the show, but they remain classic depictions that are on par with Robby from "Forbidden Planet" and the droids of "Star Wars".This is a sad story with a strong ecological message, "Silent Running" is a visual treat with outstanding special effects and a very realistically-depicted "Valley Forge" spaceship. A production note: Trumbull had use of the decommissioned naval aircraft carrier "Valley Forge" before it was scrapped and he was able to modify many of it's vast interiors for use in the movie, all to good effect."
Imaginative, intelligently rendered sf film with a message
Daniel Jolley | 07/07/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Douglas Trumbull, fresh from the triumph of working on the effects for "2001", directed this movie with a firm visual style and flair that is unusual for a first-time director.Set in the far flung future aboard the spaceship "Valley Forge", Bruce Dern and three other astronauts maintain the huge vessel and the forests that it contains with the help of three ingeniously rendered robots. The robots are so convincing that they almost steal the show (I won't give away how they were done- it spoils the effect), but they remain classic depictions that are on par with Maria from "Metropolis", Robby from "Forbidden Planet" and the droids of "Star Wars".A sad story with a surprisingly downbeat ending and a strong ecological message, "Silent Running" is a visual treat with outstanding special effects (designed and produced by Trumbull) and a very realistically-depicted "Valley Forge" spaceship. Trumbull had use of the decommissioned naval aircraft carrier "Valley Forge" before it was scrapped at the aptly-named Terminal Island facility in Long Beach, CA and he was able to modify many of it's vast interiors for use in the movie, all to good effect.Bruce Dern turns in a great performance and this movie did much to enhance his career, as he is the lone human character for much of the film.And about those Joan Baez ballads included in the soundtrack- you either love them or hate them. I think that they fit in fairly well and do much to convey the mood of the movie, especially after the sequence where the robots beat Bruce Dern at poker by cheating!Several key production personnel who were involved with "Star Wars" just a couple of years later were part of the "Silent Running" crew and some of the design sensibilities set in the visual style of "Silent Running" later show up in "Star Wars"."Silent Running" makes a perfect afternoon of sf film viewing along with the other movie directed by Douglas Trumbull- "Brainstorm"."
Great 1970s dystopic...
Echo | Western Hemisphere | 12/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like death and dying, there are several stages in evaluating "Silent Running" as a film. The first stage is whoa! great effects, unusual idea for a film made in the early 1970s. The second stage is the realization that you are being hit with some of the hardest propaganda since "Battleship Potempkin" or "Triumph of the Will". The final stage is nostalgia for such a ground-breaking movie with super special effects.Bruce Dern is comfy in his role as a slowly-unraveling sociopath. What many don't realize is that the screenplay was written by a then-young Michael Cimino and Steven Bochco ("The Deer Hunter", "NYPD Blue". What's truly amazing is the use of mechanical (not visual) effects. If you've never been on an aircraft carrier, you'll believe that there is an American Airlines cargo freighter "Valley Forge". The details are wonderful: the corporate logos on the cargo pods, the technical manuals lying around, the overall believability of the wonderful drones, the background radio chatter from the other ships.It's a shame Douglas Trumbull hasn't been more visible, this was a great effort."
Ecological science fiction becomes science fact
Christopher Dalton | Louisville, Kentucky | 10/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I still wonder if Universal got the idea for Earth 2 from this film? All kidding aside. Silent Running is a classic science fiction adventure that has a strong, if not serious message to it. It depicts what our future might be like in the 8th year of the 21st Century, 2008 AD, and how the human race could easily cause a worldwide outbreak of pollution. It asks the the question of what would you do if you were in astronaut Lowell's (Bruce Dern)position. I like everything about this movie. From the special effects, to costumes, to set designs, to the plot, etc. Bruce Dern plays the character of Lowell extremely well. A conflicted man who sadly goes to extremes to save the last of Earth's forests from being destroyed. And the drones Huey, Dewey, and Louie were really cool. Obviously the model for R2-D2 in The Star Wars saga, the drones had a unique personality of their own. The other characters played by Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, and Jesse Vint truly represent the implicit cynicism that is in our world today. People who don't care about anything anymore. Only caring about the Almighty Dollar. Douglas Trumbull did an extraordianry job directing the film. His experience as a special effects technician in both 2001 and The Andromeda Strain really shows and pays off in this wonderful film. A film that has a personality of its own. If you enjoy good science fiction, you'll enjoy this cult-classic.Interesting trivia note-stock footage of this film was used in another science ficion cult-classic. Battlestar Galactica."