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Film: Silent Running

Wikipedia Fact: "The model of the Valley Forge Space Freighter was 26 feet (8 m) long, and took six months to build from a combination of custom castings and the contents of approximately 800 prefabricated model aircraft or tank kits."

Wikipedia Fact: "The model of the Valley Forge Space Freighter was 26 feet (8 m) long, and took six months to build from a combination of custom castings and the contents of approximately 800 prefabricated model aircraft or tank kits."

Year of Release: 1972

Directed by: Douglas Trumbull

Starring: Bruce Dern

Summary: The ship Valley Forge contains some of Earth’s last botanical specimens, manned by just four crew. When events take a turn for the worse, botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is left alone on the doomed ship with only the maintenance droids for company.

DVD Features: Essentially none, apart from basic subtitles and a German soundtrack.  The back of the DVD presents “Includes Trailer” as the only notable feature.

The four crew members are the only people seen in the entire film.

The four crew members are the only people seen in the entire film.

Thoughts: I really enjoyed Silent Running. The central idea is not dissimilar to the one used by WALL-E only recently, except in this film it’s the plant and animal life being preserved in the ships, not the humans. With all of today’s concerns about the environment and the future of the planet, the idea of the Earth no longer being able to sustain life is still relevant, even if we’re still not quite at that point yet, almost forty years after the film’s release.

All I knew about the film before viewing it was essentially what I included in the summary above, that Bruce Dern’s character is alone aboard a botanical ship with several droids. From reading the blurb on the back of the DVD case and viewing the original trailer (included on the DVD), that’s actually much less than most people knew going into the film, as both give away exactly why Lowell is alone, with the trailer in particular containing many of what I’d consider spoilers, at least when it’s not exaggerating or simply deceiving. As such, the film contained more surprises for me than most, and was probably better for it.

Wikipedia Fact: "The three "drones" were played by four double-amputees.  The 20 pound (9 kg) "drone suits" were custom tailored for the different actors. The suits still exist, and are in Douglas Trumbull's personal collection."

Wikipedia Fact: "The three "drones" were played by four double-amputees. The 20 pound (9 kg) "drone suits" were custom tailored for the different actors. The suits still exist, and are in Douglas Trumbull's personal collection."

As mentioned, Dern’s fellow crewmen – played by Cliff Potts, Jesse Vint and a young Ron Rifkin (recently starring in Alias and Brothers & Sisters) – are quickly removed from the film in developments I really didn’t see coming. From then on the film focuses on Lowell’s isolation and his reprogramming of the maintenance droids into replacement friends (who he nicknames Hewey, Duey and Louie), both out of a need for them to help him with the running of the ship and an attempt to regain what he’s lost, tormented by the manner in which he’s separated from the rest of the crew. To top things off, the forest starts dying and he has to work with the droids to try and establish what is killing them, or the whole endeavour will have been for nothing.

Dern’s performance is great, veering between passionate about the mission and manic in his commitment to it, the droids are cute and very endearing, and the story is an interesting one (with an ending that I again would not have predicted). Total Sci-Fi Online put Silent Running as its sixteenth best sci-fi film of all time  in their top 100 (which is what prompted me to fish out the DVD and give the film a watch), and it’s definitely a sci-fi classic.

As well as using the Saturn shots that were not completed in time for <i>2001: A Space Odyssey</i>, <i>Silent Running</i> has been claimed as an influence for Mystery Science Theater 3000, Red Dwarf, Sunshine, WALL-E and Moon

As well as using the Saturn shots that were not completed in time for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running has been claimed as an influence for Mystery Science Theater 3000, Red Dwarf, Sunshine, WALL-E and Moon.

Trailer: I watched this trailer after I’d watched the film to see how it was advertised.  As I said above, it gives away all the key plot elements in a rather lazy fashion, lies or misrepresents other parts, and even uses the final shot of the movie.  As such, I wouldn’t actually recommend watching it unless you’ve seen the film, which rather spoils the point of having a trailer in the first place:

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  1. July 26, 2010 at 15:09

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