Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Silent Running

directed by Douglas Trumbull

Silent Running poster  
Picture a garden, an idyllic natural haven full of flowers, running water, frogs and other wildlife. There are bunnies. As our view pans out we discover that this haven's on a space station, the Valley Forge, one of several. Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is in charge of maintaining this one, but his three crewmates don't share his appreciation of nature.

The premise of Silent Running is that the forests of Earth are ruined, and what remains of our biodiversity is held in a handful of great insect-like spacecraft. Lowell has spent 8 years nurturing plants and animals within these biodomes. He hopes to go back one day and re-establish forests on Earth. However, when the crew get a transmission from Earth control it's not what Lowell is expecting, although to his horror the rest of the crew are more than happy to go along with their orders. He plans to fight tooth and nail for the last forests anywhere in the solar system.

The environmental message is pretty heavy-handed, and no mistake. When it comes to his dress and ideals, Lowell conforms to the hippy stereotype. Combine that with Bruce Dern's soft voice and subdued manner and Lowell seems as wet as a trout. We're not expecting any defiance from such a gentle, moral man, so any steel he does show comes as a welcome surprise.

The movie loses its way during the second half, when the pace slackens and a lot of screen time is given over to three bumbling anthropomorphised robots. These repair drones behave as though they have intelligence. Lowell enlists their help and treats them as surrogate friends. It's unlikely, not to mention mawkish. Along with audible explosions in space, the gravity on the Valley Forge, and the idea that humans could prosper on a planet without trees, there are plenty of aspects of Silent Running that will ring false to a modern audience. But this movie is a product of its time, when environmental concerns and long hair were inseperable. Whether that's enough to excuse the dubious fact-checking is a matter of personal taste.

There's a stark visual contrast between the delicate beauty of the biodomes and the clunky artificial environment of the rest of the spacecraft. It doesn't have the slickest visuals in 1970s science fiction, but the movie has its moments. But the tone is so earnest, and the Joan Baez soundtrack so soppy, that it's like watching a sermon. Whilst being force-fed candyfloss.

Film Details

Decade: 1970s

Categories: Films

  Kids     Science fiction

Classification: U

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson