Silent Running (1972)

This is quite a moving little film in it's seventies, hippy-dreaming kind of way. We certainly won't see its like ever again - far too cynical we have all become, and perhaps it's the sense of innocence it manages to convey, on the part of the film-makers including director Douglas Trumbull, that moves your grizzled old Uncle Boris. I'm sure you realise by now, that I love horror, trash and exploitation movies. This collection of reviews, however is meant to reflect the whole gamut of my taste, and share it with you. I also like to be emotionally moved, I like science fiction, and this is one cinematic work that brings these elements together successfully for me.

In Earth's far-flung future, space botanist and conservationist Freeman Lovell (cult favorite Bruce Dern) tends the planet's last remaining forests and animals in several orbiting space stations. He lives with three other workers, men who only want to return back to the depleted earth, who don't care that they can't eat real fruit and vegetables, who race around in groovy little buggies, running through Freeman's gardens and annoying him intensely. In short, we can see Freeman is already alienated from his non-caring workmates. Then comes the big news that changes everything.

The order is transmitted from Earth to destroy the costly project - blow it all up and return home, to re-use the remaining bits of the space stations for commercial work. To the sensitive ecologist Freeman, this is a mortal blow and he snaps. However much he pleads against it, his co-workers are determined to follow orders and obliterate the last remaining forests. So, incredibly early in the film, he kills his companions (off-screen, via explosion) and goes it alone, determined to evade capture and continue the project. Now at this point, he could be setting himself up in our eyes as a crazed villain. Instead, we soon take pity on his plight.

In order to continue, he adapts some worker droids, silent (they don't beep or talk) precursors to the famous Star Wars characters, and names them Huey and Dewey. The third, "Lewie" had been blown off the face of a space station earlier by a space storm. The two droids provide company and comfort for Lovell, playing poker with him - cheating behind his back in an amusing scene - and being trained by him to tend the remaining stations. These are exceedingly cute robots - basically just little stumpy legs on square-ish metal bodies, with a few gadgets and lights in view. Despite this simplicity, their "humanity" shines through. Eventually, things take a turn for the worse, with Freeman injured as well as one of the robots too damaged to continue regular work. His frail mental state worsening, Freeman decides to end it all - except for one last space station of forest tended to by the remaining droid.

Anyone viewing this that hates all things "hippy" may as well give this one a miss. For a start, you've got a score by folk star Joan Baez, which permeates the proceedings. This becomes a moving factor at the film's conclusion, when all that's left is the lone droid tending the forests with a child's watering-can. This scene gets to me, and I have read others are moved as well. I must say that Silent Running is a nostalgia trip for me too, I have quite a few memories of it from my childhood. Bruce Dern does well as the tragic ecologist, doomed to failure by an uncaring humanity. Haven't we all felt this way in our efforts to protect things and keep things pure? It's essentially a one-man show and the pity we feel for him, even after murder, shows the strength of the performance. The special effects are subtle but excellent, but don't expect laser-fights or fast-moving space-ships. The space setting is more a back-drop to the character study unfolding.

Recommended, if you're in the mood to be moved. You also really need to have a liking for the seventies feel in a movie. Count this old codger in. It's an entertainment, for sure, but not a popcorn entertainment. There were a few ecologically-minded science-fiction films of the seventies and sixties, and this is a fine example of them.

And even if you totally hate the film - come on, you've got to love the robots.

© Boris Lugosi 2005.


Review written: 02/24/2005 20:55:26