Sunday, 30 December 2012

Silent Running (1972)


With its clear Eco-message and minimal cast, Silent Running is quite a bold film, and it's clear why this is a bit of a cult classic. Certainly not the first film to tell us how Earth is going to hell and we really need to look after our natural resources, but by placing the story in space and having most of the film featuring only one character, it does something different.  Bruce Dern's character - Freeman Lowell - is one of a crew of four aboard the Valley Forge; one of several crafts harbouring huge domes which maintain various ecosystems: the last remaining from a blistered Earth.  However, Lowell is the only crew member who really cares about these ecosystems, and when the order comes from command to jettison the domes and detonate them before returning to Earth, Lowell dis-obeys the orders and escapes to the far side of Saturn alone with his forest.

Bruce Derns' performance as Lowell is very good and the ambience of the film is a strong influence on the more recent Moon.  Dern plays the misunderstood forest protector well, with suitable passion yet being slightly unhinged at the same time, and given that his only companions for a lot of the film are three droids (which are very cute) it's quite an achievement.  The special effects are really kept to a minimum which helps to not date the film to the 70s (OK, so the hippy vibe given off by the Joan Baez music will), and a lot of the exterior space shots look quite classy and timeless (perhaps not surprising given that director Douglas Trumball was special photographic effects supervisor on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Bladerunner).  The droids are quintessentially 70s but they are so cool that they look more retro than dated!

This all makes Silent Running a really enjoyable Sci-Fi story; the message is obvious but instead of being hit over the head with it we are engaged by the mental state of Lowell and the way he deals with the order to destroy the last vestiges of terrestrial flora.  The film is not action packed and takes its time, which is no bad thing; a great performance by Dern, some smashing sets and special effects all add up to a pretty cool film.