Silent Running

500 Days Of Film Reviews Silent Running And Finds A Poignant Space Classic

In the future, all the forests on Earth have disappeared.

The only evidence of their existence can be found aboard a group of spaceship greenhouses - all lovingly cared for by Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern).  

Lowell faces a terrible dilemma when he and his crew mates are ordered to destroy all the forests so that the spaceships can be used for more lucrative (read corporate) tasks.

Is It Any Good?

I first heard about Silent Running from listening to Mark Kermode.

On his and Simon Mayo's weekly flagship film review show (Fridays on UK radio station, BBC Radio 5 Live), Mark often expresses his love for this film and its director -, Doug Trumbull (who was the special photographic effects supervisor on 2001: A Space Odyssey). 

Okay, I thought, I need to see this film. After all, as I trust Mark Kermode’s film reviews and a lot of my 500 Days Of Film list is inspired by his movie of the week choices.

So, I bought Silent Running on Blu Ray DVD.

This format ensures that the movie looks fantastic - especially when you consider that it is over 40 years old. The restoration work is amazing - all shots look clean and of stunning quality.

I love the spaceships in this film. You can, of course, tell that they are models. Nonetheless, they look wonderful to me - both special and inspiring when you think about the technology available at the time. 

The film itself is surprising. 

Silent Running is rated U by the BBFC (click here for more on BBFC ratings) but I wouldn’t recommend it as a fun family movie. It is actually pretty sad and dark.

Bruce Dern gives a superb performance as a tortured soul - torn between doing something horrific to his fellow man in order to preserve something special for all mankind. 

His story is gripping and poignant and it has stayed with me ever since I first watched the film.

I watched Silent Running with my two, cine-literate, kids. I have to report that they were shocked and perplexed by the film. During the movie, they were amazed that Silent Running is a U and then they felt quite bewildered by the end.

Does this make Silent Running a bad movie? 

Not at all. I can’t remember a time when a film prompted more discussion afterwards. It made both me and my kids really think about and wrestle with the story and its message. 

And that makes Silent Running a huge success in my book.

Random Observations

Silent Running was made for $1,350,000. The film’s budget did not allow for expensive set construction and so the filmmakers made use of an aircraft carrier (the USS Valley Forge) and an airplane hanger instead.

Key to the plot are Silent Running’s drones - Huey, Dewey and Louie. Six months of research went into the design and construction of these robots and their story alone is fascinating.

My Blu Ray DVD booklet features a 1972 interview with Wayne Smith who was in charge of “special designs” on the film. He explains that they wanted the drones to be “machine-like in appearance, but not formidable; therefore it was important that they be small in stature, less than three feet high

“Research was started to see if it was possible to have a bilateral amputee walk on his hands with a suit of armour (or drone suit) on him. The initial tests were positive and our work proceeded.” 

I watched Silent Running the day after I watched Gravity (again). I felt this was a good companion piece - certainly displays how technology has advanced in the intervening years! 

Talking of intervening years, the day after I watched Silent Running with my son, we watched Joe Dante’s The Hole together. This movie also features a great performance from Bruce Dern. 

Have you seen Silent Running? I would love to know what you think about this movie. Please do leave a comment in the box below!

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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