Although I write this on Earth Day 2012, I realize you may not be reading it till sometime after ED this year. In any case, Silent Running filmed in 1971 and released in 1972, is now 40 years old. This means you have had a long time to see it but I bet you haven’t done so. What are you waiting for?
SR was a sci-fi film made on a small budget of just over a million bucks. Avatar went through this amount of production money in less than a minute of filming. SR was the first environmentalist movie and should be embraced by botanists the world over for its unusual message.
It starred Bruce Dern and only about seven other actors. Four of them were hired because they were multiple amputees. For most of the film BD is the only actor on screen except for the amputees, who played drones, forerunners for Star War’s R2D2. Other than a slightly different shape, they acted like relatives.
The story takes place in the far future. BD and 3 crewmates, along with the drones, are inhabitants of a giant space transport known as Valley Forge. Inside the ship are domes, which hold the last of Earth’s forests because Earth is no longer a habitat for plants and trees. When word comes to abandon the mission and destroy the trees and plants Bruce can’t bring himself to do it, does his companions in instead and drifts about in space with the forests and drones, trying to cope.
Once alone, BD and the drones are a treat to watch. He teaches them plant care and poker. They operate on and fix his wounded leg. When events turn for the worse…no, that would be giving away too much.
Directed by special effects whiz, Douglas Trumbull, SR featured a first writing effort by Michael Cimino who went on to achieve a Best Picture Oscar directing The Deer Hunter in 1978. He then went on to bankrupt United Artist with the financial disaster Heavens Gate in 1980.
In his only foray into movie music, creator of the comical fictitious composer P.D.Q. Bach, Peter Schickele, wrote SR’s terrific score. The vocalist was folk singer and liberal activist for every cause from anti-war, anti-death penalty and anti-dog grooming, the still actively singing Joan Baez. Joan. Now 71, Baez has always stood up for the poor while living in Woodside, California just south of San Francisco, one of the U.S.’s wealthiest communities. While many enjoy her voice it always sounded to me as if she were singing while trying to ingest a foot of Astroturf at the same time.
Bruce Dern will be 76 this June and is as active as ever. He may have as many as five films released this year. Two are complete, two in postproduction and one in pre-production. Wow. The most interesting is a big screen version of the TV Western series The Big Valley. Along with BD, Big Valley features Sara Paxton, Jessica Lange, Richard Dreyfuss and Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man). Majors will be 73 on the day after Earth Day 2012 and was in the original TV series. He can also be seen selling hearing aids on TV. I am waiting for a price quote.
Not only did SR influence Star Wars, the final fade away shot is almost identical to the one Steven Spielberg uses to end 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Trumbull was special effects supervisor for CE3K as well as Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
SR’s forest dome was filmed inside a hangar at the Van Nuys, CA airport with the hangar/storage scenes shot at the decommissioned US Air Craft carrier Valley Forge. Earth Day or any day, Silent Running deserves your attention. Available on a DVD from the 90’s you can download this film at Amazon.com for under $3 and watch it on your computer. I’m going outside now to water the plants.
Rated 3.5 out of 4.0 scene-stealing drones.