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  • TBC
  • Sci-Fi
  • 1971
  • 90 mins

Silent Running

Silent Running


A virtuous science-fiction classic in which Bruce Dern's lone astronaut champions the last remnants of Earth's plant life. The directorial debut of FX man Douglas Trumbull, scripted by Michael Cimino


Usually when one refers to little green men in science fiction movies it is to aliens from Mars. The green man in this ecological post-nuclear holocaust space-age tale is botanist/astronaut Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern). Lowell is a crew member on board the Valley Forge, a giant spacecraft that contains the remnants of Earth's plant species in vast greenhouses. These ecosystem raw components are stored in space with the intention that they be used to refurbish the damaged homeworld. However, orders come from Earth that the vegetation be destroyed - forcing Lowell to take drastic action with his three crewmates who are prepared to comply.

Assisting Lowell are three cute robot "drones" - Huey, Louie and Dewie - whose vigilant efforts to keep the craft in order form much of the narrative drive of the film, alongside Lowell's own disintegration through isolation and despair. Given that for the most part the only human character is Lowell, there is very little dialogue.

Silent Running was the directorial debut of Douglas Trumbull, the one-time illustrator for NASA and special effects expert whose innovations contributed to the sublime accomplishments of 2001: A Space Odyssey (later he also worked on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Blade Runner). Although the special effects work is impressive - the long, thin spacecraft with its greenhouse domes floating in the blackness of space make for a striking image - it's the poignant pathos of the film that is its most abiding characteristic.

Co-scripted by Michael Cimino (who would make his directorial debut two years later with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) Silent Running is a deeply melancholy, profoundly elegiac movie. The film gave environmental concerns grand expression at a time when their seriousness was first becoming moot in the popular experience. That they are still so important today, sadly, maintains the film's potency and moving power.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Bruce Dern, Steven Brown, Cliff Potts, Jesse Vint, Ron Rifkin, Mark Persons
  • Director: Douglas Trumbull
  • Writer: Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino, Steve Bocho
  • Producer: Michel Gruskoff
  • Photographer: Charles F Wheeler
  • Composer: Peter Schickele

In a nutshell

Among the most intelligent and entertaining sci-fi films of the 1970.

by Daniel Etherington

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