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Silent Running

Entry updated 14 February 2022. Tagged: Film.

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Film (1971). Universal. Directed by Douglas Trumbull. Written by Deric Washburn, Mike Cimino and Steve Bocho, from a story by Trumbull. Cast includes Bruce Dern. 90 minutes. Colour.

All plant life on Earth has been destroyed in the aftermath of a nuclear Holocaust; only vast orbiting Spaceships like Valley Forge, with its external hydroponic domes, still contain Post-Holocaust trees and flowers, the hope being that these may one day be used to re-seed the planet; but then their destruction is ordered by the totalitarian Earth government. Silent Running's premise is obviously fatuous – it would be cheaper to leave the spaceships in place. Bruce Dern plays, in penitent's robes, the only true conservationist left alive: Freeman Lowell, a low-grade gardener aboard the Valley Forge. When the order comes through to dump the vegetation he kills his companions (with the film's tacit approval) and sets off into deep space with the plants (apparently forgetting they have previously needed sunlight to live). He is accompanied only by three small, cute, box-shaped Robots (in fact operated by amputees). Silent Running is occasionally spectacular – Trumbull was one of the special-effects supervisors on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Silent Running's scenes of vast spaceships floating through space compare well with those in Stanley Kubrick's epic – but the film is morally dubious, scientifically unsound and sociologically implausible.

The novelization, Silent Running (1972) by Harlan Thompson, attempts to fix some of the holes in the film's plot. [PN/JB]


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