Silent Running

Silent Running laid the groundwork for such
classics as the Star Wars and Star Trek films

Sometimes a film transcends its genre to become not only a cult classic but actually an important piece of cinema. Films like ‘Terminator’ and ‘Alien’ have helped to change the way movies are made and perceived by the audience. Another such film is Silent Running.

This simple, humanistic story brought the space flick out of the realm of just entertainment to that of showing a Sci-Fi film can reach out and touch your emotions. Now, some thirty-one years after the release of Silent Running audiences demand an emotional attachment to the characters of such films. Silent Running laid the groundwork for such classics as the Star Wars and Star Trek films. Younger viewers may be turned off by the state of special effects back in 1971. Don’t let this get in the way of your enjoyment of the acting and story contained in Silent Running.

Silent Running revolves around a ship in space that contains the last of the earth’s forests. The environmental destruction on earth has reached the point where man has all but destroyed the natural ecology. (Just a little side note, the first Earth Day was in the year this film was released.) A small crew mans the ship. Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is the only member of the crew that actually cares about the trees. He is deeply committed to the preservation of the last forest. Freeman holds the artificial food the rest of the crew eats with distain, consuming only food he grows in his hydroponics garden. With the help of his three robotic caretakers, Louie, Hewy and Dewy, he tenderly cares for the remnant of the earth’s once great forests. One day his darkest fear is made real. Orders come from earth to jettison the forests and destroy them. Earth has come to the point where economics has completely overwhelmed ecology. Freeman’s crewmates are tired of this useless project and are more than glad to follow the orders. Freeman on the other hand feels a moral imperative to save the trees at all costs.

Many feel Silent Running is outdated. To those people I implore them to have a sense of history. You can better appreciate the state of special effects today by appreciating the films that started it all. Silent Running showed Hollywood that a science fiction film can combine special effects with a real emotional story.

Although Silent Running has the contribution of several actors it is Dern that steals the show. Perhaps best known for his psycho killer roles, after all he did go through the ‘Roger Corman School’, here, he shows an excellent range. Dern brings the character of Freeman to life. Without the skill he shows the role could have degenerated into a one-dimensional satire of the environmental activist of the early seventies. Dern’s ability brings the story from just being about the environment to one that takes on the favorite theme of one man standing for what he believes against a powerful government. Perhaps its Dern’s human performance in contrast to his fellow actors stereotypical roles that brings the focus on the more multilevel aspects of the plot.

As most people that enjoy Silent Running will agree the real stars of the film are the little robots, named for the nephews of Donald Duck. When one sacrifices his ‘life’ there is barely a dry eye in the house. The point being that these mechanical devices possessed more humanity than the people that condemned the forests of earth.

One historical aspect of Silent Running is in its director, Douglas Trumbull. He is best known for his contribution to the amazing special effects that have reinvented movies today. Trumball gave the world the special effects that helped to make films like ‘Close Encounters’, ‘The Andromeda Strain’ and ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ possible. It was with Silent Running that Trumbull really learned his craft. This was his first try at directing and for this task he brought in many school friends including the legendary special effects genius John Dykstra. Dykstra cut his teeth in films here and would go on to such classics as ‘Spider-Man’, ‘Star Wars’, as well as a couple of the Batman flicks. Here is a chance to see the origins of two men that helped to reinvent Hollywood and bring special effects out of the dark ages. Sure the effects used in Silent Running may be primitive by today’s standards but take a look at some of them. You will clearly see how these effects grew until our favorite films of today could be possible.

The Silent Running disc is part of the new Universal’s Cult Classic series. Not only am I pleased that they recognized the worth of this film but that they also gave it the attention it deserved. While the sound is only in two channels Dolby mono the sound does the job. Don’t be turned off by the lack of full surround sound, this is what many of us grew up with was good enough to start many a film lover on their way. The video is anamorphic 1.81:1 and considering the age of the source material is amazingly well done. There are a few random flakes present but nothing to interfere with the experience. The DVD is packed with extras. There is a commentary track featuring Trumbull and Dern, an interview with Dern, a making of featurette just to name a few things.

Review by Doug MacLean of

If You Are Done Reviewing Silent Running then,
Click Here To Return To The DVD Reviews Page