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MovieMike's Movie Reviews (86)

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Silent Running 
A True Sci-Fi Classic
3/4 stars

OK, you’ve run out of ideas for NetFlix selections, or maybe you’ve got an Amazon.com gift card burning a hole in your pocket… My suggestion? How about a classic sci-fi DVD? The title I have in mind is the 1972 movie, ‘Silent Running’. While certainly no award winner or box office titan, I think this particular film is still remarkable for a number of reasons.

Preceded by a more notable film, Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’(1968), ‘Silent Running’ is a more traditional sci-fi drama directed (and produced) by Doug Trumbull. Mr. Trumbull also served as special effects photographic supervisor on the ‘2001’ project and expanded on those special effects for ‘Silent Running’. ‘So, big deal’, you might think – actually, in that era it was. There was no CGI, or Industrial Light & Magic to digitally conjure up all the required images - shots of vehicles in space at that time were achieved through the use of models. The models used for this film were reported to be about 26’ long and took months to fabricate. In addition to having to custom build them, the filmed sequences using these models had to be shot perfectly for the expected realism; lest these scenes come off like some of the campier space films of the 50’s (picture pie tins bouncing along on stings clearly visible in each frame).

The film primarily takes place on the space freighter, ‘Valley Forge’, which is carrying several large greenhouse type domes containing the remnants of some of Earth’s last forests. The Valley Forge is part of a convoy of identical ships carrying similar cargo out toward Saturn. While the reason for this particular destination is never made clear, it doesn’t detract all that much from the story line. Hey, it is science fiction, right? On the ‘Valley Forge, the crewmen are assisted by three robots, named Huey, Dewey, and Louie, to maintain the environment inside the huge dome. Early on, the entity responsible for managing these space-going sanctuaries decides that they should be destroyed. The story plays out from there.

In another innovation for this film, Trumbull used three actors, who were lower limb, double amputees, for simulating the three service robots. He had special suits created for each of these actors and while these suits were boxy looking, there is no mistaking that they must have been an early inspiration for George Lucas in creating R2D2 for his own ‘Star Wars’ franchise.

Actor, Bruce Dern, plays the main character in the film, Freeman Lowell. Dern has made a career out of playing supporting roles and has the dubious honor of being the only actor that ever killed John Wayne (1972, ‘The Cowboys’) in all of the ‘Duke’s’ westerns. In Silent Running, one of his few leading roles, Bruce gives a dramatic performance of a man torn between duty and his love for the trees he has been entrusted to care for. While appearing to be bordering on insanity, Dern’s character becomes locked in a battle to save the same trees he’s been ordered to destroy. ‘Silent Running’ is truly a classic science fiction film that also carries a strong message.


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