Silent Running (1972)

silent running poster 1972 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visual: 8/10

Raises interesting concepts and ideas

Feels like more room for exploration

Movie Info

Movie Name: Silent Running

Studio: Universal Pictures

Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s): March 10, 1972

MPAA Rating: G

silent running valley forge spaceship

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Natural life on Earth has been forsaken.  Plant and animal life is no longer needed as new sources of food have been found and environmental homogony has overtaken the planet.  In space, the last remains of nature exist on a fleet of ships with environmental domes.  When the crew of Valley Forge learns that the program has been scrapped and to jettison the habitats, Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) realizes that a mistake is being made…and he won’t allow it.  Freeman could be the last chance for nature and it could mean doing something unthinkable…but it could be nature’s only hope.

Directed by Douglas Trumbull, Silent Running is a science-fiction action-adventure film.  The film received average to positive reviews but has become a cult favorite over the years.

I never saw Silent Running, and I never knew how to take Silent Running.  From a lot of the appearances, it could have been a comedy.  A guy stuck on a ship with three goofy robots…which is why it inspired Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Having finally seen Silent Running, it is a lot more cynical and darker than I expected…but it is also a movie of the time it was made that still has relevance.

silent running bruce dern robots

Um…sir. As a robot I kind of think all organic life should die too…

You can’t get it back.  If nature and the environment is destroyed past a certain point, it can’t magical regenerate itself.  This is Freeman’s argument in the movie, and he’s willing to fight for it.  Unfortunately, everyone else in the film sees nature as dirty and messy and not providing anything.  Why does a deer jumping around matter…or plants…or rabbits?  Just being pretty and the miracle of life isn’t a good enough reason for Freeman’s crewmates, but Freeman goes overboard.  He sacrifices his humanity and realizes that he doesn’t even understand nature like he thought he did.  The result is that he is “cast out” of nature like Adam and Eve.  He isn’t good enough for it.

The movie feels like a complete “hippie” movie (including songs by Joan Baez).  Now that Dern is old and established, it is hard to see him as counterculture as he is in a lot of his earlier films.  Dern is joined by Cliff Potts, Jesse Vint, and Ron Rifkin as his crewmates and the robots Huey, Dewey, and Louie were portrayed by Cheryl Sparks, Steven Brown, Mark Persons, and Larry Whisenhunt who are bilateral amputee actors.

silent running ending dewey biosphere

I think we need the further adventures of Dewey and his Garden of Earthly Delights

It would be easy to say that Silent Running looks cheap, but it has to be remembered that the movie was pre-Star Wars but post-2001, A Space Odyssey (which Trumbull was involved with).  Sometimes the special effects aren’t too bad and other times, they could use some work.  Images of the bio-ships were later used for Battlestar Galactica as part of the fleet.

Silent Running has its place as an environmental film and an early space film.  The movie is dated at points and feels a bit heavy handed, but many of the basic arguments of the film are still relevant today as arguments over mining and oil rights in nature preserves are threatening the planet.  I could see a modernized version of Silent Running being able to gain traction and it is a remake that I wouldn’t entirely hate.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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