Silent Running (1972)

Director: Douglas Trumbull

Douglas Trumbull was kind of born into SFX, cos his dad—also credited on this film—was working in that field on films like The Wizard of Oz before little Doug was even born… so, having entered the family trade, he scored a job with Stanley Kubrick on a little film called 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was supposed to take place (in part) in the vicinity of the planet Saturn. However, that got changed to Jupiter when Trumbull couldn’t produce an adequate model of Saturn, but within a few years he’d fixed that problem, and I presume that’s the main reason why he set Silent Running there, cos I can’t see any particular narrative reason for it… Basically, it’s the indeterminate future, life on Earth is apparently great but all the plant life is wiped out (am I the only person wondering where the paper the operator’s manual shown in the film is printed on came from?) and the surviving forests are protected under giant domes being hauled around Saturn by commercial freighters. Until the order is given to destroy the forests and return the freighters to normal service. There’s no particular reason given for why the forests are to be abandoned any more than why they’re orbiting Saturn in the first place, but never mind that; Freeman Lowell, a botanist strangely incapable of realising plants die without sunlight and hiding around the dark side of Saturn is accordingly a bad idea, refuses to accept the order, killing his fellow crew and basically taking over the ship… There’s something weirdly cold about this film despite its obvious attempts to be an emotional experience, and part of that is probably because of the hammer-handed unsubtlety of the environmental theme, and part of it is because, well, Lowell didn’t strike me as a particularly sympathetic character; obviously more caring than the boors he’s stuck with on the Valley Forge but still a kind of unpleasant fanatic. It’s impressive as a showcase for effects and design, but beyond that I didn’t get an awful lot from this one. And the songs sung by Joan Baez are kind of hideously out of place too…

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