Silent Running
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Silent Running

 

 

 

Occasionally, the film is able to transcend its designated genre which contributes of the necessary factors elevated desirable status of ‘cult classic’. Significant number of these cases these examples of cinematic excellence are able to manifest the contributions of the art form of cinema expanding its influence by infusing the cutting-edge and progressive ways of telling a story, but now reinforce the changes in the paradigm initiated by your own well-crafted body pathos, imagination and the undeniable ability to heighten the expectations of the public while expanding the viewpoint that cinema is able to provide. Examples can be found in movies including such genre leaders Terminator’ and ‘Alien’ .collectively they have helped to change the way movies are made and perceived by the audience. It is easy to notice that these movies are vastly different in your genre and the type of story they are telling. One movie that has accomplished using movable is lamentably often overlooked by many is ‘Silent Running’.

‘Silent Running’, was beautifully crafted, simple, humanistic story that was told in the context of a ship orbiting the earth on the edge of outer space. One of the most crucial elements to good science fiction stability to infuse its entertainment with socially relevant messages that if told in a more straightforward fashion would wind up sidetracking the message controversy. Just a few years prior to this film’s release British director Stanley Kubrick completely redefined that segment of science fiction pertaining to man’s exploration of the cosmos. Open throughout the fabric of ‘2001 a Space Odyssey’ with some of the major tenants of existential philosophy, particularly those forwarded by Frederick Nietzsche. In the case of ‘Silent Running’, the message addressed and reinforced the growing concern particularly among the young people of the time. A mere two years before the release of this film was an event in New York City’s Central Park that is still being celebrated, ‘Earth Day’. I attended the celebration as a teenage boy and feel that it is pertinent to mention my motivation was less about saving the planet and getting the phone number of the girl I met in the park. Still, this is still considered to be one of the milestones in increasing the public of Venice of a rapidly approaching ecological disaster. ‘Silent Running’, follow the precedent made by this genre’s earliest days. Don’t just entertain the audience expose them to different lines of thought and encourage healthy debate.

While there have been many science fiction movies capable of achieving this juxtaposition of social relevance and entertainment only a few have been able to accomplish these goals and still able to reach the audience on such an intensely emotional level. Quite frequently technology is always seen as ultimately the bane of mankind’s existence. Disasters that lead to consequences up to and including the devastation of humanity at the hands about computer control, mechanical creation. It is imperative that you was keep a few things in mind before settling back to enjoy this historically pivotal movie. The release date for this movie was five years before the one that would change everything forever; ‘Star Wars’. From the vantage point of hindsight is easy to see that George Lucas ‘action-packed space opera would come to represent the transition between practical effects and the computer-generated bobbles the current generation grew up appreciating. The founding principle driving the plot is one that is quite frequently utilized; mankind has almost completely ruined our once lush planet poisoning the air ground and water. In a hope of preserving some of mankind and original ecosystem a huge ship was constructed whose main function was the tether together a number of enormous, greenhouse-like geodesic domes that would act as gigantic orbiting terrariums. The vessel is manned by a small human crew assisted by a number of all-purpose mobile robots. For most of the crew this mission represented little more than a job, and one with a fairly useless mission objective. Only one of the human crew understood exactly how crucial the survival of these norms and their contents were, Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern). He saw the brook they were doing along the fashion of a divinely commissioned caretaker for the most beautiful and innocent portion of creation. While his fellow crewmen gorge themselves on provisions obtained from earth, Freeman restricts his diet to the renewable fruits and vegetables harvested from hydroponic facilities and close by the geodesic domes.

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 this film 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. This film showed Hollywood that a science fiction film can combine special effects with a real emotional story.

Although this film 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 this film 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. The emotional affect that these robotic assistants have on the audience is particularly remarkable. They appear more as a waddling filing cabinet that anything recognizable as a human being. Before R2-D2 was able to win the hearts of millions of fans just beeps and boops, Huey, Dewey and Louie such a sincere sense of humanity, the degree of pathos and commitment that has been lost by the people over, you rapidly connect with them on a very real intimately strong level.

 

One historical aspect of this film 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.

This is one of those movies that I always have the most current version in my collection. From a VHS tape, first full screen than letterboxed, moving on to DVD as soon as possible I find myself now anxious to put the spot my collection for the Blu-ray edition. Even for a relatively old film remastering required for this new format greatly enhances the color palette and heightens the effect of the contrast. The vegetation moves from just background to a true part of the cast as you are now able to discern the details on each leaf and better appreciate that wall individually they are small living things, collectively they are the legacy of planet Earth, transcending the importance of mankind. Even if you have another copy of this movie is such that it deserves to be seen in the best possible fashion revisit this classic and keep an open mind as to just how much it affected impact science fiction have on our world.

Posted 5/10/02            04/05/2015

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