Reader’s Recommendations: “Silent Running”

silent_running Hey everyone, it’s Friday, time for another entry in the Reader Recommendations series!

The Reader Recommendation series is intended to help me formally pursue all the great films that commenters bring up each week in discussion which I’ve never seen. If there’s a movie that comes up that I haven’t seen, but you think I should, email me @ or let me know in the comments that you’d like to participate!

urbannight This week, our recommendation comes from Urbannight, of Urbannight’s Blog, who’s recommended the 1972 film “Silent Running”. I had heard of “Silent Running”, especially the robots, but had never seen it, so I’m looking forward to checking it out!

Click through to see what we had to say!

My questions in bold, Urbannight’s answers below!

1) Do you remember when you first saw the movie?

During my senior year of high school, the Greek Mythology teacher was getting very bored of the subject and got the school district to okay a class on Science Fiction as a genre in both film and literature.  Since I was looking forward to Greek Mythology for my first three years I was bummed out at first.  Until I learned what we were getting in its place.  This was even better.  As a result, we watched a number of films including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running.

2) Why do you think that it’s recommendable? What do you like about it?

The movie itself is visually pleasing and it should be.  The director was one of the special effects supervisors for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Andromeda Strain, another one of my favorite movies from that time.  Like 2001, Silent Running can feel slow at times and too quiet.  But anyone who enjoyed 2001 should be able to appreciate this as well.  Dern does a good job carrying a movie mostly on his own.  Although, I might argue that it is the Drones that end up carrying the movie overall.  To be completely honest, the story itself is rather weak and you are supposed to side with a sociopathic eco-warrior who, unfortunately, isn’t as likable Dexter.

Ultimately, I think that what I like most about this film is that, when you take it into context with many of the films from around the same time, you get an interesting portrait of the concerns of the time.  I also enjoy these films because they usually have a point.  Some were subtle and some were heavy handed but it wasn’t a case of a sequel every two or three years, every other film being a remake,  and the rest being pure entertainment with very little purpose.  It was an interesting time in movie making.  It was a time when a movie could come in third at the box office and NOT be considered a flop.  I sometimes wonder if, as movie goers, we haven’t gotten far to jaded due to over exposure.

3) Is the movie underappreciated, do you think? Or does pop culture have it fairly rated?

I don’t really think pop culture has it rated at all.  Most of the time I find that people, in general, have not heard of it.  It has an average sort of rating on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.  My experience is that people who have seen it either like it or hate it but there isn’t a lot of middle ground on it.  And most of those are people who have an interest cinematography and film history or a niche genre, like science fiction in film,  rather than just a general interest in films.

4) Is there any particular reason you thought I should watch it, or were you just surprised I hadn’t seen it? 

I tend to think of this film as part of a group of films that you have mentioned before, here and there, and so I am somewhat surprised that you hadn’t seen this one.  I think of it in unison with 2001, Soylent Green, Westworld, Logan’s Run, maybe even  Fahrenheit 451, although that was a bit earlier than the rest. Despite having not seen Soylent Green myself, I tend to think that people who have seen most of these have seen all of them.

5) Have you written about the movie yourself? (Insert plug here! LOL )

I have not yet, although I was thinking about it.  I felt like waiting first, because I didn’t want what I said about it now to sound like a rehash from a fresh blog.

Thanks Urbannight! My Review is below!

After all plant life on Earth has been decimated, four scientists sail through deep space aboard a botany preservation spaceship. When they receive an order to destroy the forest pods and return their vessels home to be repurposed for commercial usage, one of the scientists (Bruce Dern) can’t conscience the order. The rest of the fleet complies, but he can’t bring himself to extinguish the last vestiges of Earth’s flora.

Instead, he finds himself killing his crew-mates and setting an escape course into deep space. Unfortunately for him, that will put the ship on a course that goes right through Saturn’s rings, and the ship may suffer damage it can’t recover from. He also has the fleet’s command vessel making inquiries as to what went wrong with the orders the ship was given, and what happened to the rest of the crew. Even if he can escape, he’ll be left alone with the plants and two waddling assistant droids.

As he sets out into space, will he be able to survive? Can he keep the ship’s flora alive? Will he be able to keep his sanity?

“Silent Running” is definitely light on plot, and slow moving. For much of the movie, Bruce Dern is the only actor onscreen. He is accompanied by the robots, though, who were both charming and a cool trip to yesteryear’s effects (they were manned by double amputees). Occasionally the music got a little early 70s hippy warbling for me, but overall it was a neat revisitation of a different era in film, as Urbannight mentioned.

This is one of the most overtly environmentalist films I’ve ever seen. Not that I have any issue with its agenda, it’s probably even more pertinent today than it was in the early 70s, actually. But it should be stated that its there. I’m hard pressed to come up with another comparable “Save the Planet” film. Beyond the message built in to the plot, Dern’s character is angrily preachy with his crew-mates at the beginning of the film. Still it makes for an interesting watch, as it’s a message that’s easy to get behind.

Thoughtfully paced and full of environmental themes, “Silent Running” might not sit well with today’s impatient audiences, but for those of us who can appreciate films of a different era, it’s an interesting movie that isn’t afraid to actually SAY something.



26 thoughts on “Reader’s Recommendations: “Silent Running”

  1. Hi, Urbannight and Fogs:

    Excellent write ups and critique!

    ‘Silent Running’ is an oddity. Either you’ve seen it and remember it fondly for its way above par special effects. And Bruce Dern interacting with the robots, Huey, Dewey and Louie. Or, it’s one of those that slipped away, though is well worthy of a long look.

    Notable for a first effort from Steven Bochco. And using a mothballed aircraft carrier as the interior of the multi domed forestry satellite. Clever and exceptional work all the way around. Save for the sometimes annoying musical interludes from Joan Baez.

    • Was that really Joan Baez? LOL. Wikipedia check. It WAS. Not that I’m a big fan or anything, but I’m sure those songs weren’t her finest hour LOL 😯

      Definitely a clever concept, I just wish they had hammered out a better plot with it. Not much happened after he made his run for it, and there were a lot of possibilities. Of course, it was a different era of film, so the pacing wasn’t as much of a concern then….

  2. This was an epiphany when I first saw in the theater as a kid! It’s themes of isolation and doing a job no matter what stick with me to this day and I consider this in my top 200 all time films that have to be watched! Nice choice as it is usually a forgotten film.

    • Thanks Ric. Have to credit Urbannight for that.

      Dern’s character definitely stuck by his guns. At a certain point I had to wonder if there could have been an alternative route to success than the one he took, but still, I understood his motivations overall.

      I’d love to know what happened afterward to the pod and the droid! 😀

  3. Back when this came out, you know, the dark ages…this film had no promotion. You had to sort of imagine it. But not as bad as that sounds. It was all about Douglas Trumbull for me. Wanted to see what the “2001” visionary had in store. I liked it but found Bruce Dern really off-putting. Don’t know why.
    I think in the right hands this could be a classic reboot. Environmentalism is a hot zone!

    • LOL. I typically don’t advocate remakes, but you’re 110% right on this one. The message is still pertinent, modern special effects could do wonders with it, and a script with some modern action sensibilities could really shake things up. 😉 Nice call!

      I liked Dern well enough though… the only problem was he was given 90% of the screentime, its hard for any actor to shoulder that burden!

      • A tenth of the budget needs to be for promo. I’m not kidding about no promo for “Silent..” The studio was pissed about “Easy Rider”‘s success. They wanted a low cost, word of mouth Dynamo for themselves. While this one wasn’t a biggie, under the same plan, “American Graffiti was.

  4. Good work guys. I have to admit that this is a film I’ve always overlooked. I’d heard of it but it didn’t really appeal. I may just give it a shot. Sounds good.

  5. I looked at Silent Running a year or so ago with the attitude of it being homework, to get it off my list of cult classics I hadn’t seen. It kept coming up in reference to Wall-E and was beloved by a lot of people. While I wasn’t blown away, I would put it at the top of the isolated-characters-slowly-going-mad-in-space genre. (Not my favorite genre by any means.) I thought a lot more of Bruce Dern after seeing the movie too. I never really ‘got’ him before seeing this. Similarly to not really getting Elliot Gould until I saw The Long Goodbye. Must be something about movies from the very early Seventies…

    What did you think of the similarity of Wall-E robot design and the robot in SR? Kind of fun, no? Someone from Pixar must’ve really loved Silent Runnings, I think.

    • LOL @ “isolated-characters-slowly-going-mad-in-space genre” I actually wish there was more “going mad” to go along with the “isolated character” 😉

      I don’t think Wall E was all that similar, unless there are supporting robots I’ve forgotten – it’s been a few years, I need to get off my ass and MTESS that one.

      I’ve never seen “The Long Goodbye”, is it one you like well enough to Readers Recommend or no?

      • Yeah, sure. I’ve only seen TLG the one time but was very impressed. I think it was one of your regulars who got me to see it, actually. Is the Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn still in your queue? Because I’d sponsor that one first if it fell off the pile.

        BTW, Andrew Stanton, the director of Wall-E, said he was influenced by SR and thought it was a masterpiece, but Wall-E definitely improved on it and got the environmental message out to more people. (Of course now I can’t find the link…) Yeah, an MTESS Wall-E would be great.

      • Ok, cool, I’ll let you know! Meanwhile, yeah, The Adventures of Robin Hood IS still planned. It’s probably coming up soon, actually 😉

        Eventually I’ll do Wall E, I just have to get things settled and get going again!

  6. Pingback: » Movie Review – The Last Exorcism Part II (Unrated Cut) Fernby Films

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