Silent Running is a 1971 classic from director Douglas Trumbull, a giant of experimental photography and film making who had worked on several iconic sci-fi movies including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek the Motion Picture, Blade Runner and of course Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He also directed Brainstorm, a magnificent film that still holds up today. Set in a future world aboard a spacecraft/greenhouse called the Valley Forge, the film is an evocative emotional wonder the likes of which is rarely seen today. The screenplay by Michael Cimino (Deer Hunter) is very tender and often subtle in its storytelling.
The Valley Forge is part of a project to preserve the plant life and trees of Earth, a doomed planet in the film. When the order comes to abandon the project and resume commercial use of the crafts, Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) rebels and goes rogue. With only three robot servants to accompany him, he takes to a life of simplicity. Renaming the robots Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Lowell treats the three robots with kindness and civility, as a parent would for his children. The drones, brought to life by double-amputee actor and actress are very lovable without crass (see the Star Wars prequels). In one scene where a drone has to be repaired its mate refuses to leave its side.
Freeman Lowell is determined to preserve the last vestigial forest and seems to be the only human being with any interest on the subject. The film is a very direct ecological message, but it’s a heartfelt and honest one as well, told with such skill and clarity that it remains important today.
Silent Running is one of those landmark movies that sent ripples through the sci-fi world, reverberated in the droids of Star Wars, Red Dwarf, Moon and even Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and watch it today. It’s a great way to spend a quiet afternoon.
Silent Running is available in the UK in a deluxe steel book edition via Eureka Video.