Sunday, 20 April 2014

Silent Running (1972) 70's Marathon 3#

Directed by: Douglas Trambull
89 Minutes

What I love about being a film buff, is making discoveries of little films like this. This somewhat forgotten Sci-Fi B-Movie was surprisingly enjoyable. It plays out with the pure theme of machine vs. nature, and man vs. technology as a young Bruce Dern tries to save the last of what is left of nature. The sets are fascinating to look at, and the camera is very well used with plenty of great shots. As a film that predates Star Wars, I love the imagination of this film that is patient and calm with the viewer. This is UK Film critic Mark Kermode’s favourite movie of all time, and I can see what it is he likes about it.

Set in a future, where flora is extinct on Earth, an astronaut is given the order of destroying the last of Earth’s plants and trees, kept in a greenhouse on the spacecraft.

It was not long after the likes of Star Wars that Sci-Fi started becoming a genre heavily mixed with action and adventure. It is nice looking at Sci-Fi before this, and here early on in the 1970’s you can see sets that bare some inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey (what Sci-Fi/Fantasy film hasn’t).

Many films like to explore themes of technological take-over and a decline of a natural world, and I like what this film does with it. In an early scene, we see Freeman (Bruce Dern) bringing vegetables to the table, ready to prepare a meal and in front of him is a window. He presses a button and the window cover slides away, revealing the vastness of space- and here he is cutting away at food he grew in soil. There was something about this juxtaposition that caught me. 

"There’s no more beauty and there’s no more imagination!”- Freeman

This happens again later in the film, when Freeman is teaching the droids on the ship to plant a tree. The irony of him using technology to help assist him in being ‘green’ and growing plants is funny. Perhaps this is how we should really use technology. Freeman cares about the humanity of environment, and feels very strongly about maintaining the naturalness of life, but you can see he is also accepting of technology to an extent as he uses the droids to good use. I found the droids quite funny at times- especially in the card game they have with Freeman.

Another thing that makes this film enjoyable is it is patient with you. Not much action happens in the film, and it moves fairly slow but it gives it a tranquil kind of atmosphere start to finish. Watching Freeman explore the ship, where we see things like circular pool tables and computer control rooms gives a desolate kind of feeling and a message. A message showing Freeman surrounded by all this technology and future, but he is alone- it is as if he is the last human being in existence.

The film is surprisingly well shot, and after some research it is any wonder. The director, Douglas Trambull worked on the visual effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey and later Blade Runner. The films sets today are obviously dated, but I always find sets like this charming for their imagination and resourceful spark. I also love the shot when Freeman records himself confessing about what he done, and the guily he feels. The camera up-close in his face gave the feeling of a confession box. Kermode wrote “It was made by Douglas Trumbull as a reaction to Kubrick's much more celebrated 2001 and for my money it's the superior film.” I do not agree with this at all, but Silent Running is definitely an under-watched little Sci-Fi film that I think film buffs and Sci-Fi lovers are bound to enjoy. Check it out!





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