Monday, 8 July 2013

On 8.7.13 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
I had the house to myself yesterday (my parents had gone to some tennis thing), so held a wild party. The kind of wild party only the wildest wild child would hold. That’s right – I ate some Ben & Jerrys and watched Silent Running and Blade Runner. A double-bill of science fiction films that aren’t really about running. If I’d felt really hedonistic, I’d have upped the stakes and finished the night with Logan’s Run, but everyone has limits.

This was the first time I’d seen Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running, and, while my appreciation for it was undoubtedly overshadowed by my absolute love for Blade Runner (honestly, it’s the best film out of all the films), I did find it a really interesting piece of sci-fi cinema.

The central idea behind Silent Running is brilliant. With the Earth literally deflowered by years of war, the last forests in existence float through the cosmos in bio-domes atop giant United States space freighters. Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is a green-fingered astronaut assigned to tend one of these forests. When the order comes to abandon the mission, blow up the forests, and return home, Lowell chooses to ignore this and take his ship on the run, choosing a life alone in space with his forest and the three robot drones who maintain the ship. 

Watching this in a day when we’re constantly reminded we’re on the tipping point of global warming, it’s easy to sympathise with Lowell’s ideals, and it really is a nice concept for a politically relevant and dramatically powerful piece of science fiction. Lowell's love for the forests, which look beautiful, particularly the opening shots showing off the flora and fauna in close-up, easily transfers to the viewer.

Unfortunately, there are several problems. Firstly, the Joan Baez songs that reoccur are awful. But that’s a matter of opinion. Less arguable is that many aspects of the film are visually dated, particularly the costumes, which make the crew look more like Formula 1 drivers than astronauts, and, cute as they are, the drones, which have VCR flaps for mouths.

The biggest problem, however, is the script, which is sorely lacking in places. We’re never actually given a reason for the order to destroy the forests, which, to put it lightly, is an important twist in the tale. The interaction between the four astronauts at the beginning is clunky, as Lowell’s colleagues don’t have much personality beyond wanting to go home, and Lowell doesn’t have much to say other than his preaching, which can get a little in-your-face. Hippies, eh? 

Even more iffy is the unfortunate route Silent Running takes to get Lowell to his isolated state – he has to murder his fellow astronauts. It does seem that the filmmakers didn’t really want him to have to do this, as it doesn’t fit with the heroic and intelligent character the film needed, but there was no other way to set the scene, and this dodgy solution casts an unneeded dark shadow over the character for the rest of the film. Nevertheless, the scene in which he repents and breaks down as his victim’s body is buried does lend him some more sympathy, and by the end of the film, it’s hard to suppress sadness at his fate.

There've been many attempts at the 'alone in space' sub-genre of sci-fi, from the haunting Solaris and the profound 2001 to the gripping Moon via this oh-so-sad xkcd comic. Silent Running is not as refined as any of these, but it’s a noteworthy, entertaining, and ever-relevant attempt at eco -aware sci-fi. Also, I liked the bits with the rabbits.


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