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Must-See Movie Reviews From Before the Grave

Silent Running (1972)

"They're not replaceable!"

Freeman Lowell lives aboard a space station with his three crewmates tending the last vestiges of plant life left over from humanity's rapid expansion across earth. When they recieve orders to destroy the gardens, Lowell will stop at nothing to keep the plants safe.

Note:  Full spoilers for this film follow.  We don't normally do this, but due to the nature of the film, we felt it was unlikely that your own viewing experience would be ruined.  However, if you want to watch this film with a fresh mind, we recommend skipping straight to the star ratings.


Initial Impressions:

Simon: I really don't know anything about this movie.  Like, practically nothing.  I know more than I did when I drew it, though. Turns out, it's YET another Sci-Fi film.  With some kind of botanical twist to it.  Should be interesting to see if this is one of the good Sci-Fi films, or if it's the cheesy kind.


Bennett: I really have no clue what will be occurring in this film, but I sure am excited. One of the last movies we watched was nearly two and a half hours long. However, Silent Running is not a marathon of a movie, sitting nicely at an hour and a half. I like plants, and from what I understand, this movie is about plants in space--even better!


Simon's Take:


This film was interesting. Not bad, not good, not anything, really. By the end of the film, you start to question its reason for existing at all. Again, not that it was bad or anything, but because the entire plot of the film can't seem to justify it's own existence. It's a very hard review to write because neither Bennett nor I were able to pull anything from it. There's no key concept to latch onto, no justifiable theme to make sense of. The film is just... empty. The film follows Freeman Lowell and his three companions onboard a spaceship used as a portable garden, of sorts. Turns out, earth is completely devoid of plant life. So they store the trees in space instead. Makes perfect sense, right? Then, to make things more interesting, they're told to jettison the gardens, and blow them up. The reason for this isn't really explained. Lowell's companions seem to think this is a pretty dandy idea, and proceed to do so. Lowell is the only person on board who seems to dislike the idea of blowing up the last forms of plant (and bunny) life in the galaxy, probably due to his differing personality (more on that later), and so he sets out to stop them. At this point, I'm really resigned to think that any plot element I reveal won't actually ruin the movie for you. However, if you are at all interested in watching it, and feel like knowing what happens will ruin the film for you (it probably won't), don't read on. Lowell's solution to his problem is simple: just kill his three companions. Makes sense, right? Which brings up this whole underlying element of psychopathy that runs throughout the film. I don't think it was Mr. Trumbull's intention, and yet it's really quite obvious when you watch it. In addition to killing his companions, and then lying to other spaceship people, he also befriends robots, and programs them to perform a surgery to save his wounded leg. Makes sense, right?  He seems more comfortable with the robots than he does with the people, and gets more broken up when he has an unfortunate collision with one than when he kills his three companions, who he's lived with for 6 years.  The robots also seem to exhibit more emotion than he does.  Which is potentially problematic. The fact that he seems to care about plant life over people seems understandable, but to murder three individuals over it seems psychopathic. Especially when he doesn't seem to feel much remorse or desire to try to make things right. He does bury one of the ones that didn't get exploded, and offers some form of apology. But he doesn't actually apologize to the corpse. He almost seems to be apologizing to himself, as though reconciling his actions. From this point on, the movie is purposeless because it forsakes some of the common storytelling devices: plot and stakes. Lowell is clearly running in order to protect his forest, but we're never told what he's running to, meaning that there's no sense of progression. Time passes, but without purpose. There are also no stakes. He isn't outrunning anyone. There isn't any sort of emergency, or any other reason to drive the lack of plot forward. So, again, we're just left sitting there assuming time goes by, but with nothing of any importance happening. He programs his robots with the names 'Huey' and 'Duey', and teaches them to play poker and how to plant a tree. There's one point in the film where stakes almost do rise: when the plants start dying mysteriously. The reason? Lack of sunlight. He's a botanist and it takes him 15 minutes to figure this out. Makes sense, right? The plot seems dead until the last 5 minutes, in which his fellow spaceship pilots find him and say they're coming to rescue him. At this point, he sets one of the robots in charge of the forest and jettisons the pod into space. And then proceeds to... blow himself up. That's the movie. In a nutshell. So I guess we're left to assume that this garden is floating in space somewhere being taken care of by a robot. But if no one's reaping the benefits, and it probably won't ever be found, what's that point?  I could understand him killing himself so as to not go to whatever the future equivalent to jail is, except that no one knows he killed his partners but him.  The fact that he blows himself up seems completely purposeless. Unless life isn't worth living without a forest. Make sense, right? My dad's comment on the film was “eco-terrorist blows himself up with nuclear device,” and that pretty much sums it up. Again, there isn't anything wrong with this movie. There's just nothing to take away from it. I personally didn't dislike it, I just feel very frustrated by it. It would have been awesome if some more work had been done to make the story work better. But there we go. Imperfect world. Makes sense, right?


Pros:

- Good effects
- Some great acting
- Original idea.


Cons:

- Stagnant plot.


Bennett's Take:


I do not know how to describe the film Silent Running, as I am not sure of what I just watched. The plot was simple and straightforward, making it easy to follow, but it lacked depth. There were no big plot twists, except for the ending, which was just bizarre. It seemed the film was not put together well, which makes sense, as it was Douglas Trumball’s first kick at the can. Trumball was a well-known special effects artist who decided to make his own movie--it may have been a mistake. With his award-winning contributions to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Trumball was doing a great job with his effects, but apparently felt he should try to produce a movie of his own. I did not really see a point to the film, which affects my rating of it heavily. The visual effects were great, but I find interactions between a man and robots to be quite impersonal.
In summary, the main character, Freeman Lowell, a botanist, is willing to murder to keep his plants and animals alive. This botanist is able to reprogram and engineer software for robots to become surgeons to repair his knee, as well as learn to play poker. However, Lowell lacks the intelligence to figure out plants need light to live. Wow. There is something very wrong with this picture. I was baffled by this inconsistency. I think the point Trumball was trying to get across was we need to be more environmentally friendly (in the 1960’s era there was a large push for environmentalism), but also put in the space spin he was familiar with coming off of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the point is not conveyed very well when the main character, a nature enthusiast, gives up hope and kills himself in the last scene after sending off the last remaining vegetation in the universe with a robot that does not know how to plant a tree. As Simon would say: “makes sense, right?”
Overall, the special effects were great. The detail put in to the spaceship was fantastic. The robots and their maneuvering really was the first of its kind, which was quite an impressive feat. But it just got straight up weird when Lowell named the robots and started giving them hugs. I guess I understand he was very lonely, but the rabbits would probably be better to hang out with as they are actually alive. The film really fell apart after Lowell killed his coworkers and took off in the spaceship. We went from a decent looking story to joy rides in the cargo hold that resulted in the near death of Huey!
I really do not know where to go from here, maybe I should just give up and stop writing this rev--KABOOM!


Pros:

- Neat Idea
- Great Effects


Cons:

- Pointless
- Strange man/robot interactions
- Aimless
- Inconsistent


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