Douglas Trumbull, Silent Running (1972)

Douglas Trumbull had been the special effects guy on 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968), and focused in particular on the stargate sequence. He had also worked on filming Saturn – although sense or timing meant that Jupiter remained the planet used in the finished film. The technique left Trumbull with a setting for his film, in which a series of spaceships are sent out from a polluted Earth with ecosystems on board.

Trumbull had worked, meanwhile, on The Andromeda Strain, and was to work with Wise again on Star Trek, with Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1997) and with Scott on Blade Runner his only other film was Brainstorm (1983).

Silent Running is somewhat sedate, if only because the main character is alone for much of the time. Earth decides to scrap the mission and destroys the ecosystems, but Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) kills his crew mates and tries to drop off radar. His only companions on screen are a number of cute robots – and it is tempting to blame him for the genre requirement for such in sf from then on. It is only a matter of time before Earth catches up with him and it can’t end well.

There is a distinct ecological message to the film – heavily underlined by a conservationist manifesto on Dern’s bunk wall and repeated songs on the soundtrack from Joan Baez. The emotions are a little broad brush.


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