Silent Running (1972)

Silent Running (1972)Silent Running is a science fiction film released in 1972 by Universal Pictures. The film follows the story of a botanist traveling through space on a greenhouse ship in the future. The vast majority of the plant life found on Earth has become extinct, and a few remaining species are under the care of the botanist. The botanist receives orders from Earth to destroy the remaining plants, but he instead chooses to rebel.

Silent Running featured a pair of taglines that were used during its promotional period: "Amazing companions on an incredible adventure… the journey’s beyond imagination!" and "Earth’s last battle will be fought in space."

Cast and Crew of Silent Running

Silent Running stars Bruce Dern in the role of the botanist, Freeman Lowell. Cliff Pots, Ron Rifkin, and Jesse Vint costar as John Keenan, Marty Baker, and Andy Wolf, respectively. The cast is supported by Mark Persons, Steven Brown, Cheryl Sparks, and Larry Whisenhunt, all of whom play drones.

Silent Running was directed by Douglas Trumbull, and was produced by Michael Gruskoff, Marty Hornstein, and the director himself. The screenplay for Silent Running was written by Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino, and Steven Boncho. Peter Schnickele composed the score, and Charles F. Wheeler handled cinematography. The film was edited by Aaron Stell.

Silent Running was released on March 10 of 1972, and has a running length of 89 minutes.

Plot Synopsis for Silent Running

In the future, plant life on Earth is extinct. The only remaining specimens are contained aboard greenhouse domes attached to Space Freighters owned by American Airlines, all of which are traveling near the outer orbit of Saturn. Freeman Lowell is a botanist and crewmember traveling in the Valley Forge, a Space Freighter. Lowell has been hired to take care of the plant and animal life aboard the ship until the time comes to reforest the Earth.

Eventually, Lowell receives orders from Earth. He is to use nuclear charges to destroy the domes, as the ships are to be used exclusively for commercial service. Lowell’s conscience won’t allow him to carry out the orders. Of the six domes, four are destroyed anyways. A struggle breaks out among the crewmembers, who disagree upon the proper course of action for the two remaining domes. Lowell gets into a fight with another crewmember, and ends up killing him and injuring his own leg. Lowell traps two of the other crewmembers in one of the two remaining domes before jettisoning the dome and destroying it.

Lowell then uses three of the ship’s drones, which he names Louie, Dewey, and Huey, to aide him in his quest. He programs the drones to fix his injured leg, and causes an explosion as a distraction to make his superiors think that he has destroyed the last dome. Instead, he commandeers the Valley Forge away from the rest of the fleet and heads towards Saturn with the final dome in tow.

The rest of the fleet informs Lowell via radio communication that his ship is heading towards the rings of Saturn, and that he’ll inevitably crash and destroy the final dome. Communications gradually break down, but the ship manages to pass through Saturn’s ring’s unharmed. Unfortunately, one of the drones is swept off of the ship during journey.

Lowell and the two remaining drones head off into deep space with the intentions of maintaining the forest. Out of boredom, Lowell teaches the drones to maintain the plants by themselves and play poker. Lowell programs the drones to provide a proper burial for the crewmembers he has killed. Eventually, Lowell realizes that the forest is dying due to lack of sunlight. Another ship tracks Lowell’s ship down, and again instructs him to destroy the dome. Lowell strings together some lights to keep the forests alive, and sets a nuclear charge to destroy himself, the Valley Forge, and one of the remaining drones.

The final drone, Huey, is jettisoned off into space along with the remaining dome and the forest contained inside.

Additional Facts about Silent Running

Director Douglas Trumbull had virtually no directing experience when he filmed Silent Running, and says that learned the intricacies of the job as he went. Working on a limited budget, Trumbull decided to hire college students to create many of the models for the film and to create the special effects.

Interestingly, many film scholars maintain that Silent Running is the first environmentalist movie. The names of the Space Freighters in the film include the Valley Forge, Sequoia, Berkshire, Acadia, Yellowstone, Glacier, Blue Ridge, and Mojave, all of which are names of American National Parks and Preserves.

Many of the outer space shots used in Silent Running were reused as stock footage in the original Battlestar Gallactica television series. The interior of the Valley Forge was shot on a World War II-era aircraft carrier of the same name. Modifications were made to the interior of the ship to make it look more futuristic. The exterior shots of the Valley Forge were done with a 26 foot long model made of wood, plastic, steel, and hundreds of army tank model kits. The original model was later destroyed, but one of the domes survived and can be found at a sci-fi museum in Seattle.