Throughout November the Guernsey Museum at Candie Gardens have been showing a series of films to coincide with their rather excellent Engage Warp Drive exhibition of science fiction paraphernalia and the Guernsey Arts Commission‘s exhibition of work by Chris Foss.
Following on from Forbidden Planet from the 50s and The Quatermass Experiment from the 60s, was Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 classic Silent Running – a film that, despite my being an avid wittertainee and it being one of the favourite films of Mark Kermode, I had yet to see.
Made in the wake of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in fact by one of the people responsible for that films special effects, Silent Running exists as a parallel film in several ways.
The most obvious for me is that they are clearly both products of their time, with both strongly connected to the prevalent ‘counter culture’, either intentionally or otherwise.
While 2001 became a favourite for its trippy ‘stargate’ sequence and its ideas of expanded consciousness, Silent Running takes another tack, focusing on ideas of conservation and feeling very much the product of the so-called ‘hippy’ movement.
Another way is in its visual style. While this is fairly obvious thanks to Trumbull’s involvement in the former, as 2001 presents a dark and stark image of space travel, in many ways, at least at first, Trumbull’s view is far more bright, colourful and comparatively homely, and certainly lighter, both visually and in tone.
The film centres on a performance by Bruce Dern as Freeman Lowell, a member of the crew of the Valley Forge, a ship carrying one of the Earth’s final forests (the earth having apparently undergone a Blade Runner 2049 like ecological disaster in the recent past).
Dern’s performance is a genuine tour de force as he spends most of the film acting alongside a trio of small robots (the clear forerunners to R2-D2) shifting from sympathetic eco-warrior through various stages until the film’s, in hindsight, inevitable climax.
Given the look of the film and the fact that it was made by a ‘special effects man’, Dern’s performance is all the more impressive as it gives the film a heart it could easily not have had and he is remarkably convincing in it.
Credit for some of this must also be given to the actors inside the drone robots as they too manage to imbue near immobile boxes with surprising amounts of character, rather like their counterparts in Interstellar, but somewhat more modestly successful.
My one criticism of the film is that there are moments where it seems to sacrifice internal logic in order to further its thematic cause. While not a major problem as it leads to the film having a coherent feel and tone, there are moments where it jars, particularly for someone more accustomed to the more precise style of mainstream sci-fi that has come to the fore in the last few decades.
Even with its generally ‘green’ message Silent Running does reach a climax that rather surprised me but again fits neatly into the post-Altamont-era making for a film that is undeniably great but that I feel will grow in my mind the more I think about it and with now inevitable re-watching.