A hero who spends most of his time talking to plants, huge swathes of film where there is no dialogue at all and a folksy soundtrack courtesy of none other than Joan Baez hardly sounds like the makings of a classic I know, but trust me – it is.

For this is Silent Running, a 1972 sci-fi think tank that puts Bruce Dern in space as a sort of intergalactic gardener, tending to the last of the universe’s plants after the Earth has withered.

Set on board what is basically a travelling greenhouse, Dern is part of a crew keeping nature alive until they can return home and repopulate the planet’s forests.

But, in time honoured tradition, ‘the company’ orders the destruction of the greenery, and Dern takes on the mantle of saviour of the shrubs, offing the other crew members and jetting off into the dark recesses of space.

I am not quite sure why this film came to my attention, but I snapped it up on DVD when it was released back in the day – perhaps for the simple reason that I hadn’t seen it before.

And settling down to watch it I was mesmerised by the flow of the thing – at 85 minutes this is a fairly brisk offering but it is about as far removed from the slam-bang action of popcorn cinema as you can imagine.

This is sci-fi with a heart, a film that on more than one occasion is genuinely moving – heck even the robots get a healthy dollop of personality as the film meanders along.

A lot of that emotion has to be credited to Dern himself, who turns in a powerhouse performance that oozes feeling and sincerity without ever straying into an over-the-top showcase.

As is so often the case with the very best of this genre (in my humble opinion anyway) this is a movie set in space, rather than being a sci-fi movie as such.

Yes there is the technology, the robots, the spacesuits and all that sort of thing, but that really is a backdrop to what is essentially a character piece – think along the lines of ‘Moon’ and that ilk.

Having been one of the Special Effects supervisors on 2001: A Space Odyssey, first-time director Douglas Trumbull brings that same assured quality to this production, which despite its low budget certainly does not suffer in the looks department.

In fact, having watched this one again recently, there is virtually nothing I can fault the film for.

So I urge my anyone who hasn’t seen this to track it down if they get the chance, as Silent Running is a gem that is as different as it is entertaining.

 

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.