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Silent Running (1971)

tomatometer

60

Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 5
Fresh: 3 | Rotten: 2

No consensus yet.

audience

67

liked it
Average Rating: 3.5/5
User Ratings: 8,550

My Rating

Movie Info

Bruce Dern stars as the caretaker of a greenhouse located on a group of space stations that are sent into orbit. The Earth has been stripped clean of foliage, and the greenhouse contains the last remaining greenery from the planet. Dern's staff includes three human beings and a trio of endearing robots named Huey, Dewey, and Louie. When word arrives, from the powers that be, that the greenhouse is to be destroyed (the space station is more valuable to man when hauling cargo and not "preserving

Oct 10, 2000

MCA Universal Home Video

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All Critics (28) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (18) | Rotten (9) | DVD (18)

The production lacks much dramatic credibility and often teeters on the edge of the ludicrous.

June 4, 2007 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The film is enjoyable for its intimacy, seriousness, and intelligent character work, virtues not perpetuated by the subsequent new wave.

June 4, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A wonderful film.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Silent Running is no jerry-built science fiction film, but it's a little too simple-minded to be consistently entertaining.

May 9, 2005 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

... a movie out of the ordinary -- especially if you like science fiction.

October 23, 2004 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Among the most intelligent and entertaining sci-fi films of the 1970.

March 2, 2012 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

Suffers from age, but Trumbull's vision still glows, as does terrific Bruce Dern in practically solo turn.

March 14, 2009
Video-Reviewmaster.com

Visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull (notable for his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), made his directorial debut with this eco-themed sci-fi classic

September 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

The movie has a great premise, but the execution doesn't live up to the potential.

June 16, 2008 Full Review Source: LYTRules.com | Comments (2)
LYTRules.com

Silent Running concentrates heavily on special effects, resulting in some stunning imagery. Dern gives an engaging, against-type performance, though the script is stretched out very thin to support a feature-length film.

June 4, 2007 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Embora obviamente datado e piegas em alguns momentos (as seqüências musicais são constrangedoras), desperta algumas boas indagações filosóficas que se tornam bem mais interessantes que as discussões ecológicas que o filme pretende provocar.

November 15, 2006
Cinema em Cena

The most notable thing about it is its mixed message.

September 12, 2004 Full Review Source: Goatdog's Movies
Goatdog's Movies

A pretty s-f outing, good special effects, but slow at times.

October 14, 2002
Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)

A great, overlooked science fiction classic.

September 27, 2002
Lawrence Journal-World

Morally challenging science fiction drama with a protagonist who is a genuine ecological hero.

September 1, 2002 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

Perhaps if I had experienced this movie when I was twelve years old, I'd have come away with something more than a lot of yawns and the desire to plant a tree.

June 27, 2002 Full Review Source: Apollo Guide | Comment (1)
Apollo Guide

Terribly dated, but still intriguing didactic science fiction.

June 13, 2002 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Silent Running definitely shows its age.

May 7, 2002 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine | Comment (1)
Slant Magazine

Songs from Joan Baez borders on chalkboard-grating, to the point where I had to simply shut the DVD off during the closing credits.

May 3, 2002 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com | Comment (1)
Filmcritic.com

As a time-capsule, it's mildly diverting; as farce, it's terrific; as a parable, it's utterly useless.

November 21, 2001 Full Review Source: culturevulture.net
culturevulture.net

Audience Reviews for Silent Running

Silent Running is an entertaining and exhilarating Sci Fi classic with a great cast and a good story. The film is quite engaging, and the effects are well done and like 2001 before it, have influenced the genre. Bruce Dern is great in the lead role, and this ranks up there as one of the finest examples of 1970's Sci Fi. Of course Star Wars would reinvent the genre altogether, but you simply can't deny that Silent Running broke ground in terms of effects. Though not a perfect film, Silent Running will certainly please genre fans. The idea behind its story is quite simple, but the execution is well done, and it would later set the stage for future genre films. Dern like I said is good here, and he holds things together. If you're expecting an action packed thrilled ride, you'll be disappointed. This is more of a Sci Fi drama, but it it's quite entertaining nonetheless. Silent Running is a must watch for genre fans, or anyone looking for a classic Sci Fi film that has a well structured story. Enjoyable, but slow paced, Silent Running is one of those films that you need a few viewings to get into. The film stands out as a great genre film, one that helped shape the genre for what it is. Even if it's not a great movie, it's still a Sci Fi classic for what it helps achieve in terms of ideas and concepts in the genre. Sure, it may be tedious at times, but it definitely is worth seeing if you love this genre of film.
January 7, 2014
TheDudeLebowski65
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

While this Sci-Fi film from the stone ages before Trek and Wars has its heart at the right place, its message is a tad too simplistic and naive. You can't blame the film for the special effects of its time, but the pace is so slow and the timing so awkward that it's really hard to watch the film for the first time today. The robots are cute and the awareness of nature a decent intention, but beyond that the film just has very few redeeming qualities.
April 29, 2013
ironclad1609

Super Reviewer

It's long been fashionable for film reviewers to slag off films for being sentimental. The problem is not so much the notion of sentimentality in and of itself, as the context and manner in which it is applied. Criticising Steven Spielberg for being sentimental is simultaneously apt and foolish - apt when it meddles with or cheapens a dark subject matter, as with Schindler's List, but foolish when it is complimentary and integral, as with E.T. or Close Encounters.

Silent Running's reputation has suffered from a similar stigma, namely that a grown-up science fiction film with serious thematic intentions cannot bow to something as feeble as human emotion. The clichéd view of 1970s science fiction, created by 2001 and cemented by Solaris, is one of a cold, clinical, existential world where any concession to audience emotion is strictly verboten. But while such an approach worked wonders for Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky, Silent Running is still a damn fine film which proves that substance and sentimentality can go together.

Doug Trumball made Silent Running in direct response to the perceived coldness and clinical precision of 2001. Having created many of the special effects on Kubrick's film, including the iconic star-gate sequence, he sought to make a film about the future of humanity in which computers and apes were not the most human characters. Where Kubrick's films focussed on Mankind, Trumball wishes to look at people as individuals. And where Kubrick balanced Humanity's physical insignificance with its God-like potential, Trumball praises Man's capacity for compassion even in the face of insignificance, disinterest or despair.

If one was feel as cold and calculating as HAL, one could easily dismiss Silent Running as nothing more than 'hippies in space'. Being a product of the early-1970s, when America was experiencing the death throes of hippie culture, such connotations are to some extent inevitable. It is undoubtedly true that Bruce Dern's character conforms to popular, if cynical, stereotypes of hippies, from his loose-fitting clothing and drawling delivery to his obsession with nature which many (the crew included) would consider unhealthy.

One of the problems with Silent Running from this point of view is its questionable attitude towards mankind in the pursuit of pro-nature or 'hippie' ideals. The position towards technology is ambivalent; Dern yearns for a monastic existence where Man eats the fruits of His own labours, but it is ultimately the machines which sustain the forest. More problematic is the implication that preserving nature is more important than human life, to the point where murdering his crewmates appears to be justified. The film could be making the point that one has to go the hard yards in the name of one's principles, but it remains questionable whether in its content or its presentation.

But if we put this immediate concern to the back of our minds, Silent Running's ecological theme emerges as more than a simple choice between Nature and Man, or Man and Machine. It is more prominently a film about harmony, about how the march of progress has made humans overly dependent on technology. Technological progress, including the development of space travel, has increased the standard of living of the astronauts to such an extent that they take their resources for granted.

Dern's colleagues no longer care about the forest or the food they eat because they have been living in a world where their every want is met. They behave almost like spoilt children, spending their time racing around the cargo bay and joking around. Dern's position is similar to that of the 19th-century Arcadians like John Ruskin and Henry David Thoreau, writers who warned against the increasing luxury and apathy brought on by mechanical progress. Dern is the Arcadian among the lackadaisical industrialists, still able to enjoy himself but ever watchful of the consequences of progress, and mindful of the alternative which could soon cease to exist.

When WALL-E was released three years ago, numerous critics compared the opening section to Silent Running. There is an obvious parallel in the role of robots tending to the Earth (or what is left of it), and in the loneliness of this occupation both practically and philosophically. Like WALL-E, Dern and his droids are going against the grain to do what they believe is right, and both have developed eccentricities through isolation which has caused them to deviate from their original 'programming'. With WALL-E, it is his bizarre passion for Hello Dolly!; with Dern, it is his desire to teach droids how to play poker.

Although WALL-E could not have existed without Silent Running, it remains the superior of the two films. Although one of the longer PIXAR efforts, it feels tightly structured and well-paced, while there are long sections of Silent Running which feel superfluous or needlessly slow. This may be down to the involvement of Michael Cimino at a script level; his first writing credit in Hollywood contains the same flaws in pace and emphasis which would scupper him as a director. The poker scene, for instance, feels like it shouldn't be there, or at least like it should be a lot shorter.

Parts of Silent Running have also dated quite badly. Peter Schickele's soundtrack has stood the test of time rather well, but Joan Baez' warblings are a distinctly Marmite experience. Some of the dialogue is preachy, with Dern going over many of the same arguments to the point of exhaustion. But to be fair, it is very difficult to sustain a story with a limited number of locations and characters without the luxury of extended dream sequences (Solaris) or multiple versions of the characters (Moon). Trumball may be no Kubrick, but all in all he has done a reasonable job.

One aspect which hasn't dated, however, is the special effects. When Trumball was interviewed recently for the Blu-Ray release, he commented that organic, miniature or optical effects date better than CG visuals because they are more "photo-realistically impressive", i.e. have weight and tactility. The external shots of the Valley Forge are shot from the correct perspective so that we aren't conscious of them being model shots, and the explosions look and feel both realistic and custom-built.

The most illuminating special effect, however, is the three drones which Dern uses to tend to the forests after commandeering the Valley Forge. The drones, inspired by characters in Tod Browning's Freaks, were created by double amputees walking on their hands. This and the facial structures of the drones create a human-like movement which we can recognise and use as a starting point for empathy.

What makes Silent Running remarkable, and ultimately successful, is the strength of its emotional pull. The tactility of the special effects, the honesty of the script and the tender nature of the final act has the same effect that the ending of E. T. does; you feel as though you have earned the right to blub your eyes out because of how well the characters have been formed and how much you have enjoyed their company. Much like The Man Who Fell To Earth, the emotional weight of the characters allows us to overlook or forgive any narrative shortcomings and enjoy having our hearts broken.

Silent Running remains an underrated and underappreciated science fiction film. It's not without its flaws, whether narrative or otherwise, and it has to take a back seat to 2001 both in ambition and in execution. But what it lacks in awe and spectacle it makes up for in heartache, coupled with a good-natured and welcome intelligence. WALL-E may have since surpassed it, but it remains compelling viewing.
December 25, 2011
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

An overpopulated and industrialised Earth has decided to shoot what's left of the planet's greenery into space (for reasons unexplained) but when the powers that be decide to terminate the program and nuke the ships (for reasons unexplained) one lone space-hippy decides to intervene. Silent Running is a very well meaning but ultimately very naive piece of film making. It's directed by one of the greats of special effects and as a director, he makes a great special effects guy, leaving the story completely unfocussed beyond the initial concept and the characterisation simplistic to the point of being cartoony. The visuals have a quaint nostalgia about them and the most likeable characters are essentially plastic boxes on legs but it really doesn't go anywhere beyond the "destroying nature is bad" message with musical montages that are laughably dated. It works as a kid's film that tries to ram home an eco message but adults will find it all a little too try hard and cheesy, which is odd considering how stylistically influential it has been (see Alien and Moon). Not bad, but not good either.
November 20, 2011
garyX
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

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