Last weekend I went with a few of my friends to a movie. What I didn’t know beforehand was that the agreed-upon movie was “Furious 7.” Yes, I know it’s getting good reviews, but I’ve never seen any of them. I am not well-steeped in “Furious” lore.
A revote was in order.
I’m not naming names, but one member of our party doesn’t have the constitution for horror movies, so that ruled out the sublime “It Follows” that I still think is the best horror movie since “Insidious.” Instead, we saw a sci-fi film titled “Ex Machina” about a man who is hired to test an A.I. for what is that universe’s Google equivalent. It was good sci-fi. Very good sci-fi.
However, it’s still in theaters, which puts it strictly out of the purview of this blog.
Instead, I thought I would give Douglas Trumball’s 1971 sci-fi film, “Silent Running,” a whirl.
What sci-fi does better than any other genre is highlight the problems we face today in an entertaining way. It’s all the heaviness without the didactic tone.
“Silent Running” has a simple lesson: take care of the damn environment.
The main proponent of that philosophy is one Freeman Lowell, an employee of American Airways’ space fleet. The Earth that he comes from is a plain one. The entire planet is room temperature and has been sanded down to a perfect level sphere. Nature is gone and nobody cares, because who needed it anyway?
Now Lowell and three fellow crewmembers are tasked with preserving the last of Earth’s nature in biodomes orbiting Saturn. Whereas the other three don’t seem to take the mission very seriously, Lowell has become a hippie in the way that only someone born without nature could be. He has romanticized nature to the point where it has become all he lives he for. He dreams of the old Earth, and his only desire is to experience nature in a non-biodome setting.
Understandably, Lowell is devastated when he and his crew receive the message that they are to return to Earth at once. Without the biodomes, that is. Those are to be jettisoned and eliminated with nuclear bombs.
The thought of blasting away his little fantasy island breaks Lowell, driving him to murder one of the other crewmen with a shovel, and locking the other two in a biodome as it’s jettisoned.
Phase two of his plan is to disappear into deep space with his two remaining biodomes and three service drones. Unfortunately one doesn’t survive the journey, but the other soon become better friends with Lowell than his fellow crewmen ever were.
After christening them Huey, Dewey and Louie, he teaches them to be interested in his interests. They become poker savants and garden more efficiently than any green thumb could ever hope to.
From the moment Lowell opens his mouth to childishly taunt his crewmembers while playing poker during the beginning of the film, we get the feeling that there may be something off about Lowell. Sure, he murders a guy for wanting to destroy a space park, but that’s understandable if it is the last piece of nature in the solar system.
Sometime in between Lowell’s naming three robots after cartoon ducks and his teaching them how to play poker, Lowell begins to give off a creepily childish vibe.
He clings to his hectare of manicured trees and frolicking bunny rabbits like the Children of the Corn cling to, well, corn.
With two earnest robot disciples, long hair and an even longer robe, Lowell looks like the flower-power messiah. Seriously, this movie is so naturey that the soundtrack would feel more in place in a VW van bound for San Francisco than in a spaceship orbiting Saturn.
From an effects standpoint, the movie is great. In a world of CGI, it’s always nice to go back and return to a period when all the vast panoramas of spaceships are just models on a background. Sure it’s not Avatar (Thank god!) That thing should have been nominated for Best Animated Feature), but the practical effects are nuanced, rich and, most importantly, visually pleasing. It’s easy to see why people cite “Silent Running” as the kickstarter for the slew of gorgeous sci-fi films like “Star Wars” and “Logan’s Run” that would come later in the decade.
Long story short, go watch this movie. It’s entertaining and pretty. What’s not to love?
Who knows? Maybe it will finally convince you to start taking showers in under five minutes.