The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Hippies in space

with 9 comments

“A hippie in space, are you kidding me? He must have been smoking some of the stuff they probably have in those greenhouses.”

My instant reaction to Silent Running from 1972 was scepticism. So this was the best science fiction movie ever made according to Mark Kermode and one of his favourite movies of all the movies there are in the world?

I was watching some dude with long hair and a dress tending to his plants in a gigantic greenhouse ship cruising around in the neighbourhood of Saturn. It looked old, a tad corny and kind of cheap, like a Star Trek episode from the original series

I could sense that it might be charming but I expect so much more from a science fiction movie. I expect it to put me in a state of sense of wonder, give me a feeling of the vastness of time and space or at least put some interesting, intriguing ideas in my head. Could it be that Kermode’s judgement had been deceived by his nostalgia for his personal early memories from his first movie experiences? It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to everyone.

The plot
Let’s go into the story a bit.

Silent Running takes place in a future where plant life on Earth basically has been destroyed and properly grown food is replaced by some synthetic junk. The plants in the ship greenhouses are all what remain of the flora and the idea is to preserve it and use it to restore Earth back into shape at some point. The three other crew members care more about running co-cart chases in the spaceships than to bother about the environment. They can’t wait to return to Earth and when the order comes to shut down the project, destroying the greenhouses, they greet it with joy.

Our protagonist, the forest ranger Freeman Lowell on the other hand is dedicated to the plant growing, and he decides to defy the orders and take action.  After killing his colleagues he takes off in space in the company of the robots Huey and Dewey who he programs so they can help him with the essentials: playing cards with him.

Won me over
For spoiler reasons I won’t say anything more about what happens after this, but I can say as much as that the initial hippie shock was just a passing stage and when we had reached the end, which is a beautiful exclamation mark, the movie had won me over completely.

It’s not only charming and beautiful; it’s also got something of the same tone of melancholy and interest for the personal perspective that I find in Ray Bradbury’s short stories, which make them stand out to other space adventures. This script isn’t based on a Bradbury story, but perhaps it could have been.

Before making this film, the director worked with the special effects of 2001: A space Odyssey. And you can tell that he has put a bit of extra love to the special effects.

It’s made at a time when they used miniatures rather than computer generated images and I think it’s pretty solid, though I suppose that with the standards of today, the effects aren’t spectacular. On the other hand – I don’t think spectacular effects are required to make a good science fiction movie. Just look at Moon from 2009. The budget was tiny compared to the awesomeness of the movie.

My love for the science fiction genre has very little to do with the effects. It’s about the ideas, the tone and the execution. Silent Running has all of this. And on top of that it’s a cute reminiscence of a time when revolution was in the air and punk rockers had flowers in their hair, with the words of Sando Thom (even though she obviously has mixed a few things up).

Hippies in space. It’s way better than it sounds.

Silent Running (Douglas Trumbull, US, 1972)  My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 9, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Silent Running

9 Responses

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  1. Aw it is like you read my mind!!

    I am hoping to finally catch up with this one this week at some point. I finally have the blu-ray to watch.

    Thanks for sharing and a 4/5 is good enough for me to love it!

    Scott Lawlor

    January 9, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    • Sadly enough I don’t have a blue-ray player, but I can imagine that it will be even better in that.
      I look forward to hear what you think of it. I’m not quite as crazy about it as Kermode (I DO think his judgement is a little clouded by nostalgia) but it’s still a good one.


      January 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm

      • I don’t know – the technical quality of the movie, i.e. the film material, grain and such, was not that high in the first place. I don’t think it will profit much from Bluray.

        I liked the movie. No word about the music? Like in 2001 or Dark Star it is quite dominant.


        January 9, 2012 at 9:37 pm

        • To be perfectly honest I’m not one of Joan Baez biggest fans, so I didn’t want to go too deeply into this. While there are beautiful texts, there is something about her voice that puts me off. However I loved the melody and especially the beginning and end of the movie were beautiful, not the least thanks the the musical theme, which came back.


          January 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

  2. When I read your post it immediately became apparent that this was one of the few sci-fi “must-sees” that I haven’t seen yet, so two days later I watched it.

    You’re right, lots of cheese, and I couldn’t stand the songs.

    On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised when the camera panned out and showed us the small fleet. I had expected only interior shots for some reason.

    I really didn’t get the point though. Lots of loose plot points left unresolved. But it was a nice experience non-the-less. Thanks for pointing this one out.


    January 12, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    • I’m glad you had a good experice of it for the flaws you spotted. I loved the space images as well. I heard at an interview that he apparently was interested in astronomy and wanted those parts “right”.

      I spotted one logical flaw in the movie, something that he should have spotted as being a supposed expert in plants. But I told myself that he probably was in a confused state of mind after spending too long time in space. 🙂 There might be other unresloved plot points as well, but then again I don’t think there is any ambition that the movie should be super-realistic. It’s pretty much stylized, isn’t it?


      January 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm

  3. Haha, yes, the voice of Joan Baez can be a bit too much. I felt that the songs didn’t really work.

    Btw, do you remember why they were ordered to terminate the project? Seems a bit stupid after spending so much resources.


    April 29, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    • Tbh I can’t. As far as I recall it, it was unclear. Politics?


      April 29, 2013 at 8:02 pm

      • Yep, probably. Costs too much money? I think they didn’t really let neither us nor Freeman know the reason. I guess it really doesn’t matter for the plot.


        April 30, 2013 at 4:34 pm

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