Do you remember a wonderful melancholy old film called Silent Running starring Bruce Dern released in 1972?
I came across it in our local supermarket bit bin for 2 quid, and I can remember loving the film when it first came out (I was 10 years old then), so thought what the heck, why not get it for a laugh.
The DVD describes the film as follows;
As this science fiction classic opens, botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) has spent three years aboard the space freighter “Valley Forge” preserving the only botanical specimens left on earth under huge Geodesic domes.
When he receives orders to destroy the project and return home Lowell rebels and hijacks the freighter, killing his fellow crewman, injuring himself, and plunging the craft into the gaseous rings of Saturn.
From that moment on, he has only the trees, the gardens, and two “Drone” robots, Huey and Dewey, to keep him company on the loneliest adventure of all.
Isn’t it funny how you perceive things when you’re young?
I braced myself for possible disappointment and sat down to watch.
While watching the film this time round I was thinking how incredibly slow-paced it was, with lots of bad over-acting, funny notions of what space travel would be like, and how Freeman was able to re-program the drones intelligence to perform surgery on his injured leg, and later play cards with him, simply by re-soldering a couple of wires, and clipping a couple of others on rather clumsy looking printed circuit boards which dropped rather sloppily into slots in the top of the drones.
It was quite frankly laughable, and had to be watched tongue-in-cheek. I was amazed at how long it took Freeman, who was apparently a professional botanist, to realise why all his plants were dying in the domes. Simply because they weren’t getting enough light, after they had gone off course and far away from the Sun!!! What a dunce.
The saving grace of the film is definitely the special effects by Douglas Trumbull (great for their time), and the characterful drones, with subtle movements of their bodies to indicate their innocent looks, expressions and “emotions”, LOL, and the way they quietly converse with each other or tap each other. Apparently they were operated by double-amputees. See a picture of the three Silent Running drones, Huey, Louie and Dewey here.
Poor old Louie gets blasted off into space fairly early in the film as they pass through the rings of Saturn, when his leg becomes trapped in a gangway. His two mates later discover just the bottom half of his leg, and Freeman rather heartlessly tells Huey and Dewey “That’s what happens when you get careless” - poor thing!
Later, as he races along one of the corridors in a 6-wheel electric buggy, Freeman accidentally runs over Huey, and attempts to repair his busted robot arm with a couple of prods and fiddles here and there, then announces, sorry that’s the best I can do. I thought - What? Haven’t you got any spare parts for the drones, or proper tools on this huge spacecraft? Oh dear. You have to suspend your disbelief somewhat!
Strangely, Joan Bayez who was a very popular singer of the time, and performs two folk songs in the film, never actually watched the film!
The name of the 2,000 metre long spaceship “Valley Forge” comes from the name of the real US Navy aircraft carrier used as the film set location for the interior of the spaceship, before it was decommissioned and scrapped.
It’s all rather strung out, but worth a laugh and still has fond childhood memories for me. It’s not too bad really. What a sucker I’m going to have to watch it again to see what else I missed that I can take the mickey out of!