Silent Running

1972. The brilliant collaborator of 2001, a Space Odyssey, Douglas Trumbull takes off into a space adventure, his first film. 

Silent Running is a strange science-fiction movie, between an avant-garde film about the environment (one of the first) and a hippy Robinson Crusoe's adventure. With time, this low budget film -1 million $- has become a well-loved classic among science-fiction fans. 

In it, we find what has since become typical of the genre : shots of spaceships, robots (played by legless cripples) planets, and the depth of a private hearing at the ends of the universe. 

Douglas Trumbull remembers the special effects of 2001 while showing space forest guard Freeman (!) Lowell's loneliness, obsessed with what today we coulds call his "ecological" ideal. 

(To the left of the character, fruit and vegetables from the domes where the last natural specimen grow.)

Then a zoom out showing the hero's insigifiance in the immensity of the deserted universe. 

(Valley Forge... does this name sound familiar ? It's the name of a WWII aircraft carrier, used in the movie for some scenes.)

We can also find scenes of the spaceship's journey. We can see Saturn, which was intially supposed to appear in 2001.

Silent Running is in line with 2001 but develops a totally new subject. 

Thanks to the illusion created by special effects and a new narrative, space finds its depth. 

Silent Running

1972. Un brillant collaborateur de 2001 l'Odysée de l'espace, se lance dans l'aventure spatiale. C'est son premier film. 

Silent running est un étrange film de science-fiction, à mi-chemin entre un film avant-gardiste sur la sauvegarde de l'environnement (l'un des premiers) et une robinsonnade hippie. Au fil des ans, ce film à petit budget -1 million de $- est devenu un classique estimé par les amateurs de films de science-fiction. 
On y retrouve ce qui sera désormais des lieux communs du genre :  Silent Running offre des plans de vaisseaux dans l'espace, des robots (joués par des acteurs cul-de-jatte), des planètes et la profondeur d'un huis-clos aux confins de l'espace. 

Douglas Trumbull se souvient des effets de 2001 lorsqu'il veut montrer la solitude de Freeman (!) Lowell, garde forestier spatial, habité par son idéal, on dit aujourd'hui, écologique.

(A gauche du personnage, les fruits et légumes de la récolte des dômes où poussent les derniers spécimens naturels.)

Puis un zoom arrière replaçant le héros dans une immensité désertique. 

(Valley Forge... ce nom vous dit quelque chose !  C'est le nom d'un porte-avions de la seconde guerre mondiale, utilisé pour des scènes d'intérieur.) 

On retrouve aussi des scènes où le vaisseau évolue dans l'espace. Saturne était initialement prévue pour être montrée dans 2001

Silent Running s'inscrit dans la continuité de 2001 tout en développant un thème totalement inédit. 
L'espace trouve sa profondeur par l'illusion des effets spéciaux et par un récit inédit. 

Interlude 2001 : a parabola

2001, a movie about outer space, obeys Newtown's law of gravitation. 

What goes up into space must always com down, and so carried away spectator must also come back down to Earth and fall on his feet. 

The link shot between the bone and the spaceship which created the surprising narrative ellipsis has often been discussed. 

I see in this montage the line of a double parable : the parable of the evolution of mankind, and a mathematical parabola represented by the movie's images. 


(Readers be pleased to go to the french version to see images)
After the monolith episode, the hominids live in the darkness of the moment. Before an animal carcass, one of them becomes seemingly perplex.

The memory of the mysterious monolith comes to his mind. 

The monolith, designed and created by an intelligent force (divine or alien ?), represents the driving force of evolution.

The ape comes up with the first idea : tools.

A tool which turns out to be...a weapon (Notice the striking short cut by Clarke/Kubrick : the story of humanity is a story of destruction, destruction that will always lead man in this inevitable evolution towards...?)

The killing of the animal is a splendid scene. It represents at the same time, the logical link between the carcass and the killing and the hominid's mental image with the new tool which he uses to kill the animal. 

This represents the beginning of a new era : the image of the animal is no loger part of instict's eternal present, but lives in the mental timeframe of memory and desire. 

This is th birth of humanity. 

Armed with its newly found power, animal becomes man defying the heavens with his actions. 

The bone begins to fall, obeying gravity. But the bone does not land.

This act is the act of humanity. 

Millions of years later, a spaceship makes its a through outer space. 

Notice the movement of the spaceship towards the left side of the frame. 

We can consider that the sequence ends here : man has conquered space. 

But it's not over. The parable/parabola continues... formal...visual.

We can easily relate the pen found in the spaceship to that first tool-weapon thrown in the dawn of humanity.
A rocket-pen suspended in the air that hasn't landed on the ground yet. 

The parabola drawn by the movement of these objects throughout the film continues to grow until the final scene...and that enigmatic shot...the glass falls and the pieces of glass scatter all over, like the bones of the animal's skeleton.

The astronaut stops the fall. he becomes perplex, pensive.

The line of the parabola is drawn : the path of the bone thrown into the air at the beginning of the film reaches its end in this mysterious paradoxical antechamber of the universe. 

A truth, just like the first idea appeared to th first man, appeared in the mind ot the man ho had travelled through space. 

He faces the parabola/parable constructed throughout the film : man himself, in the ultimate instant, faced with the origin of his origin.