Cast your mind back to 1972, and a film entitled SILENT RUNNING. No, it’s not a war movie about a submarine running silent to avoid detection, it’s a sci-fi movie that maybe is in these days of global warming and severe weather is even more relevant than it was at the time of its release. So, to say that SILENT RUNNING was ahead of its time is I suppose an understatement. The movie itself was an attractive one and contained some thought-provoking moments. The storyline implies that all plant life as we know it on earth has become extinct, what has been done is that as many varieties of plants have been rescued and sent into space on great domes which are in effect huge greenhouses that can sustain life and preserve it in the hope that earth will be able one day to allow it to flourish once again, but until then these domes are attached to a spacecraft which is drifting in space.
The ship which is called VALLEY FORGE is part of a large fleet of container ships which is on the outskirts of the orbit of Saturn. The domes are attended by a crew one of which is passionate about his work, Freeman Lowell played by Bruce Dern is one of the four-man crew and he attends the plant life and the animals that are in the domes, in the hope that soon they will return to earth for re-forestation. Things however do not go how Lowell thinks they will and they receive orders that the domes should be jettisoned and destroyed by blowing them up with nuclear charges. Lowell is incensed by the decision and after four of the six domes are destroyed he decides to put a stop to the destruction and rescue the plants and animals that he has been caring for.
Lowell kills one of the crew members who attempts to place charges in his favourite dome, in the fight Lowell’s leg is injured badly, but he manages to jettison and destroy the fifth dome which is carrying the remaining crew members. He then recruits three drones to help him and names them Huey, Dewey and Louie.
He stages a fake explosion to convince the powers that be that the last dome has been destroyed, but instead sets a course for Saturn. Lowell then re-programs the drones and has them perform surgery on his leg. The Valley Forge grows closer to Saturn and has a rough ride through the planets rings. During the journey one of the drones, Louie is lost, but the ship endures the trip, it and the remaining drone remain intact on the other side of Saturn’s rings. Lowell and his drone crew set off into deep space and together they begin to plant and cultivate. Huey is damaged in an accident, and eventually Lowell realises that the authorities have found him, and he will be found out for the murders of his fellow crew members. Lowell jettisons the dome and detonates a charge on the VALLEY FORGE killing himself and destroying Huey, the parting shot of the movie is of the dome lit up floating through space with Dewey tending the plants holding a battered old watering can.
SILENT RUNNING is an entertaining and poignantly thought-provoking movie, directed by Douglas Trumbull, in his directorial debut. This is in my opinion a mini classic and a must watch movie. The musical score is by composer Peter Schickele and as far as I know this too was his debut into the film music arena, it is a small-scale score although there are a couple of cues that are grand and symphonic, these being THE SPACE FLEET and SATURN, the remainder of the score still being symphonic but of a more intimate style.
The soundtrack also contains two original songs which were written and performed by Joan Baez, REJOICE IN THE SUN and SILENT RUNNING are both vocals that have a strong environmental message.
REJOICE IN THE SUN.
Heels of children running wild in the sun
like a forest is your child growing wild in the sun
Doomed in his innocence in the sun.
Gather your children to your side in the sun
tell them all they love will die, tell them why, in the sun
tell them it’s not too late, cultivate one by one
tell them to harvest and rejoice — in the sun.
Earth between my toes and a flower in my hair,
That’s what I was wearing when we lay among the ferns.
Earth between my toes and a flower in my hair is what I will wear when he returns.
Wind upon on his face and my fingers in his hair that’s what he was wearing when we lay beneath the sky.
Wind upon his face and my love he will wear when swallows fly.
Tears of sorrow running deep, running silent in my sleep, running silent in my sleep.
The score for SILENT RUNNING is an interesting and original work, the compositions may sound straight forward and even simple, but the music is at times quite complex, the score plays a big part in the movie and helps to give the storyline a greater depth and impact. This is a soundtrack that every collector should own, whether it be on LP record in green vinyl, Compact disc or even a digital version from I tunes, Spotify etc. If you have not heard this outstanding work, then you are certainly poorer for not experiencing it. This is a score that tantalises, thrills and oozes poignancy and emotion, simplistic, emotive, dramatic, grand and heartrending. Recommended.