Silent Running

Silent RunningMost of the films that are being remade these days don’t need to be, while those that could really use it, generally aren’t.

For instance, Douglass Trumbull’s “Silent Running,” a film about a future Earth that exhausted its resources, is a prime candidate for rebooting because its ‘dying earth’ theme is even more relevant in these days of global warming and environmental degradation.

The movie entirely takes place aboard the ‘Valley Forge,’ one of three space freighters that each hold three huge domes, habitats filled with plants and (small) animals.

Speaking of which, that particular plot point doesn’t really make sense to me because large animals – assuming that they haven’t been killed off – would need conservation as much as smaller ones (which could have been done, though there was no mention of it).

The purpose of the plant life is to re-green an Earth that has undergone some sort of environmental cataclysm.

Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern, who must have been the Nick Cage of his day) tends to the flora and fauna.  He’s there with three other astronauts, and soon the order comes to destroy the habitats that hold the forests, because the freighters that they are attached to are going to be repurposed.

While the others are ready to leave, Lowell is a firm believer in the importance of Nature, and doesn’t want to destroy the habitats.  Speaking of which, what doesn’t make sense as to why they are destroying them, when they could easily be put into orbit around Earth (they’re able to detach from the freighters) as opposed to destroying them.

What’s also sort of odd is that despite all the potential for drama, the movie isn’t terribly dramatic, despite the fact that Freeman Lowell murders the rest of the crew.

It begins when the remaining  habitat is about to be destroyed, which causes Lowell to snap, so he kills the astronaut that was present, and ejects the habitat where the other two were working, which explodes as soon as it’s far enough from the freighter.

So Freeman Lowell is the only remaining human aboard the Valley Forge, though there are three drones that are programmed to assist with station maintenance.  Later on he reprograms them to help with tasks he believes are important, like surgery (he hurt his leg earlier in the film) and gardening.

A problem with his plan (if he had one, other than preserving the habitat) is that the freighter is heading toward the rings of Saturn, which they think will  destroy it the rings are composed of ice and other detritus, so there’s a logic).

There are so many opportunities for conflict that are barely acknowledged (normally I would say “squandered,” but I get the feeling that director Trumbull deliberately made the film low-key) that it strikes me as odd.

I mentioned the drones, which must have looked pretty interesting at the time, though they are very dated now.  They also aren’t very communicative, which in the days of Seri and Google Voice makes no sense at all.  Which reminds me, why is it that the freighter has no facilities for building robots?  Dern’s character said that he had been managing his plants for eight years, which means that either one of the men he killed had done such tasks, or they were automated.

And if they were automated, they can’t they make more?  Later in the film Lowell demonstrates a limited ability to repair the automatons, though clearly not enough to have been a builder of them.

Which is an interesting angle to approach a potential remake:  Suppose Lowell somehow got control of the robots (which would number more than three) that he instructs to kill the crew – he understood them enough to be able to alter their programming, which was convenient – and control many of the processes and systems that Lowell could not himself.

And the remainder of the film could chronicle Lowell’s descent into madness, a journey that began with his killing the crew, compounded by the isolation he’s forced to endure now that he’s alone (which has the added bonus of Lowell contributing directly to his own insanity).

Another change that needs to happen is musically.  I mean, I like Joan Baez and folk music, but something a little less obvious would be appreciated.

Though what’s most remarkable is that “Silent Running” is rated ‘G,’ which says to me that either ratings work a little bit differently than I thought they did or this film could be made a bit more harsher, and still not hit a ‘R.’ or ‘NC-17.’

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