Silent Running

The stupid movie is appropriately dissed by Lileks:

The entire movie is nonsense, a green paen to the inevitable dystopia and the spiritual purity of those who shove seeds in loam. I remember thinking it was incredibly Deep at the time, because it summed up everything we expected from our future: a planet without trees, choked by pollution, ruled by brand names (AMF was stamped on the futuristic pool table, if I recall) but still cool because it had spaceships. This fleet held the last few trees and plants, which had been parked in orbit around Saturn – makes sense – and when the order came to destroy the last trees and return the ships to commercial use, because well you know tin soldiers and Nixon coming. Bruce Dern kills the guys he works with because they don’t have sufficient social consciousness, and saves the trees while Joan Baez sings in the background.

A YouTube comment:

I often cry when I hear this. I used to cry because of how beautiful it was and my fears of what might be. Now I cry because I see, despite it’s warning, what has become.

How true. The planet has no more trees, but we have fleets of manned spacecraft capable of reaching Saturn.

It is amazing that people take such nonsense seriously.

Anyway, read the whole thing for some evocative high-school nostalgia.

28 thoughts on “Silent Running”

  1. “Only after the last tree has been cut down.
    Only after the last river has been poisoned.
    Only after the last fish has been caught.
    Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten”.

    Says it all.

  2. Thou shalt not disrespect “Silent Running” or the brand name “AMF.”

    Veljko Milenkovic (1922-2009), an immigrant from Croatia and a naturalized U.S. citizen and refugee , was a developer of the pioneering industrial robot Versatran.

    I have likened Versatran to implementing a robot controller in the pre-digital computer days using “stone knives and bear skins.” The robot motions were analog-encoded using a patented pulse-position modulation scheme related to how rocket telemetry was transmitted back-in-the-day. Owing to that control scheme, Versatran had a smoothness of motion that could be reproduced by digital controllers only many years later.

    A Versatran “plays pool” in Silent Running.

      1. Industrial robot, people, industrial robot.

        As in automobile assembly line. It is not complex behaviors but instead precise, flexible, programmable, and repeatable behaviors with heavy load carrying capacity. As in not emulating the behavior of humans but substituting for humans in rote, repetitive, back-straining work.

  3. Yes … it is a silly movie, with a silly, muddled message – but one of my favorites, just the same. The Douglas Trumbull FX are largely first-rate. I also happen to enjoy Bruce Dern, no matter how much scenery he chews. It may sound strange, but I mostly find it a fun movie to watch. There are great elements here for sci-fi fans … and it holds a place in the canon for a number of reasons.

  4. If I wanted plants to thrive, I would try and grow them in the outer solar system where the solar flux is at its highest!

      1. You mean Morpheus’ bad exposition in [i]The Matrix[/i]. If cult leaders were required to make sense, or could be defeated with logical criticism, there’d be a lot less of them.

        On a related note, I watched [i]Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey[/i] again the other night and, if you take away all the laughs, they really did a serious job of explaining how two loser metal heads could become prophets/demigods.

    1. The ships were originally orbiting closer, Bruce Dern changed the orbit on his to take it away from whoever was going to nuke it. He’s the one too stupid to realize that trees need sunlight; presumably the people who set it up originally determined a reasonable distance.

      I’ll read the Lileks article tonight; I assume he points out how stupid it was to nuke something that consumed zero resources. Shades of Dark Star–“Just give me something to blow up.”

      The Silent Running explosions are my favorite SF movie explosions. I like the droids. The ship design looked pretty cool (but I’m not sure how the artificial gravity it used was supposed to work).

      1. Your mention of the gravity problem reminds me of the time I used AutoCAD to redesign the Valley Forge with inward rather than outward facing domes. The ship then rotated on its long axis for cf. I remember realizing that I needed to curve the undersides of the domes for the landscape inside to be level in all places.

        I also put oval mirrors above each dome at a 45 degree angle to reflect sunlight down into each dome. Of course that assumes the long axis of the ship would track the sun. Which meant the rear portion of the ship needed to counter-rotate such that the angular momentums canceled.

    1. If you look at the agent’s expression when Cypher says he wants them to “put his body back into the power plant”, it becomes clear that Morpheus’ rambling description of the purpose of the matrix is somewhat of a joke to the machines. They’re happy to let the humans think they’re being used as a power source or batteries or whatever.

  5. …and I would tie up valuable capital in a ship instead of simply building a greenhouse on Mars or an Asteroid or something too!

  6. You know, the more CO2 we contribute, the greater the number and size of trees.

    There are more trees in North America now than when Columbus landed 510 years ago.

    So burning fossil fuels actually is contra to the future posited by Silent Running!

    1. Say it loud, I have a big carbon footprint and I am proud!

      I have recently started saying this. It is a mantra worth repeating. A healthy biosphere is a biosphere with elevated CO2 levels. One hundred million years ago, CO2 was at 2000 ppm and the biosphere had more abundant and diverse life than today.

  7. A commentator at Lileks points out “the movie’s ultimate message is “Nature will be preserved by SPACESHIPS, ROBOTS, and NUCLEAR POWER!””

    Also the reason the ships are out around Saturn has do to with Trumbull work on 2001 and the Rule of Cool.

    Trumbull had started work on the FX for Saturn for 2001 when Kubrick changed the location to Jupiter. In Silent Running he had already worked out the FX for Saturn and wanted the change to finally do it. It looked cool. In SciFi movies the Rule of Cool always trumps the Laws of Physics and Chemistry.

  8. I cried when the robot got ran over. And then again when the lone robot floated out into space with nothing but his little water bucket. GOODBYE LITTLE ROBOT! *whaaaaaa!*

    1. That was Louie. Well, he hadn’t been named yet. The Robot With No Name. Maybe he went on to star in some alien version of a Sergio Leone film.

  9. I liked “Silent Running” when I saw it, but in my defense, I’ll mention that I was 12, and it was already an old movie. I loved the spacecraft and the robots.

    My favorite at the time was “Dark Star”. 🙂

    1. Didn’t Janet Napolitano have cameo role in “Dark Star”? The scene where Headquarters advised the crew of Dark Star what kind of trouble they are in? Just askin’

    2. Even Mad magazine made fun of the spaceship design in “Silent Running”, saying it was built by TinkerToy.

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