Douglas Trumbull

7.0 Silent Running (1972)

Douglas Trumbull, who had worked on Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey and Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain (1971), debuted with the dystopian, apocalyptic sci-fi movie Silent Running (1972). The special effects are trivial but work. It is unfortunate that three tedious songs destroy the momentum of the action in three vital moments. The action takes place sometime in the distant future, when forests have disappeared on Earth and only a few artificial ones survive on dome-shaped greenhouses that float around spaceships. The botanist who tends lovingly to the forests is a young man, Freeman Lowell. The other members of the crew are indifferent to their mission and only want to return home. Freeman is the only one who eats natural food, coming from his domes, whereas the others are happy to eat chemical food. One day they receive the surprise order to nuke the forests because the spaceships are needed for commercial purposes. The other members of the crew are happy because it means the end of the mission. Only Freeman is gloomy, but tries in vain to explain to his three companions how precious these last forests are. The others remind him that progress has eliminated both poverty and disease. Freeman retorts that all the people are identical, which makes their lives meaningless. When the three begin the operation to nuke the domes, Freeman gets into action. He sends two of them in the wrong place and they get blown up, and personally kills the third one with a shovel. He is wounded in the process and asks the maintenance robots to perform surgery on him. After naming them Dewey and Huey, he then directs them to dig a grave for the dead one and to bury him. Meanwhile he radioed his captain that he lost control of the spaceship due to a malfunction. In reality, he is deliberately steering the space station towards the rings of Saturn. Eventually, his captain tells him that he has reached the point of no return and recommends suicide. However, Freeman's spaceship survives the impact with the rings. Having lost all contact with the rest of the fleet, Freeman lets the spaceship drift through space, with no destination, and only the mission to keep the forest alive. Freeman teaches Huey and Dewey to care for the forest and plays poker with them, treating them like his children. One day he realizes that the forest is dying and can't explain why. While he is driving around, he accidentally hits and damages Huey, and then tries in vain to repair the damage. While he is still investigating the mystery of the dying forest, Freeman receives a radio message from his captain: they searched for him, found him and they are about to "rescue" him. He doesn't want to be rescued because he knows that they would blow up the forest. At the same time, the captain indirectly helps solve the mystery: there is not enough sunlight where he is. He sets up strong lights in the forest and leaves Dewey in charge of the forest. He takes the damaged Huey with him and separates the spaceship from the dome-shaped nursery. He then blows up the spaceship, committing the suicide that the captain had prescribed but for a completely different reason. Meanwhile, Dewey cares for the forest, watering the trees with an old-fashioned watering can.

Trumbull later worked on the special effects for famous films such as Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1981).

He only directed one more film, Brainstorm (1983).

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